When I first tried to break into the advertising world, I picked up a book titled “Ogilvy on Advertising.” It was a good decision because it both sharpened my understanding of good advertising and sparked questions about what it could be. It also was unquestionably how I started to develop my POV, which is something I think every advertising creative needs. Because without a strong POV, we’re somewhat rudderless. Powerless to identify and solve problems on behalf of our clients.
After years in the business, I think my takeaway from Ogilvy’s wisdom wasn’t necessarily anything he wrote in his book; rather, it was his position as a copywriter and the head of a global powerhouse of an agency. The copywriter must know the client, the product, and the audience better than anyone else. Nobody, including account executives, account planners, or strategists, should know more than the copywriter because we’re the ones communicating with the public. We have to know more because there is no hiding our ignorance once an ad is out in the world.
I’m not 100% sure what Ogilvy would say about this, but I have to believe — considering his work ethic, research knowledge, and consumer behavior — he would agree.
The Father of Advertising
Right or wrong, David Ogilvy is known as “The Father of Advertising.” Maybe it’s because of his books or perhaps because he was wildly successful. Or it could be that he’s so quotable. But, I’m going to go ahead and say that any person who came up with their own advertising commandments at least deserves consideration for the title. What were those commandments? I’m glad you asked.
Commandment 1: Advertising is for selling.
He’s not wrong about this. No company will pay good money just so an agency can make them look cool. There must be a return on ad spend. It’s our job to make clients more profitable.
Commandment 2: Clearly define your position. What and for who?
Defining your position is critical. We need to know what you’re selling and who you’re selling to. His example was Dove soap, which he could’ve positioned as a hand soap for men. Instead, he positioned it as a moisturizing soap for women with dry skin.
Commandment 3: Do your homework. Study your consumer in detail.
Today we’d do this through exercises like user journeys or buyer personas to know their motivations and preferences, as well as how they’re likely to benefit from whatever we’re selling.
Commandment 4: Think of the consumer as a woman. She wants all the information you can give her.
Okay, remember this was all Mad Men’s era, so the reference is dated. However, we now consume information differently. You’re likely to see a digital ad before you see a long-form print ad, which means we can’t go on and on about your product or service in the ad. We can, however, grab people’s attention and compel them to click the ad and be taken to a landing page with all the information they could ever need.
Commandment 5: Talk to them in the language they use every day, the language in which they think.
This is the way. We’re having a one-sided conversation, so we need to make the copy as clear as possible, and the best way to do that is to use familiar words and phrases. Plus, it’s generally just a friendlier tone when we write in everyday language.
Commandment 6: Write great headlines.
I couldn’t agree more. Only 20% of people read body copy, so it’s on us to capture the attention and imagination of consumers with wickedly good headlines.
Commandment 7: Highlight the product by making it the hero.
I think he means that instead of holding up a widget and saying, “look how great this widget is,” he wants us to highlight the product’s benefits. For example, one of his most famous headlines highlights the quietness of the car. “At 60 miles per hour, the loudest noise in the new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock.”
So, those are the rules. And now that we know them, it’s time to break them, starting with the idea that ads are just there to sell. That’s the ultimate goal, but ads are also there to build great brands. This helps boost selling efforts down the line. Think about the Apple ad we talked about not long ago, “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers …” It wasn’t made to sell, but rather to inspire. Because once you inspire someone, it makes it that much easier for them to buy your product.
If you want your brand to get noticed and you’re not afraid to break some rules, you know what to do.