What do Rolls-Royce, Dove, Shell, and Schweppes all have in common?
The answer: David Ogilvy, known throughout the copywriting and advertising industries as “The Father of Advertising.” For a quick snack-break-sized read, scan through these nine tips on copywriting, content writing, and general advertising, straight from the master:
“Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.”
There are a number of phrases – seven, in fact – that really make me grind my teeth. I’m sure you, Ogilvy, and myself could come up with plenty more. Why use big words when what you want to say is fairly simple?
“I don’t know the rules of grammar… If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.”
Meet your customers where they are. When a reader has to work to translate your message, you can assume you’ve lost them.
“A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.”
On the surface, a lot of content writing today draws attention to itself. This demand for attention is what makes it worth sharing on Facebook, Twitter, and everywhere else. At the same time, this attention-demanding content usually isn’t trying to make the sale; it’s just trying to gain attention. When sale time comes, make sure your content is clear, direct, and to the point.
“If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”
Ogilvy was such a clever writer that he could put a creative (and profitable) spin on any product. If your product isn’t selling, it might not be the product’s fault.
“Advertising is only evil when it advertises evil things.”
Ogilvy wasn’t much for the notion of Big Evil Advertising. It’s the advertiser’s job to sell, and the consumer’s job to know whether or not he really needs/wants the product.
“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.”
In our current age of SEO copywriting, you could just as easily trade out ‘headline’ for ‘meta tag’ or ‘page title’. Similarly, Copyblogger claims that 80% of people read headlines, but only 20% read the body.
“Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image.”
Common sense, but commonly forgotten. If your advertisement isn’t reinforcing your brand, then what’s your brilliant reason for bypassing Olgivy’s wisdom?
“Good copy can’t be written with tongue in cheek, written just for a living. You’ve got to believe in the product.”
I can say from personal experience that this is a fairly accurate statement about content writing. I don’thave to be head over heels about a product to write great copy, but it sure helps. Writers, make sure you can connect with a client. Business owners and marketing agencies, make sure your writers appreciate your product/service.
“If you ever have the good fortune to create a great advertising campaign, you will soon see another agency steal it. This is irritating, but don’t let it worry you; nobody has ever built a brand by imitating somebody else’s advertising.“
Perhaps the most valuable piece of advertising advice on this list. Great work will always be imitated, but it will never be replicated.
This, and much more of Ogilvy’s timeless advice, can be found in The Unpublished David Ogilvy: A Selection of His Writings from the Files of His Partners. The book is long out of print, but you can snag a copy with some rummaging through Amazon’s second-hand copies or your favorite used bookstore.