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.”
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?
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?
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.
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