Book Review: Ogilvy On Advertising

January 31, 2010 § 2 Comments


Back in college, I was warned about ad industry people. The  account executives who were eager-to-impress. The creative directors  that were hard-to-please, and art directors  that seemed prima-donnic.

An overemphasis on creativity, holier than thou attitude. Those were the words used against ad people.

I was confused at all the fuss over TV ads too. True they were a powerful medium.

But the medium suffered a huge liability: You simply couldn’t account for the effects and gains by advertising on television.

Impressions? What’s the relationship between impressions and someone actually buying a product???

I don’t understand all the focus on winning advertising awards too. You want to win Oscars?

I thought you’re supposed to get people to buy your clients products? Where’s the focus?

All that sounds really harsh, I must admit. Friends who are in the advertising business here in Singapore, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

Then I picked up his “Ogilvy On Advertising”

Ogilvy’s opinions on advertising and his character shines through his guide to the advertising business. His words are an exploration into consumer behavior. His love for the art and science of using words (and sometimes pictures) to coo and coax is fascinating.

On The Power Of Advertising:

“The first thing I have to say is that you may not realize the magnitude of difference between one advertisement and another. Says John Caples, the doyen of direct response copywriters:

‘I have seen one advertisement actually sell not twice as much, not three times as much, but 19.5 times as much as another. Both advertisements occupied the same space. Both had photographic illustrations. Both had carefully written copy. The difference was that one used the right appeal and the other used the wrong appeal.’

The wrong advertising can actually reduce the sales of a product.

On ‘Creativity’ in Advertising:

‘I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative’. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product. When Aeschines spoke, they said, ‘How well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, ‘Let us march against Philip.’


On the Pursuit Of Knowledge:

I asked an indifferent copywriter what books he had read about advertising. He told me that he had not read any he preferred to rely on his own intuition. ‘Suppose’, I asked, ‘your gall-bladder has to be removed this evening. Will you choose a surgeon who has read some books on anatomy and knows where to find your gall-bladder, or a surgeon who relies on his intuition? Why should our clients be expected to bet millions of dollars on your intuition?’

This willful refusal to learn the rudiments of the craft is all too common. I cannot think of any other profession which gets by on such a small corpus of knowledge.

On the underestimated weapon known as Direct Mail:

One day a man walked into a London agency and asked to see the boss. He had bought a country house and was about to open it as a hotel. Could the agency help him to get customers? He had $500 to spend. Not surprisingly, th head of the agency turned him over to the office boy, who happened to be the author of this book. I invested his money in penny postcards and mailed them to well-heeled people living in the neighborhood. Six weeks later the hotel opened to a full house. I had tasted blood.

Advertising has been around for more than a hundred years, but its more than ever relevant in today’s web-enabled world. Web usability revolves around good writing. When the focus of a website is simply on beautiful aesthetics, you lose focus on what is real and important.

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§ 2 Responses to Book Review: Ogilvy On Advertising

  • Owen says:

    Great article. In fact, I’m currently taking Applied Integrated Marketing Communications – yet another class inspired by the great Ogilvy – and I think he makes some really powerful comments. Note: I think we are as a whole still struggling with the idea of what exactly marketing is. Is it still about somebody holding up a bottle of medicated oil and saying “Don’t leave home without it”?

    Consumers are becoming more savvy thanks to the openness that the Internet has granted us. Marketing faces a whole new challenge – a revamp is already under way.

    • kziqi says:

      I can tell you’re having fun at Emory! I’m curious as to why D.O’s writings aren’t used as texts for college classes. My marketing and advertising classes had us read boring thick academic texts. I probably learnt more from D.O than I did in one semester with those texts.

      You’re right, “marketing” is a misnomer and a big word. My uncle said that “marketing” during his time meant having dinner with the clients.

      On a side note, you might find it interesting that D.O’s career path worked out very nicely. First as an apprentice cook, then a salesman for cooking stoves, then a copywriter, and finally chairperson for an ad agency.

      His sales experience, which now is still highly relevant, is documented in The Theory And Practice Of Selling The Aga Cooker.

      Funny and enlightening.
      Thanks for the comment.

      Ziqi

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