13 Timeless Lessons from the Father of Advertising

13 Timeless Lessons from the Father of Advertising

Reader Comments (82)

  1. Thank you so much for this Beth! What a wonderful post, filled with time-tested brilliance that both informs and inspires. As I was reading, I kept thinking, “Ooh! I’ll tweet that quote. WAIT! That one’s better! And that one too!” I think I’ll just tweet the headline. It says it all. 🙂

    • Jerod — I found myself in the same boat, but finally selected this provocative assertion as my favorite — “Talent, I believe, is most likely to be found among nonconformists, dissenters, and rebels.”

    • My favorite (by far) is “Don’t bunt. Aim out of the ball park. Aim for the company of immortals,” but I’m a total sucker for that motivational stuff. 🙂

  2. David Ogilvy was the Seth Godin of his time.
    I had the honour and pleasure of working for Ogilvy & Mather in the late 90’s. It is the best advertising company in the world and it was the most creative and unusual place I ever worked. I should have stayed longer. But it was my first “office job” and I didn’t know how great it was.

    • Wow, Keith! I would absolutely love to know more about what it was like to work there! Have you written about it on your blog (or anywhere else)? Thanks for commenting!

    • My stint there was awesome but earlier. Everything that was ever fun in business I learned as an Art Director/Copywriter in NY. And it’s all true.

  3. Great insights Beth! I love David Ogilvy’s quote about the subconscious. We need to inform our conscious so our subconscious can be unleashed to communicate effectively. We aren’t writing research papers!

  4. D.O. is one of my favorite advertising minds, such a great blend of the practical with an artistry that took things to a different level.

  5. A great list – I think this is pretty timeless as, despite the technology advances, advertising’s still all about winning over human emotions. What seems to work at the moment is cute and surreal things mixed with songs from yesteryear; note the success (in the UK anyway) of the dancing Shetland Pony advert to the setting of Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere. Or, over in the USA, the success of Oreo’s social media campaigns. Innovation and intelligence is key!

  6. These are wonderful quotes. As I always thought, Ogilvy had a common sense approach to marketing which transformed selling a message into an artform. I try to carry this over into the digital realm, not always easy but I enjoy the process.

  7. I copied and pasted this post into my Evernote. Thanks!

    I loved the quote about writing because content is usually written for the masses. The quote from David is a great reminder to write content for an individual. After all, we are individuals. But, we collectively read content too.

    One of my marketing heroes is Madonna. She’s reinvented herself several times and still creates buzz. Plus, younger pop stars have copied or piggybacked on her success. Madge knows how to market and could teach a sales and marketing course.

  8. Thank you for bringing this to light for me! I immediately ordered a copy of Ogilvy On Advertising.

  9. Thanks for the great post! I loved the quote about not bunting. I think that is true for so many different things in our lives, not just writing copy. As a fresh blogger and one who presents information often in training, I’m always looking for fresh ways to connect with my audience. I will go check out Oglivy for sure now. In my mind, I picture that he was a Don Draper (Mad Men), although I’m sure that is just really good television:)

  10. Despite a raging recession in the 70’s, I was able to attain an interview despite having only a newly minted MBA coupled with a passion for product development and promotion. My ploy was to send a message in a sealed bottle relating a tale of being marooned in the boondocks of NJ.

    It worked however the gal in charge of HR was nasty as she sat me down for the interview. Obviously I had avoided her usual channel. My end of the interview went well (to her dismay). My year old thesis ad campaign that prophesized Mercedes SUV’s had proven very prescient. She sensed this and then abruptly threw out the “would you like a cigarette” card which was just becoming an interview faux pas at that time. “Well”, I said to myself, “If she is to reject me, let it be for the inane. “Sure” I said. “A smoke and a claret makes for great conversation”.

    She finally smiled thus sealing my fate. There would be no Madison Ave in my future and perhaps it was the best thing to happen for someone too entrepreneurial for the large corporate world.

  11. Great interpretations from a `master`Beth. So many tend to chase what is `new`or working best at the time and lose sight of the basics of great writing and sales. Looking back at some of the great writers and advertisers, we can see that not much has really changed. A good reminder to truly understand `who you are writing to`and `speak in their language`.

  12. This is excellent Beth,

    I like the quote about the headlines the best.
    It’s true everyone does this.

    We scan headlines and if it’s interesting then we’ll take a further look. This is also why it’s important to put your juiciest content at the beginning of the article to keep the reader interested.

    I also like what he says about greatness it is critical to have fun, I think people take waaaay too much waaay too seriously. Life’s too short.

  13. “Ogilvy on Advertising” is timeless. He urged copywriters to “Blaze new trails!” “Compete with the immortals!”

  14. My favorite is “play to win, but enjoy the fun”. I might need to hang this in my office! I have bookmarked this link to go back to it for inspiration. A great read for a sunny, Friday afternoon. Thank you!

  15. Hi Beth,

    I’m currently in the middle of “Ogilvy on Advertising,” and it’s absolutely amazing (which includes some of the quotes you mentioned plus many others). It also has a series of ads Ogilvy did for his agency that look like a very early form of content marketing. His reasoning for those ads it priceless and useful to anyone who’s interested in content marketing. What did he say, you ask? He said that the point of the ads was to convince people that he and his agency knew a lot about advertising. That’s great advice for content marketing.

    Thanks for the great post!


    • Hi Joseph – I’m curious about this….I need to go and dig up my copy of Ogilvy on Advertising. Didn’t Ogilvy usually say that the sole purpose of an ad was to convince the reader to buy? I’m curious why he would have a different purpose for the ads that you mentioned here….?

  16. Awesome post! And I couldn’t agree more with the idea that posts need to meet the needs of the audience first and showcase the talent of the writer second.

  17. Wow, words of wisdom. I’m a big fan of David Ogilvy.
    Thanks for sharing the inspiring quotes and lessons here.

  18. I have spent the better part of 20 years in Advertising and Marketing and now have set forth on the Road Less Traveled, at least for me. I am creating what I hope to be a successful destination blog called Art of Adventure.Net.
    I have always respected David Olgilvy and his teachings.
    Thank you for reminding us of this great man and his insights.

    Adventure Insider

  19. So much great advertising wisdom in this post! Ogilvy was so ahead of his time! It’s time for us to take the wisdom he has passed on and create our own legacy.

  20. Good article – but…

    I Ogilvy really is the “Father of Advertising” then what does that make Claude Hopkins, John E Kennedy and Albert Lasker? The Grandfathers of advertising?

  21. Awesome ideas from the history and a inspiring personality. the words made me think, why does it really mater to be unique or give something that world otherwise couldn’t find.

  22. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never heard of this man until I read your post. Now I have a new obsession. Thank you.

  23. David Ogilvy has surely left us with something so precious and useful that we can literally use for decades to come. I too like “stuffing your conscious mind with information” as much as you do. A well-fed mind in itself is a universe from where ideas emerge.

  24. Great timing Beth! I just got back from vacation feeling a bit relaxed and inspired. This helped set my mind to get back in the swing of getting things going again. I’ve been meaning to read “Oglivy On Advertising” and just placed my order. Thanks!

  25. These really are timeless!
    “Talent, I believe, is most likely to be found among nonconformists, dissenters, and rebels.”
    I’m not sure which of these categories I fit in.

    Thanks for the great post!

  26. A very useful post Beth. All the points are valuable but I believe the two most important points are “Standing out” and “Research and Testing”. It is so important to have a unique personality as a content marketer. Thats the only way people can relate with you and join your community.

    Thanks for a well written piece

  27. Great thoughts (and excellent commentary!) from one of the all-time greats…thanks so much, Beth. I’m having a hard time deciding which Ogilvy quote found here is my favorite (and I also like the one Michael Hyatt reminded us of). Here’s another good one: “Search all the parks in all your cities. You’ll find no statues of committees.”

  28. Simply excellent. No words can explain that how much I liked reading these life changing lessons. Thanks a lot.

  29. Thanks for the post. I think these quotations pretty much tell you most of what is important about content writing. I might pin it to my office wall. Some great links too.

  30. You’ve only just scratched the surface, but what you’ve shared ought to drive many to find out more. You’ve selected some classic gems from the treasure that is David Ogilvy. So much more awaits the inquisitive mind! Thanks, from an old school Madmen kind of guy.

  31. Brilliant post – especially the emphasis on headlines. 80c of each dollar should go towards the headline which is why this is always the last piece I work on before going live.

    • Does the content that you already have created help you to decide upon the best headline? I always wonder if headlines are the most important ones, should not they be created first and edited last before going live? Or maybe that is just the thing you wanted to say 🙂

  32. Great post. I see how this applies to the iPhone. Apple advertized the iPhone as “”If you don’t have an iPhone, well, you don’t have an iPhone.” I couldn’t make much sense out of it. But if you think about it…it tells you that the iPhone is a brand on its own. Its seems to imply that if you don’t have an iPhone then you are missing out on something. Talk about “it’s not creative if it doesn’t sell” and here is the example of something that sells but it doesn’t have anything that you were terribly missing out on that you didn’t have before.

  33. Great to get the insights from perhaps the greatest marketer of all time. The ideas seem to be so simple, yet most of us tend to miss them in the bigger realm of things. Loved reading the post.

  34. The author is truly gifted, how he incorporates ideology and business in a way to that seem to blend together. I really like the honesty and deep thought process that was practiced and implemented.. Ogilvy had a really nice selling tactic; the laid back soft sell approach similar to that of Edward Bernays; the father of public relations. They both seemed to aim there efforts and the emotions of their audience, which has proved to be very useful in sending the point across. I especially like the free- thinking promotion, there isn’t a lot of people passing out encouragement these days. Great article, definitely two thumbs up!

  35. Thank you! Love this…

    “Cleverness doesn’t sell products and services. Original thinking in marketing is great, but not just for the sake of being witty or clever. If you aren’t thinking about connecting with your audience, building trust and selling your products or services when you sit down to write marketing copy, you need to reexamine your motivations.

    Don’t just create content to get credit for being clever — create content that will be helpful, insightful, or interesting for your target audience.”

  36. There is nothing better than learning from the best and this honest, thought provoking advice helps us do just that. the quotes on creativity are particularly poignant as this, for me, is the most integral part of advertising.

  37. “Don’t just create content to get credit for being clever — create content that will be helpful, insightful, or interesting for your target audience. ” This quote really showed me again what everybody should be focusing on: content is king. to be successful, you have to create outstanding content of great value.

    thanks for the new insights!

  38. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece because I had the privilege knowing Mr David Ogilvy and working in his company for 25 long years. Yet every time I read his quotes, it seems so fresh, and eternally relevant.
    Thanks for this piece. It is back to basics but important.

    On the business of generating ideas ‘unhooking from your rational thought’ is the most difficult one. Getting out of habitual thinking is tough!

  39. Great post: I enjoyed reading it. But you have to be careful about phrases such as “hitting it out of the ball-park.”

    The reason?

    Sports analogies and metaphors are tricky, because not all countries share your love of sports; or they tend to play different sports.

    American baseball is not played by most countries and in most cultures, so such a turn of phrase would be hard to understand once you leave the U.S.

    In a world that in increasingly global, this is just something to keep in mind. Otherwise, a brilliant post: I really appreciate your effort here. Thanks.

    • Agree with Archana. Although expressions like ‘ball park’ figure etc seem to have entered our corporate lexicon quite some time ago.

  40. These are wonderful quotes. As I always thought, Ogilvy had a common sense approach to marketing which transformed selling a message into an artform .

  41. Really loved this line “inspiration comes to those who keep butts in chairs”, that really very much true. Thanks for this wonderful post.

  42. Even if we hold all the prospects for a best ad campaign, and couldn’t understand target market/people, all such efforts would end up at a better flop in terms of time and money. This article clearly says that. Thank you.

  43. This is great. My favorite thing about Ogilvy was how he managed to merge his analytical and creative thinking in a way to produce incredible results.

    There’s a spectrum that runs from the stereotypical, disorganized “creative” and the regimented, lifeless “orderly.” Finding a balance between the two is something I work on every day to take my business to the next level.


  44. Very helpful. “Use their language and talk to individuals not a mass crowd.”
    It seems so simple but makes so much sense.

  45. I have had a lot to do with Robert Cialdini lately, recently completing his Principles of Persuasion course. Cialdini studied human behaviour and researched how people got other people to say “Yes” or influence and formed a framework around 6 principles of persuasion he invented.

    I could really relate with that article Beth, having recently become an avid follower and love reading articles on persuasion and the like.

    Keep em coming.

  46. “Cleverness doesn’t sell products and services. Original thinking in marketing is great, but not just for the sake of being witty or clever.” Very True – Marie

  47. Mary Wells Lawrence was far more talented then Mr. Ogilvy! Read “A Big Life in Advertising”

  48. Well mentioned Beth
    //Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science, and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant.//

    Nice article, Thanks.

  49. The first business book I ever read was when I was a teen “Confessions – Ogilvy on Advertising” … his words and methodology are still used as examples today for many creative types.

  50. Incredibly insightful article!

    I am so glad that I studied the works of Edward Bernays previously as this article on Ogilvy helps me bring the two halves together. Who would’ve thought focusing and speaking to one reader at a time creates such a powerful effect?

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