Revisiting Ogilvy on Advertising.

Having had occasiuon to catch up on some long-overdue reading of late, I can still say that – hand on heart – Ogilvy on Advertising still has to be one of the most important books written about the industry.

Additionally – hand still firmly in place on my chest – still I consider David Ogily’s writing to be as relevant today as it ever was which, considering it was first published in 1983, may be something of a bold statement.

For those not familiar with the man or his work, David Ogilvy was hailed as the “Father of Advertising” and his work covered brands from Volkswagen to Rolls Royce, Campbell’s Soup to Guinness, and Shell Oil to IBM. Obviously, he was the founder of what is now one of the largest creative agencies in the world, but he too once started small and went on to reach incredible heights in his career. The photos you’ll see of him are of a well dressed English gentleman, probably smoking a pipe and perched on the corner of a desk – chances are he featured large in the inspiration for the styling of Mad Men.

The book was recommended to me by Damian Scott, a very talented copywriter, musician and incredibly creative person all round. At the time, in 2000, the book was already nearly 20 years old; what could I possibly learn from it?

More than I can ever remember is the simple answer.

Whenever I dip back into these pages I never fail to re-discover an absolute gem of advice. What I have come to realise is that Ogilvy was (still is) also the “Father of Content Marketing”.

I draw your attention to chapter seven in particular, the one titled, “Wanted: a renaissance in print advertising” with the sub-heading of ‘God is in the details’. Remember, this is 1983 so no internet, no email and the closest thing to social media is reading a newspaper in the pub. But what Ogilvy covers in his writing could have been penned by a website content ‘guru’ from the past 18 months:

“You cannot bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them into buying it. It pays to write short sentences and short paragraphs, and to avoid difficult words.” Sound enough advice, I think we can all agree?

“Copy should be written in the language people use in everyday conversation…” Sound obvious, but just because it’s common sense doesn’t mean it’s common practice.

“Don’t write essays. Tell your reader what your product will do for them, and tell it with specifics.” Again, cut out the waffle – no one wants to wade through rafts of copy (note to self, start wrapping this up soon…).

And most tellingly, “Write your copy in the form of a story.”

Ogilvy’s adverts were famous for their story telling; they were invariably long on copy but the reader never felt like they were wading through a hefty tome; it was brand storytelling at it’s finest.


Headlines mattered to Ogilvy: you get better recall when you include the brand name, if advertising regionally or locally make sure you include the town or city in the title as people are interested in places where they live.

Sound a bit naive? Then when do we use hashtags in social media posts to flag them up to potential audiences?

When it came to selling a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, the story started with a headline about one of the most inconsequential elements of the vehicle: “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock.”

Straight away the reader is intrigued, they are taken off guard and they are already hooked into reading further. Even today, that lengthy headline would fit into Twitter’s 140 characters with enough room for a hyperlink.


This was a big deal for Ogilvy and he wrote as if each headline, each paragraph was tailored specifically for that reader. This wasn’t broadcasting to a huge audience, he had done his research and knew what customer market he was targeting so his words were crafted to feel like they were written for you and you alone.

So do we now add that David Ogilvy was also the “Father of Narrowcast Communication and Marketing”?

It feels like I could write a Blog post about every single page in this wonderful book, but I’ll spare you my ramblings – for now, anyway. Revisiting Ogilvy on Advertising is something I have no intention of calling time on as I find it a great resource for sanity checking as well as drawing a wry smile whenever I see a ‘new’ approach to advertising and marketing, usually digital – if you think something is new, chances are that David Ogilvy was there and well ahead of the game.