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Confessions of (Today's) Advertising Person - Part 1

In 1963, David Ogilvy, the founder and namesake of the global advertising juggernaut, Ogilvy & Mather, published his first book, Confessions of an Advertising Man. In it, Mr. O outlines his philosophy on life and the industry, covering topics ranging from managing an ad agency to getting and keeping clients to creating great advertising.

It’s the last topic that we’re going to focus on here, specifically, chapter five of the book titled “How to Build Great Campaigns.”1 In said chapter, Mr. O outlines eleven “commandments" for how to accomplish this task. We’re going to see how they stack up in today’s world. Let’s dive on in.

There’s a lot to cover, so for this first installment we’ll cover commandments one through four.

  1. 1. WHAT YOU SAY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HOW YOU SAY IT

    Mr. O often refers to “the promise" of advertisement, or rather, how the consumer benefits from using the product. Here I have to agree, but I have one amendment.

    In his time, print advertisements carried a substantially larger amount of copy than ads of today. In Ogilvy’s arguably most famous ad for Rolls Royce, there are more than four hundred words in the body copy … If I were to turn that in today, I’m sure I’d be put on bed rest (though I may try it at some point, we’ll see).

    My point is that times have changed, attention spans have shortened and people just don’t read ads like they used to in the ’60s. It’s entirely likely that you haven’t even read this far. If you have, I’m impressed. And thank you.

    Brevity is crucial in today’s world, so my amendment to this rule is “ALWAYS SAY THE BEST THING AS SIMPLY AS YOU CAN.” 


  2. 2. UNLESS YOUR CAMPAIGN IS BUILT AROUND A GREAT IDEA, IT WILL FLOP

    In this case, Mr. O and I are in complete alignment. It’s one thing to take a great photo or write a catchy headline, but if it doesn’t ladder up to a big idea, your work isn’t done.

  3. 3. GIVE THE FACTS

    “The consumer isn’t a moron; she’s your wife." This is probably one of the most quoted lines from Confessions of an Advertising Man. The point of this commandment is that, for whatever reason, there is a trend among marketers to simplify and/or dumb down the messaging in an advertisement to “make sure the consumer gets it."

    I abhor this lowest common denominator approach, so I agree with Mr. O on this one. Most people are inherently more intelligent than they’re given credit for, so those of us who market to them should treat them as such. Treat your customers as you’d want to be treated. It’s that simple.

    All that said, my edit to this rule is, “GIVE ONLY THE BEST FACTS AND NOTHING ELSE." As we discussed in point number one, Mr. O had a penchant for beautifully crafted, long-winded body copy that just doesn’t work with today’s audiences. Facts are still important, but establishing a hierarchy and prioritizing only the most pertinent information is paramount.

  4. 4. YOU CANNOT BORE PEOPLE INTO BUYING

    As we all know, the average American is now exposed to 4x109 advertising messages every nanosecond,2 so yeah, you need to be different and stand out from the clutter. I’m neither original nor a genius for typing those words, but it doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

    Go ahead, entertain your audience. Make them laugh. Make them cry. Inspire and motivate them. Make an emotional connection between them and the product you’re selling.

    If nothing else, it’s super fun, and it’s why most of us got into this business in the first place. And when you do it well, you’ll see it in the sales numbers, and that makes everyone happy.

Check back soon for the second installment, which covers commandments 5-7.

Sources:
1Ogilvy, D. M. (1963). How to Build Great Campaigns. Confessions of an Advertising Man. (pp. 23-26).
New York, NY: Atheneum.
2I just made that stat up to see if you’d check my source. Those numbers are totally bogus, but you get the point.