The Wit and Wisdom of David Ogilvy

by Dean Rieck

David Ogilvy was a college dropout, a chef, a door-to-door salesman, and a copywriter. Starting with no clients and a staff of two, he built one of the largest advertising agencies in the world.

He promoted the principles of testing and research and was a believer in the power of direct response advertising, which he considered his secret weapon.

On July 21, 1999, David Ogilvy passed away, leaving behind a legacy of effective selling principles. The most basic of which — one that far too many people forget — is that the purpose of advertising is to sell. That was the idea behind what may be his most famous quote, the first in the list below. But it underscores virtually everything else he said as well.

"If it doesn't sell, it isn't creative."

"Good copy can't be written with tongue in cheek, written just for a living. You've got to believe in the product."

"I once used the word OBSOLETE in a headline, only to discover that 43 per cent of housewives had no idea what it meant. In another headline, I used the word INEFFABLE, only to discover that I didn't know what it meant myself."

"On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar."

"The advertisers who believe in the selling power of jingles have never had to sell anything."

"The consumer isn't a moron. She is your wife."

"The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be."

"The most important word in the vocabulary of advertising is TEST. If you pretest your product with consumers, and pretest your advertising, you will do well in the marketplace."

"There is no need for advertisements to look like advertisements. If you make them look like editorial pages, you will attract about 50 per cent more readers."

"What you say in advertising is more important than how you say it."

"You have only 30 seconds in a TV commercial. If you grab attention in the first frame with a visual surprise, you stand a better chance of holding the viewer. People screen out a lot of commercials because they open with something dull. When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire."

"Never write an advertisement which you wouldn't want your family to read. You wouldn't tell lies to your own wife. Don't tell them to mine."

"Much of the messy advertising you see on television today is the product of committees. Committees can criticize advertisements, but they should never be allowed to create them."

"Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals."

"I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information."

"If you tell lies about a product, you will be found out — either by the Government, which will prosecute you, or by the consumer, who will punish you by not buying your product a second time."

"Ninety-nine percent of advertising doesn't sell much of anything."

One of David Ogilvy's practices was to make new hires work in direct response advertising for at least a year to learn sales techniques that work. More agencies should follow this practice. I think Mr. Ogilvy would agree with me that direct response principles are widely applicable and could greatly improve all forms of advertising and marketing regardless of the medium.

It was true when he said it. It's true today. It will be true tomorrow. "If it doesn't sell, it isn't creative."

Copyright © 2003 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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