Friday, February 16, 2007

What would Ogilvy make of modern marketing research?

I’ve been reading a great book by David Ogilvy recently called “Confessions of an Advertising Man” which was written back in 1963 but is still relevant to today’s marketing community thanks to its common sense approach to the nature of advertising. Ogilvy is clear that Advertising is a means to an end for organisations - not some great religion to be worshiped but a practical tool to help sell. The text of this book is full on great quotes and one-liners which jump off the page. The ones which really caught my eye showed Ogilvy to be a rarity for a creative ad man back in the 1960’s – a man who wanted as many facts as possible to help him sell more of his client’s wares:

  • “Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals”
  • “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”
  • “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.”
  • “You have only 30 seconds in a TV commercial. If you grab attention in the first frame with a visual surprise, you stand a better chance of holding the viewer. People screen out a lot of commercials because they open with something dull... When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire.”
It’s clear from the book that Ogilvy really valued facts and figures as much as great copy and certainly far more than a nicely painted graphic. This almost fanatical obsession with understanding how results could be analysed and improved came from a combination of Ogilvy’s early time in advertising spent with George Gallup and possibly also his time spent cooking in the infamous kitchens of Paris in the 1930’s where perfection was a minimum standard.

Ogilvy's Dove adverts were regarded as some of his best copy

As these adds which Oglivy wrote show, his style was simple and based upon experience he had learned through research reports - the photo at the top of the page, black on white text for readability and lots of product facts in the copy were his trademarks - in the 1960’s people read the copy if it was catchy - i wonder whether this is still the case. Another trick he used extensively was that of the testimonials (user experience summary). This made great commercials and factually based adverts talking up product features were also rarely shown to be ineffectual.
I’m not sure that these same rules apply to the market today – certainly things have changed somewhat in terms of the way consumers interact with media and there is no doubt that Ogilvy was writing at a time when even TV advertising wasn’t well researched. However I’m sure that were he alive today, he’d have some interesting ideas about the need for more research into what makes a great ad and what features work time after time.

What intrigues me most about Ogilvy’s writing is that he attributes almost all of his best techniquesto fact based research. To me, he’s saying that the reason he got things right was in part down to his (unique?) ability to listen to the numbers and suspend what may have been his personal tastes (see his point about loving art but refusing to use a painting in place of a photo which he knows to have more potential impact). This is surely a lesson to many advertisers today who appear obsessed about creating “great” commercials at the expense of “effective” ones.

Based on what Ogilvy has written, I’ve taken a guess at what his top tips might be for modern advertisers who live in the modern multi-channel world?
  1. The test / learn / execute cycle is not optional – hence why I think Ogilvy would have loved online and 2.0 based technologies for their optimisation capabilities.

  2. Don’t place great faith in intricate copy when useful sales messages will win the day – I hate to say it but I’m starting to admire some of the adverts run by PC World because they hammer home their points over and over in such a way that consumers can’t fail to be educated (now I know that the Advertising Standards Authority have taken a dim view of some of their commercials but they are objecting to the facts spouted out and not the style of the ads).

  3. Make sure an idea is researchable – I think the think Ogilvy leaned from DM agencies was the great comfort one can take from measurable results. Nowadays, it’s clear that almost all advertising media are measurable – some are easier to read than others (and in some cases some are too easy but that’s an article for another time) but all are now susceptible to ROI analysis and should be so on a regular basis.

  4. Adapt with your consumers – Ogilvy had a great point to make that your copy should be accessible to your customers. Sounds simple but I think too many people forget this.

If you can think of other rules to add to the list, why not post them below?

I think these rules of thumb would serve any advertiser well for a while in terms of watching the numbers and ensuring meaningful ROI is both achievable and measurable. Like all "rules" though, there will always be exceptions. Exceptional people are few and far between and exceptional ideas certainly don't come up every day of a persons working life. If your commericals don't follow this pattern, at least ask yourself a question on what you are doing.

It’s up to us as an industry to improve research methodologies all the time to make sure that no stone is left unturned in the ROI quest and that our clients needs are always ahead of an agencies need to win an award in Cannes.

Want to learn more? Order Ogilvy's excellent books can be purchased by clicking on sidebar pictures of this website. Thanks


Anonymous said...

Jon, two comments on you Ogilvy thread.

First I think your 3rd rule derived from Ogilvy can be a bit dangerous... It sort of implies that if a great idea cannot be measured, it should be dropped. Many great success stories in marketing products come from things that are (or were) not easy to measure. Take Innocent drinks, all of their marketing was underground, under the radar (events, packaging, WOM,...) - they only did TV once they were already well established and successful. In fact, many brands at very successful product launches despite apparently poor consumer take-up predicted by research.

The other thought, is that not all brands activities are easy to measure. In fact I would argue that to some degree they are becoming more and more difficult to measure, because more fragmented, in response to the consumer "taking control". I'm thinking user generated content, associative marking like sports sponsorhip, PR, events etc. In a nutshell, it's not because it can't be measured that it's not a good thing to do.

Marketing is at its best when it combines rigour of measurements (which generates incremental improvements) with the power of ideas - not always measurable, but often the cause of stepchange improvements in business...

Good blog!


John said...

I think that you have a point - not every brand can afford research - especially when new. However the point that i wanted to make was that significant investments need to be constantly reviewed to check that they are indeed doing something useful. The speed or complexity of analysis changes but i think it's worth being a bit cautious with non-measurable ideas. By all means go and do them but be prepared to loose the money with nothing to show for it also.

I agree that ideas are the lifeblood of marketing. Without the great bold ideas, it's a dull game. However i think Ogilvy would take "dull and effective" over "fun and unmeasurable" most of the time.