Book cover: "Ogilvy on Advertising"

Must-have: lessons from an original Mad Man

File under basics. As Amazon reviewer Just Bill says, if you make ads and you haven’t got a well-worn copy of Ogilvy on Advertising near your desk, then you are ripping off your clients.

David Ogilvy (1911–1999), often called the Father of Advertising, was one of the “mad men” who created an industry by learning to change minds. And he changed minds by adhering to a strict process, one rooted in the insistence that there be a strong idea at the center of every ad. He writes here as an experienced teacher who defends his point of view not because it’s his, but because it works.

What works, according to Ogilvy

Doing your homework, avoiding committees, learning from research, watching what direct-response advertisers do, and avoiding irrelevant shock. He is open, honest, and generous. He truly believes in effective communication, and he shares this passion with the delight of a fan and the confidence of a master.

He illustrates his lesson plan with a portfolio of work—most of it not his own—that you will remember even if you weren’t yet born when it first appeared. The work is so clever, unique, strategic, and timeless that it might even make you nostalgic for the more advertising-friendly media environment of yore.

Ad campaigns with high Ogilvility

Here are a couple of campaigns that pass the Ogilvy test. He says of the Guinness poster, one of a series that appeared in England in the 1930s, “They made Guinness part of the warp and woof of English life, and have never been excelled—anywhere.”
Guinness For Strength

He describes campaigns to explain the principal concepts of advertising, like positioning. “Doyle Dane Bernbach positioned Volkswagon as a protest against Detroit, thereby making the car a cult among non-conformists. Sales of the car went up 500,000 a year.”

From the book:

Most campaigns are too complicated. They reflect a long list of objectives, and try to reconcile the divergent views of too many executives. By attempting to cover too many they achieve nothing.

When you have to communicate a lot of different sales points, use “call-outs.” They are above average in recall tests.

Direct response advertisers know that short copy doesn’t sell. In split-run tests long copy invariably outsells short copy.

You aren’t advertising to a standing army, you are advertising to a moving parade.

Bill is right. If you are in the mind-changing business, then this book should be in your library.

Ogilvy on Advertising
David Ogilvy
1985, 224 pages

Available from Amazon.
Available from Powell’s.

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