The Unpublished David Ogilvy

Some fantastic nuggets of wisdom from one of the pioneers of modern advertising.
David Ogilvy

This Book in Three Sentences

  1. Set ambitious goals, push yourself, and remember that “Hard work never killed a man”.
  2. Have fun – when you're not having fun, you won't produce good work.
  3. Be a professional, a craftsmen, and above all, do what you love.

On Copywriting

  • The copy must be human and very simple, keyed right down to its market–a market in which self-conscious artwork and fine language serve only to make buyers wary.
  • Every word in the copy must count.
  • Superlatives belong to the marketplace and have no place in a serious advertisement; they lead readers to discount the realism of every claim.

On Salesmanship

  • Study the best time of day for calling; between twelve and two p.m. you will not be welcome, whereas a call at an unorthodox time of day–after supper in the summer for instance–will often succeed.
  • In general, study the methods of your competitors and do the exact opposite.
  • Find out all you can about your prospects before you call on them.
  • The worst fault a salesman can commit is to be a bore.
  • Avoid standardisation in your sales talk. If you find yourself one fine day saying the same things to a bishop and a trapezist, you are done for.
  • Find out as quickly as possible which of the particular sales arguments that follow is most likely to appeal to your audience, and give that argument appropriate emphasis.
  • A talkative prospect is a good thing. The dumb prospect is too often equally deaf.
  • Avoid being drawn into discussing competitors as it introduces a negative and defensive atmosphere. On no account sling mud – it will make the prospect distrust your integrity and dislike you.
  • Be specific, definite and factual. The prospect is not interested in your personal opinion.

On Writing Well

  1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing.* Read it three times
  2. Write the way you talk. Naturally
  3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs
  4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, attitudinally etc... They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
  6. Check your quotations.
  7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning–and then edit it.

Your job, as I see it, is to take the selling appeal you are given, and then go to work and deliver the maximum audience. I mean audience of prospects.

On Branding

“Every advertisement is part of the long-term investment in the personality of the brand.”
– David Ogilvy
  • (Note: Referring to Marlboro) "I find that most manufacturers are reluctant to accept any such limitation on the image and personality of their brands. They want to be all things to all people."
  • What guts it takes, what obstinate determination, to stick to one coherent creative policy, year after year, in the face of all the pressures to “come up with something new” every six months.
  • The greater the similarity between products, the less part reason plays in brand selection.
  • The manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most favourable image, the most sharply defined personality, is the one who will get the largest share of the market at the highest profit–in the long run.

On Choosing Clients Carefully

  • We have exercised care in selecting our clients. That is why our roster is such a remarkable one.
  • We seek clients who manufacture a product which we can be proud to advertise–a product which we can recommend without reservation to our own families.
  • We seek clients whose basic attitudes to business are about the same as ours. The agency-client relationship is an intimate one, and it only works well when there is a strong ingredient of mutual respect on both sides.

On Hiring the Right People

If you always hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.
– David Ogilvy
  • We admire people who work hard. We dislike passengers who don’t pull their weight.
  • We admire people with first-class brains, because you cannot run a great advertising agency without brainy people
  • We admire people who avoid office politics.
  • We admire the great professionals, the craftsmen who do their jobs with superlative excellence.
  • We admire people who hire subordinates who are good enough to succeed them.
  • If you ever find a man who is better than you are–hire him. If necessary, pay him more than you pay yourself.
  • We admire people who practice delegation.
  • To attract the best people, create an atmosphere of ferment, innovation and freedom.

On Working Hard & Having Fun

  • The harder your people work, the happier they will be. Remember the Scottish proverb: “Hard work never killed a man.” Men die of boredom, psychological conflict and disease. They never die of hard work.
  • Be a stickler for meeting deadlines. You can do almost any job in one weekend. The trouble is that most people are too lazy to burn the midnight oil. They are unwilling to rise to the occasion.
  • Take lots of vacations. When people get abrasive, it is usually because they have worked too long without a vacation. The partners in a service business should also be given sabbaticals to recharge their batteries.
  • When people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work. Kill grimness with laughter. Encourage exuberance. Get rid of sad dogs who spread gloom.
  • Jerome Bruner, the Harvard psychologist, says that he has never visited a lab that was worth a damn where the people weren’t having a lot of fun.

On the Importance of Research

A blind pig may sometimes find truffles, but it helps to know that they grow under oak trees.
– David Ogilvy
  • Ogilvy always looked at the creative function through the eyes of a researcher–which did not endear him his fellow copywriters and art directors. He always looked at research through the eyes of a copywriter.
  • Creative types are terrified of research–terrified that it will reveal that their genius is not infallible.
  • As a copywriter, what you want from researchers is to be told what kind of advertising will make the cash register ring.
  • The advertising community is swimming in research nowadays. The trouble is that so little of it percolates down to the people on the firing line.
  • Learn to use research fast and cheaply.

On the Danger of Discounting

  • Be careful about training consumers to buy on price instead of brand.
  • Any damn fool can put on a deal, but it takes genius, faith and perseverance to create a brand.
  • Promotions cannot produce more than a temporary kink in the sales curve.
  • Deals are a drug. Ask a drug-addicted brand manager what happens to his share of market after the delirium of the deal subsides.

Ogilvy's seven purposes:

  1. To serve our clients more effectively than any other agency.
  2. To earn an increased profit every year.
  3. To maintain high ethical standards.
  4. To run the agency with a sense of competitive urgency.
  5. To keep our services up-to-date.
  6. To make Ogilvy & Mather the most exciting agency to work in.
  7. To earn the respect of the community.

How To Increase Profits:

  • Increase income from present clients.
  • Get new clients.
  • Discontinue boondoggles and obsolete services – keep scraping the barnacles off its bottom.
  • Avoiding duplication of work.
  • Increasing productivity.
  • Reducing wheel-spinning in the creative area.

On New Business Development

The best way to get new accounts is to create for our present clients the kind of advertising that will attract prospective clients.
– David Ogilvy
  1. Does anyone in Top Management really want the account? Never take an account unless at least one key person can approach it with enthusiasm.
  2. Can good advertising sell the product? It does not pay to take on terminal cases.
  3. Would it be a happy marriage? Unhappy marriages do not bear fruit–and do not last.
  4. Will the account contribute significantly to your profits? Does it have significant growth potential?
  5. If you take this account, will it risk losing us another account–anywhere?
© 2023 Mike Fiorillo
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