Confessions of an Advertising Man

Confessions of an Advertising Man

Author – David Ogilvy

Art of Plain Talk
Dr. Gallup
Dr. Starch
Horace Schwerin

the best establishments, promises are always keptwhatever it may cost in agony and overtime.

The top management should inspect every campaign before it goes to the client, and send back many of them for more work.

If you can make yourself indispensable to a client, you will never be fired.

The top man has one principal responsibility: to provide an atmosphere in which creative mavericks can do useful work.

The executive is inevitably a father figure, To be a good father, whether it is to his children or to his associates, requires that he be understanding, that he be considerate, and that he be human enough to be affectionate.

Advertising is a business of words.

The creative process requires more than reason. Most original thinking isn’t even verbal. It requires “a groping experimentation with ideas, governed by intuitive hunches and inspired by the unconscious.”

In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.

No creative organization, whether it is a research laboratory, a magazine, a Paris kitchen, or an advertising agency, will produce a great body of work unless it is led by a formidable individual.

It is rare for advertising men to be appointed to important jobs in government. This is a pity, because some of them carry more guns than most of the lawyers, professors, bankers, and journalists who are favored. Senior advertising men are better equipped to define problems and opportunities; to set up short-range and long-range goals; to measure results; to lead large executive forces; to make lucid presentations to committees; and to operate within the disciplines of a budget. Observation of my elders and betters in other advertising agencies leads me to believe that many of them are more objective, better organized, more vigorous, and harder-working than their opposite numbers in legal practice, teaching, banking, and journalism.

An agency’s first clients are the hardest to get, because it has no credentials, no record of success, no reputation.

Today, we have neither the time nor the stomach to prepare speculative campaigns. Instead, we show our prospects what we have done for others, we explain our policies, and we introduce our department heads. We try to reveal ourselves as we really are, warts and all. If the prospective client likes the looks of us, he hires us. If he doesn’t like the look of us, we are better off without him.

The agencies which are most successful in new businesses are those whose spokesmen show the most sensitive insight into the psychological make-up of the prospective client. Rigidity and salesmanship do not combine.

There is one stratagem which seems to work in almost every case: get the prospect to do most of the talking. The more you listen, the wise he thinks you are.

But I regard the hunt for new clients as a sport. If you play it grimly, you will die of ulcers. If you play it with lighthearted gusto, you will survive your failures without losing sleep. Play to win, but enjoy the fun.

On the whole, the most lucrative accounts are products of low unit costuniversal use, and frequent purchase. They generate larger budgets, and more opportunities for testing, than high-priced durables.

Some inarticulate dullards have done so well as the heads of agencies: they make their clients feel comfortable.

I have always tried to sit on the same side of the table as my clients, to see problems through their eyes. I buy shares in their company, so that I can think like a member of their family. When I take a total view of their business, I am better able to give them sound advice. If they elected me to their board of directors, it would be even easier to identify myself with their best interests.

Get into the habit of seeing clients when the weather is calm, you will establish an easy relationship which may save your life when a storm blows up.
It is important to admit your mistakes, and to do so before you are charged with them.

It does not pay to appease clients.

In the end, clients are grateful to advertising agents who tell them the truth.

15 rules I would obey in dealing with my agency if I become a client:

  1. Emancipate your agency from fear.
  2. Select the right agency in the first place.
  3. Brief your agency very thoroughly indeed.
  4. Do not compete with your agency in the creative area. Why keep a dog and bark yourself?
  5. Coddle the goose who lays your golden eggs.
  6. Don’t strain your advertising through too many levels.
  7. Make sure that your agency makes a profit.
  8. Don’t haggle with your agency.
  9. Be candid, and encourage candor.
  10. Set high standards.
  11. Test everything.
  12. Hurry.
  13. Don’t waste time on problem babies.
  14. Tolerate genius.
  15. Don’t underspend.
A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.

5 principal sources for research at Ogilvy, Benson & Mather:

  1. mail-order advertisers: Harry Scherman, Vic Schwab, John Caples
  2. experience of department stores: Sears, Roebuck
  3. research done by Gallup, Starch, Clark-Hooper, Harold Rudolph
  4. TV: Gallup
  5. Raymond Rubicam, Jim Young, George Cecil

Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement.

5 research techniques to find the most powerful right promise:

  1. Distribute batches of the product to matched samples of consumers, each batch bearing a different promise on the package. Then we compare the percentages of consumers in each sample who send us a repeat order.
  2. We have printed various promises, asking them to select the one which would be most likely to make them buy the product.
  3. Prepare a series of advertisements, each built around a different promise. Then mail the advertisements to matched samples and count the number of orders procured by each promise.
  4. Run pairs of advertisements in the same position in the same issue of a newspaper, with an offer of a sample buried in the copy.
  5. We have developed a technique for selecting basic promises which is so valuable that my partners forbid me to reveal it.

10 commandments to make the cash register ring

  1. What you say is more important than how you say it.
    i) What really decides consumers to buy or not is the content of your advertising, not its form.
    ii) Your most important job is to decide what you are going to say about your product, what benefit you are going to promise.
  2. Unless your campaign is built around a great idea, it will flop.
  3. Give the facts.
    i) Very few advertisements contain enough factual information to sell the product.
    ii) When I was a door-to-door salesman, I discovered that the more information I gave about my product, the more I sold.
  4. You cannot bore people into buying.
    What makes a great surgeon? There isn’t much to choose between surgeons in manual dexterity. What distinguishes the great surgeon is that he knows more than other surgeons.
    It is the same with advertising agents. The good ones know their craft.
  5. Be well-mannered, but don’t clown.
    i) People don’t buy from bad-mannered salesmen, and research has shown that they don’t buy from bad-mannered advertisements.
    ii) You should try to charm the consumer into buying your product.
  6. Make your advertising contemporary.
  7. Committees can criticize advertisements, but they cannot write them.
  8. If you are lucky enough to write a good advertisement, repeat it until it stops pulling.
  9. Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your own family to read.
    Good products can be sold by honest advertising. If you don’t think the product is good, you have no business to be advertising it.
  10. The Image and the Brand.
    Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image.

A focus on long-term advertising

  • 95% of all the campaigns now in circulation are being created without any reference to such long-term considerations.
  • Golden rewards await the advertiser who has the brains to create a coherent image, and the stability to stick with it over a long period.
  • 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.
  • Can anything which is always sold at a discount be desirable?
  • Plan your campaign for years ahead, on the assumption that your clients intend to stay in business forever.
  • It is the total personality of a brand rather than any trivial product difference which decides its ultimate position in the market.
  • Nobody has ever built a brand by imitating somebody else’s advertising.

Ogilvy, Benson & Mather has a consistent point of view, a corporate opinion of what constitutes good advertising. My previous agency had none, and consequently is rudderless.

  • The headline is the most important element in most advertisements.
  • On 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.
  • If you haven’t done some selling in your headline, you have wasted 80 percent of your client’s money.
  • The wickedest of all sins is to run an advertisement without a headline.
  • A change of headline can make a difference of ten to one in sales.
  • Never write fewer than 16 headlines for a single advertisement.
10 Guidelines for headlines:
  1. The headline is the “ticket on the meat”
    Do not say anything in your headline which is likely to exclude any readers who might be prospects for your product.
  2. Every headline should appeal to the reader’s self-interest.
  3. Always try to inject news into your headlines.
  4. Other words and phrases which work wonders are:
    how to | suddenly | now | announcing | introducing | it’s here | just arrived | important development | improvement | amazing | sensational | remarkable | revolutionary | startling | miracle | wanted | challenge | advice to | the truth about | compare | bargain | hurry | last chance
  5. Always include the brand name in your headlines.
  6. Include your selling promise in your headline.
  7. End your headline with a lure to read on.
  8. It is a sin to write tricky headlines-puns, literary allusion, and other obscurities.
  9. It is dangerous to use negatives in headlines.
  10. Avoid blind headlines.

The two most powerful words you can use in a headline are free and new.

Body Copy

When you sit down to write your body copy, pretend that you are talking to the woman on your right at a dinner party. She has asked you, “I am thinking of buying a new car. Which would you recommend?” Write your copy as if you were answering that question.

  1. Don’t beat around the bush-go straight to the point.
    Avoid analogies of the “just as, as too” variety.
  2. Avoid superlatives, generalizations, and platitudes.
    Be specific and factual. Be enthusiastic, friendly, and memorable. Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating.
    Nothing could be far from the truth of the universal belief that people won’t read long copy.
    Research shows that readership falls off rapidly up to 50 words of copy, but drops very little between 50 and 500 words.
    Every advertisement should be a complete sales pitch for your product.
    You should shoot the work’s in every advertisement, on the assumption that it is the only chance you will ever have to sell your product to the reader-now or never.
    “The more facts you tell, the more you sell. An advertisement’s chance for success invariably increases as the number of pertinent merchandise facts included in the advertisement increases.”
    Advertisers who put coupons in their advertisements know that short copy doesn’t sell. In split-run tests, long copy invariably outsells short copy.
  3. You should always include testimonials in your copy.
    Sometimes you can cast your entire copy in the form of a testimonial.
  4. Give the reader helpful advice or service.
  5. Fine writing is a distinct disadvantage. So is unique literary style. Go with simple & easy.
  6. Avoid bombast.
    When a company boasts about its integrity, or a woman about her virtue, avoid the former and cultivate the latter.
  7. Write your copy in the colloquial language which your customers use in everyday conversation.
    “Any trace of literariness in an advertisement is fatal to its success.”
  8. Resist the temptation to write the kind of copy which wins awards.
  9. Good copywriters have always resisted the temptation to entertain.
How to Illustrate Advertisements & Posters

The subject of your illustration is more important than its technique.
As in all areas of advertising, substance is more important than form.

About photographs
  • Photographs which arouse the reader’s curiosity works.
  • Story appeal: the more of it you inject into your photographs, the more people will look at your advertisements.
  • If you take the trouble to get great photographs for your advertisements, you will not only sell more, you will also bask in the glow of public esteem.
  • Over and over again, research has shown that photographs sell more than drawings. They attract more readers. They deliver more appetite appeal. Furthermore, they are better remembered. Likewise, they pull more coupons. And they sell more merchandise.
  • It is imperative that your illustration telegraph to the reader what you are offering for sale.
  • Before-and-after photographs seem to fascinate readers, and to make their point better than any words. So does a challenge to the reader to tell the difference between two similar photos.
  • Moviegoers are more interested in actors of their own sex than in actors of the opposite sex.
  • I have observed the same force at work in consumer reactions to advertisements. When you use a photograph of a woman, men ignore your advertisement. When you use a photograph of a man, you exclude women from your audience.
  • If you want to attract women readers, your best bet is to use a photograph of a baby.
  • Advertisements are twice as memorable when they are illustrated in color.
  • Avoid historical subjects.
  • Don’t show enlarged close-ups of the human face; they seem to repel readers.
  • Keep your illustrations as simple as possible, with the focus of interest on one person. Crowd scenes don’t seem to pull.
  • Avoid stereotyped situations like grinning housewives pointing fatuously into open refrigerators.
  • When the client moans and sighs, make his logo twice the size. If he still should prove refractory, show a picture of the factory.
  • Showing the clients’ faces is a sound stratagem because the public is more interested in personalities than in corporations.
  • It is never wise to “show a picture of the factory”, unless the factory is for sale.
  • There is no need for advertisements to look like advertisements. If you make them look like editorial pages, you will attract about 50 percent more readers.
  • Captions offer you twice the audience you get for body copy.
  • Never use a photograph without putting a caption under it, and each action should be a miniature advertisement, complete with brand name and promise.
Increase readership of long copy:
  1. A display subhead of two or three lines, between your headline and your body copy, will heighten the reader’s appetite for the feast to come.
  2. If you start your body copy with a large initial letter, you will increase readership by an average of 13%.
  3. Keep your opening paragraph down to a maximum of eleven words. A long first paragraph frightens readers away. All your paragraphs should be as short as possible; long paragraphs are fatiguing.
  4. After two or three inches of copy, insert your first cross-head, and thereafter pepper crossheads throughout. They keep the reader marching forward. Make some of them interrogative, to excite curiosity in the next run of copy. An ingenious sequence of boldly displayed cross-heads can deliver the substance of your entire pitch to glancers who are too lazy to wade through the text.
  5. Set your copy in columns not more than forty characters wide. Most people acquire their reading habits from newspapers, which use columns of about 26 characters. The wider the measure, the fewer the readers.
  6. Type smaller than 10 points is difficult for most people to read.
  7. Serif type is easier to read than sans serif type.
  8. When I was a boy, it was fashionable to make copywriters square up every paragraph. Since then, it has been discovered that “windows” increase readership, except at the bottom of a column, where they make it too easy for the reader to quit.
  9. Break up the monotony of long copy by setting key paragraphs in boldface or italic.
  10. Insert illustrations from time to time.
  11. Help the reader into your paragraphs with arrowheads, bullets, asterisks, and marginal marks.
  12. If you have a lot of unrelated facts to recite, don’t try to relate them with cumbersome connectives; simply number them, as I am doing here.
  13. Never set your copy in reverse(white type on a black background), and never set it over a gray or colored tint. The old school of art directors believed that these devices forced people to read the copy; now we know that they make reading physically impossible.
  14. If you use leading between paragraphs, you increase readership by an average 12%.

The more typographical changes you make in your headline, the fewer people will read it.

Set your headline, and indeed your whole advertisement, in lower case, capital letters are much harder to read, probably because we learn to read in lower case.

How to make good posters
  • Never deface your illustration by printing your headline over it.
  • In general, imitate the editors; they form the reading habits of your customers.
  • When your advertisement is to contain a coupon, and you want the maximum returns, put it at the top, bang in the middle.
  • Try to make your post a tour de force; “a visual scandal”.
  • The posters which worked best with the most people were those which used realistic artwork or photographs. Abstract or symbolic designs did not communicate their message fast enough.
  • Your poster should deliver the selling promise of your product, not only in words, but also pictorially.
  • It will communicate faster if you use strong, pure colors.
  • Never use more than 3 elements in your design, and silhouette them against a white background.
  • Above all, use the largest possible type(sans-serif), and make your brand-name visible at a glance.
How to make good TV commercials
  • It is easier to double the selling power of a commercial than to double the audience of a program.
  • The purpose of a commercial is not to entertain the viewer, but to sell him.
  • There is no correlation between people liking commercials and being sold by them.
  • If you say something which you don’t also illustrate, the viewer immediately forgets it. If you don’t show, there is no point in saying it.
  • Try running your commercial with the sound turned off; if it doesn’t sell without sound, it is useless.
  • Restrict yourself to 90 words a minute.
  • The most effective commercials are built around only one or two points, simply stated.
  • The purpose of most commercials is to deliver your selling promise in a way the viewers will remember the next time she goes shopping.
  • Repeat your promise at least twice in every commercial, illustrate it pictorially, and print it on the screen as a “title” or “super”.
  • Make sure that the consumer knows the name of the product being advertised in your commercial. Repeat it, ad nauseam, throughout. Show it in at least one title. And show her the package which you want her to recognize in the store.
  • Make your product the hero of the commercial.
  • Start selling in your first frame, and never stop selling until the last.
  • For products which lend themselves to selling by demonstration-e.g., cooking ingredients, make-up, and sinus remedies-TV is the most powerful advertising medium ever invented.
  • Commercials which start by setting up a problem, then wheel up your product to solve the problem, then prove the solution by demonstration, sell 4 times as many people as commercials which merely preach about the product.
  • A strong element of news is particular effective. Squeeze every drop of news value out of the material available for your commercials.
  • Don’t sing your selling message.
  • Use nothing but extreme close-ups in TV commercials.
  • Avoid hackneyed situations-delighted drinkers, ecstatic eaters, families exhibiting togetherness, and all the other clichés. They do not increase the consumer’s interest in buying your product.
Advertising food products
  • Build your advertisement around appetite appeal.
  • The larger your food illustration, the more appetite appeal.
  • Don’t show people in food advertisements. They take up space that is better devoted to the food itself.
  • Use color. Food looks more appetizing in color than in black-and-white.
  • Use photographs-they have more appetite appeal than art work.
  • One photograph is better than two or more. If you have to use several photographs, make one of them dominant.
  • Give a recipe whenever you can. The housewife is always on the lookout for new ways to please her family.
  • Don’t bury your recipe in your body copy. Isolate it., make it loud and clear.
  • Illustrate your recipe in your main photograph.
  • Don’t print your recipe over a screen; it will be read by far more women if you print it on clean, white paper.
  • Get news into your advertisements whenever you can-news about a new product, an improvement on an old product, or a new use for an old product.
  • Make your headline specific, rather than general.
  • Include your brand name in your headline.
  • Locate your headline and copy below your illustration.
  • Display your package prominently, but don’t allow it to dominate your appetite photograph.
  • Be serious. Don’t use humor or fantasy. Don’t be clever in your headline. Feeding her family is serious business for most housewives.
  • Show how to prepare your product.
  • Use the problem-solution gambit whenever you can do so without being farfetched.
  • Whenever possible, give news-and play it loud and clear.
  • Show your product early in the commercial.
  • Don’t use sound for its own sake. Only use sound effects which are relevant to your product-the perking of a coffeepot, the sizzle of a steak, the crunch of cornflakes.
  • Commercials are for selling. Don’t allow entertainment to dominate.
Good tourism advertisement
  • Destination advertising is bound to affect the image of the country concerned. It is politically important that it should affect it favorably. If you run crummy advertisements for your country, you will make people think that it is a crummy country.
  • Tourists do not travel thousands of miles to see things which they can see next door. For example, people who live in Switzerland cannot be persuaded to travel five thousand miles to see the mountains of Colorado. Advertise what is unique in your country.
  • Your advertisements should establish in the reader’s mind an image which she will never forget. The period of gestation between exposure to an advertisement and the purchase of a ticket is likely to be very long.
  • Your advertisements appear in media which are read by people who can afford to travel long distances. These people are well-educated. Do not insult their intelligence; write in adult language-not in the clichés of conventional travel advertising.
  • The biggest barrier to international travel is cost. Your advertisements should help the reader to rationalize the cost of his journey by selling its cultural and status overtones.
  • Patterns of travel are peculiarly subject to fashion. Your advertisements should put your country on the map as the place where “everybody” is going. Bandwagons work like magic in tourism.
  • People dream about far-away places. Your advertisements should convert their dreams into action-transforming potential energy into kinetic energy. This can best be done by offering the reader specific how-to-do-it information. A combination of mouth-watering photographs and specific information has brought the best results for British, American, and Puerto Rican tourism.
  • Beware of esoteric subjects. They may interest the nationals of the country sponsoring the campaign, but the foreign tourist-the customer, is out to collect clichés.
How to advertise drugs; A good patent-medicine advertisement
  • Seizes upon “the compelling difference” between your brand and its competitors.
  • Contains news. The news may be a new product, a new aspect of an existing product, a new diagnosis, or a new name for a familiar complaint-like halitosis.
  • Has a feeling of seriousness. Physical discomfort is no joking matter to the sufferer. He welcomes recognition of the reality of his complaint.
  • Conveys a feeling of authority. There is a doctor-patient relationship inherent in medicine copy, not merely a seller-buyer relationship.
  • The advertisement should not merely extol the merits of your product; it should also explain the disease. The sufferer should feel that he has learned something about his condition.
  • Do not strain credulity. A person in pain wants to believe that you can help him. His will to believe is an active ingredient in the efficacy of the product.
From intern to the top

First, be ambitious. But you must not be so nakedly aggressive that your fellow workers rise up and destroy you.
If you go straight into an advertising agency after leaving school, conceal your arrogance and keep up your studies.
After a year of tedious training, you will probably be made an assistant account executive- a sort of midshipman.
The moment that happens, set yourself to becoming the best-informed man in the agency on the account to which you are assigned.
If, for example, it is a gasoline account, read textbooks on chemistry, geology, and distribution of petroleum products. Read all the trade journals in the field. Read all the research reports and marketing plans that your agency has ever written on the product.
Spend Saturday mornings in service stations, pumping gasoline and talking to motorists.
Visit your client’s refineries and research laboratories.
Study the advertising of his competitors.
At the end of your second year, you will know more about gasoline than your boss; you will then be ready to succeed him.

Nowadays, it is the fashion to pretend that no single individual is ever responsible for a successful advertising campaign. This emphasis on “teamwork” is bunkum-a conspiracy of the mediocre majority. No advertisement, no commercial and no image can be created by a committee.

I would therefore advise my own son to specialize-in media, research, or copy.

Try your damnedest to keep your expenditure below your income, so that you can survive a period of unemployment. Take up the options you are given to buy stock in your agency. And invest in other directions. Social Security is mighty short commons for an advertising agent of 65.

Recipe for refreshing vacations:
  • Don’t stay at home and putter around the house. You need a change of scenery.
  • Take your wife, but leave the children with a neighbor.
  • Shut yourself off from exposure to advertising.
  • Take a sleeping pill every night for the first three nights.
  • Get plenty of fresh air and exercise.
  • Read a book every day.
  • Broaden your horizons by going abroad, even if you have to travel steerage. But don’t travel so much that you come back cross and exhausted.

The psychiatrists say that everyone should have a hobby. The hobby I recommend is advertising. Pick a subject about which your agency knows too little, and make yourself an authority on it. Plan to write one good article every year, and place it in the Harvard Business Review. Rewarding subjects: the psychology of retail pricing, new ways to establish the optimum advertising budget, the use of advertising by politicians, obstacles which prevent international advertisers; using the same campaigns all over the world, the conflict between reach and frequency in media planning.
Once you become the acknowledged authority on any of these troublesome subjects, you will be able to write your own ticket.
→ Make your career into a hobby.

Advertising which the dons endorse is more effective, in terms of sales results, than the “combative” or “persuasive” advertising which they condemn. Commercial self-interest and academic virtue march together.

If all advertisers gave up flatulent puffery, and turn to the kind of factual, informative advertising, they would not only increase their sales, but they would also place themselves on the side of the angels. The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive.

Never write an advertisement which you wouldn't want your own family to see.

As a practitioner, I know that TV is the most potent advertising medium ever devised, and I make most of my living from it. But as a private person, I would gladly pay for the privilege of watching it without commercial interruptions.

The vast majority of thought-leaders now believe that advertising promotes values that are too materialistic. The danger to my bread-and-butter arises out of the fact that what thought-leaders think todaymajority of voters are likely to think tomorrow.