Ogilvy on Advertising

A candid and indispensable primer on all things advertising from one of the greats.
David Ogilvy


Advertising is not entertainment or an art form. It’s a medium of information.

It doesn’t matter if someone finds your ads ‘creative.’ What matters is they find it so interesting that they buy the product.

Do your homework

  • You can’t product successful advertising unless you do your homework.
  • The more you know about it, the more likely you are to come up with a big idea for selling it. When Ogilvy got the Rolls-Royce account, he spent three weeks reading about the car and came across a statement that ‘at sixty miles an hour, the loudest noise comes from the electric clock.’
  • Later, when he got the Mercedes account, he sent a team to the Daimler-Benz headquarters in Stuttgart. They spent three weeks taping interviews with the engineers.
  • Find out what kind of advertising your competitors have been doing for similar products, and with what success. This will give you your bearing.
  • Find out how customers think about your kind of product, what language they use when they discuss the subject, what attributes are important to them, and what promise would be most likely to make them buy your brand.
  • If you cannot afford the services of professionals to do this research, do it yourself. Informal conversations with half-a-dozen consumers can sometimes help a copywriter more than formal surveys in which he does not participate.


  • Ogilvy’s has a simple definition of positioning: ‘what the product does, and who it is for.’
  • Avis’s diabolical “We’re number 2” positioning made life miserable for Hertz, who was Number 1.
  • Doyle Dane Bernbach positioned Volkswagen as a protest against Detroit, thereby making the Beetle a cult among non-conformists.

Brand image

  • The personality of a product is an amalgam of many things–its name, its packaging, its price, the style of its advertising, and, above all, the nature of the product itself.
  • Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the brand image. It follows that your advertising should consistently project the same image, year after year.
  • It pays to give most products an image of quality–a First Class ticket. This is particularly true of products whose brand-name is visible to your friends, like beer, cigarettes and automobiles: products you ‘wear.’
  • It isn’t the whiskey they choose, it’s the image. The brand image is 90 per cent of what the distiller has to sell.

You need a big idea

  • Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.
  • Big ideas are rare.Ogilvy was thought of as one of the more fertile inventors of big ideas, but in his long career as a copywriter he didn't have more than 20 big ideas.
  • Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process.
  • It is horribly difficult to recognize a good idea. "I shudder to think how many I have rejected."
  • It will help you recognize a big idea if you ask yourself five questions: 1) Did it make me gasp when I first saw it? 2) Do I wish I had thought of it myself? 3) Is it unique? 4) Does it fit the strategy to perfection? 5) Could it be used for 30 years?

Make the product the hero

  • Whenever you can, make the product itself the hero of your advertising.
  • If you think the product too dull, remember: there are no dull products, only dull writers.
  • Never assign a product to a writer unless I know that he is personally interested in it. When writers produce a bad campaign, it has been because the product did not interest them.
  • When faced with selling ‘parity’ products, all you can hope to do is explain their virtues more persuasively than your competitors, and to differentiate them by the style of your advertising.

Focus on your advantages, not the competitor’s weaknesses

  • If you and your competitors all make excellent products, don’t try to imply that your product is better. Just say what’s good about your product–and do a clearer, more honest, more informative job of saying it.

Let your winners ride

  • If you are lucky enough to write a good advertisement, repeat it until it stops selling. Scores of good advertisements have been discarded before they lost their potency.
  • A good advertisement can be thought of as a radar sweep, constantly hunting new prospects as they come into the market. Get a good radar, and keep it sweeping.

Avoid design by committee

  • Committees can criticize, but they cannot create.
  • Search the parks in all your cities You’ll find no statues of committees.
© 2023 Mike Fiorillo
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