I’ve been thinking about David Ogilvy a lot lately. Occupational hazard, I guess.
Ogilvy was a more or less self-taught genius who didn’t even start his career in advertising until he was 38. He and his hand-picked associates created some of the most effective and memorable campaigns of all time for Shell oil, Rolls Royce, Dove soap, Schweppes, Arrow shirts, and Puerto Rico among a whole lot of others.
He was especially brilliant in print and he won my undying admiration for praising Direct Mail as his secret weapon.
The day I started working at his agency (Ogilvy & Mather) in Montreal, the creative director handed me a copy of the Claude Hopkins 1923 masterpiece, “Scientific Advertising”, and told me writers in the shop don’t get asked to write a word until they’d read and understood it. That was Ogilvy’s idea.
Basically, both Hopkins and Ogilvy thought research, copy, facts and testing mattered most.
Maybe the reason David Ogilvy is on my mind these days is that one of his lines pops into my head whenever I read a newspaper or magazine or watch TV, listen to radio or do anything that allows advertisers to vie for my attention. The line is: Ninety-nine percent of advertising doesn’t sell much of anything.
I think a couple of other Ogilvyisms explain why: What you say in advertising is more important than how you say it; and Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.
Too many companies focus on the frills of how, and committees hammer any big idea to death. Ogilvy hated committees.
His thinking still works in selling things to grownups. He wasn’t so hot at “buzz” ads for teenagers and adults who never quite manage to grow up.
Ogilvy preached testing over and over. “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving,” he wrote. Add “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative” and “Five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.” to the testing idea and you’ve got an outstanding primer on how to write a successful ad, commercial, billboard, direct mail package or pretty well anything.
• Ninety-nine percent of advertising doesn’t sell much of anything
• What you say in advertising is more important than how you say it
• Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night
• Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving
• If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative
• Five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy
• Research, big idea, test, great copy.
Shame there aren’t all that many grownups around anymore.