David Ogilvy was one of the most successful advertising agents during the Golden Age of American advertising in the 1950s and 1960s. He was one of the true geniuses of his time (those of you who watch the show Mad Men should be familiar with the character of ‘Don Draper’ who is, in fact, largely based on David Ogilvy).

Time magazine called Ogilvy “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry” in the 1960s, and even today he is widely held to be the ‘Father of Modern Advertising’.

For all you advertising and marketing professionals or students reading this blog post, you might want to grab a pen and paper to write down some of David Ogilvy’s secrets to successful advertising.

Here, in his own words, are David Ogilvy’s thoughts…

1. On brand identity:

“There isn’t any significant difference between the various brands of whiskey, or cigarettes or beer. They are all about the same. And so are the cake mixes and the detergents, and the margarines… The manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most sharply defined personality for his brand will get the largest share of the market at the highest profit.”

2. On headlines:

“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.”

“Never use tricky or irrelevant headlines… People read too fast to figure out what you are trying to say.”

3. On ‘clever’ adverts:

A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself. It should rivet the reader’s attention on the product. Instead of saying, ‘What a clever advertisement,’ the reader says, ‘I never knew that before. I must try this product’.

4. On big ideas:

“It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product. Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night. I doubt if more than one campaign in a hundred contains a big idea.”

“Big ideas are usually simple ideas.”

5. On originality:

“If you ever have the good fortune to create a great advertising campaign, you will soon see another agency steal it. This is irritating, but don’t let it worry you; nobody has ever built a brand by imitating somebody else’s advertising.”

6. On selling a product:

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

7. On honest advertising:

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.

8. On choosing clients:

The relationship between a manufacturer and his advertising agency is almost as intimate as the relationship between a patient and his doctor. Make sure that you can live happily with your prospective client before you accept his account.

9. On testing:

“The most important word in the vocabulary of advertising is TEST. If you pre-test your product with consumers, and pre-test your advertising, you will do well in the marketplace.”

10. On talking to your audience:

“A consumer is not a moron. She’s your wife. Don’t insult her intelligence, and don’t shock her.”

“Use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.”

If you want to learn more about advertising, you can always benefit from reading David Ogilvy’s autobiography, Confessions of an Advertising Man (especially valuable if you want to run your own advertising or marketing company one day).

Even though today’s world of digital marketing is so very different from the one Ogilvy dominated in the 1960s, Ogilvy’s wisdom is essentially timeless. In this sense, whether you are already working, or whether you want to study advertising and marketing, you should always remember Ogilvy’s advice for becoming a successful advertising agent:

Hard work never killed a man

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