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Jul 16, 2009 | Comments

Memorize the points below; they all apply to online marketing and digital design. Written by David Ogilvy (1911 – 1999), they are more thought-out, researched, and accurate than any bullshit spewed from the Adage Power 150 bloggers.

The points may seem familiar, as some bloggers rehash and recycle the ideas as if they were the latest, most amazing discovery (i.e., always measure your advertising). Ogilvy wrote it in 1983. Most of the facts were discovered in the 1920s – 1950s.

Marketers: if you’ve never heard of David Ogilvy, you are one of these people and have failed at learning your craft.

Here’s the advice from Ogilvy, all relevant to online marketers:

  • Pursue Knowledge – I asked an indifferent copywriter what books he read on advertising. He told me none, relying on intuition. The willful refusal to learn the rudiments of the [advertising] craft is all too common. I cannot think of any profession which gets by on such a small corpus of knowledge.
  • Write brilliant copy:
    • Never use superlatives (e.g., “best in the world”). No one is convinced.
    • Stay away from analogies–few people understand them.
    • Testimonials improve your sell, especially those from experts. [Matt: an experiment with SoBe energy drink, from my last post, confirms this].
    • Always include the price.
    • Long copy pulls in more people than short copy. It conveys the impression that you have something important to say, whether people read it or not. [Matt: I'd like to disagree with Ogilvy on this one...who wants to read long sales pitches? But Ogilvy always sought data to support his points. Who am I to argue without any data except intuition? Refer to the "pursuit of knowledge" point.]
    • If you use long copy, include a sub-head–it will heighten the reader’s appetite.
    • The more facts you tell, the more you sell.
  • How to write headlines:
    • The ones that work best provide a promise, a benefit.
    • If it contains news, it’s a sure-fire hit.
    • Include the brand name in the headline, as most people will not read the body copy.
    • Never run an ad without a headline.
    • Don’t add periods to the end of a headline–they signal that the reader should stop.
  • Designing your ad:
    • People read in the following order: illustrations, headlines, copy–so put the headline below the illustration.
    • Always use captions. More people will read them than the body copy.
    • Don’t make an ad look like an ad. This signals to the reader, “Skip me, I’m an ad.”
    • San-serif is hard to read–we are used to reading serif font [Matt: though most online text is in san-serif].
    • Drop initials increase readership by 15%
    • Set key paragraphs in bold.
    • If you space between paragraphs, you will increase readership by 12%.
    • Never write in ALL CAPS [including headlines]–they retard reading.
  • Logos are horrible: they were created in the 1800s because of illiteracy. Brands insist on using them–but research shows that they reduce readership.
  • Make Your product the hero – if you think that your product is too dull, I have news for you. There are no dull products, only dull writers.
  • Always Test - Certain techniques work better than others. You’re not going to sell by being creative or original [Matt: Ogilvy hates the word "creative]. Creative wins awards, not sales.
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  • coco1212

    David Ogilvy was truly a visionary and a great marketer, he wrote the book on advertising *literally. I used quotes from his books in my last term paper about the ez saver program and my teachers were very happy with it. Looks like nobody tried to prove Ogilvy wrong, since he had a brilliant mind.

  • Matthew F Daniels

    thanks cornelia for the comment. completely agree!

  • Matt,
    Do you read any of the blogs on the Adage Power 150? If so, which single one would you reccommend, other than Seth's? Thanks!

  • Touche.

    It seems to me that Ogilvy recommending a headline in all advertisements is different than using Twitter.

    Bear with me: for example, in Basketball, it makes sense to have tall, fast, athletic players. Research and time has shown this to be the best way to win basketball games (i.e., use headlines, serif font). A zone offense or full-court press is a strategy, which may work for some teams and may not work for others based on the their team structure (i.e., Use Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

    I think that this is difference between the Ogilvy and the point from Seth Godin.

    And you're right, Ogilvy was in a different landscape for advertising, when ads were often read and long copy made sense. But I still think that the fundamentals ring true (i.e., test your ads and research what was successful). Also, tactical maneuvers like drop caps and testimonials were proven to increase readership. Again, things have changed, but understanding why they worked is again important. Drop caps stand out. Testimonials reflect our follow-the-herd behavior bias.

    I'm going to have to disagree about your last point, "If their were a perfect formula, every agency would be using it and every client would be demanding it...especially if it guaranteed sales." David Ogilvy stressed this point repeatedly. Even in the 1970s, when many advertising schemes were proven to be successful, rarely did agencies or clients demand to use tactics that worked. For some reason, everyone sought to be "creative," even though studies showed that their creative license caused poor performance. Ogilvy laughed at this absurdity, especially clients that ignored the facts. It supports why Ogilvy was so successful over the years.

  • Victor

    This is a formula for making an ad,
    that says in the middle of the formula,
    "Don't make an ad, look like an ad."
    Ummm...but you just told me to.

    Print ads for household disinfectant, a luxury handbag, and cholesterol medication should not all look the same. Advertising was a very different business when Ogilvy formulated his ideas.

    This is a classic VW ad - rightly considered a great ad. It meets much of the criteria, outlined in your post. But would it be successful today, (even with a more contemporary font)?
    http://www.old-ads.com/imag...

    This ad violates many rules: no copy, no brand in the headline, uses a logo, headline is before image, etc. etc. But is this a bad ad when you are selling the pure indulgence and sex appeal of an $80k car?
    http://dailybiz.files.wordp...

    If their were a perfect formula, every agency would be using it and every client would be demanding it...especially if it guaranteed sales.

    As a guru once said: "The only way your organization is going to make an impact is to market in the way only you can. Not by following some expert’s rules or following the herd, but by doing it in the way that works. For you.”

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