Tuesday, November 16, 2010


The happiest and most rewarding years I spent as an advertising copywriter was when I worked as a Creative Director for Ogilvy & Mather International in Toronto, New, York, Houston, Los Angeles, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Most memorable of all were the times when I was privileged to work with David personally. He did not lecture to his writers; he taught by example of his own straightforward writing style, and by voicing his clear-headed civilized approach to life.
David Ogilvy published his first book, "Confessions of an Advertising Man," in 1963. It became the most widely read book ever written about advertising. It was followed by "Ogilvy on Advertising" (1983) which expanded on David's beliefs about advertising. Together, the two books set forth a coherent point of view and a compendium of detailed knowledge and specific advice, unlike any other available to practitioners of advertising, before or since.
David Ogilvy has been widely quoted both in and beyond the advertising industry. The following are just a few of his numerous precepts, mostly excerpted from Confessions Of An Advertising Man, while others were voiced by him along the way during his long career.
“I have never wanted to get an account so big that I could not afford to lose it. The day you do that, you commit yourself to living in fear. Frightened agencies lose the courage to give candid advice. Once you lose that, you become a lackey.”
“Every word in the copy must count. Concrete figures must be substituted for atmospheric claims; clich├ęs must give way to facts, and empty exhortations [need to be replaced] by alluring offers.”
“Do not compete with your agency in the creative area. Why keep a dog and bark yourself?”
“Shakespeare wrote his sonnets within a strict discipline, fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, rhyming in three quatrains and couplet. Were his sonnets dull? Mozart wrote his sonatas within an equally rigid discipline: exposition, development, and recapitulation. Were they dull?”
“I always tell prospective clients about the chinks in our armor. I have noticed that when an antique dealer draws my attention to flaws in a piece of furniture, he wins my confidence.”
“Notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment. They are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp-post for support, rather than for illumination.”
“I admire people with gentle manners who treat other people as human beings. I abhor quarrelsome people. I abhor people who wage paper warfare. I despise toadies who suck up to their bosses; they are generally the same people who bully their subordinates.”
“The headline is the ticket on the meat. Use it to flag down readers who are prospects for the kind of product you are advertising.”
“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.”
“I once used the word "obsolete" in a headline, only to discover that 43 per cent of housewives had no idea what it meant. In another headline, I used the word "ineffable," only to discover that I didn't know what it meant myself.”
“No manufacturer ever got rich by underpaying his agency. Pay peanuts and you get monkeys.”
“Tourists do not travel thousands of miles to see things which they can see next door. For example, people who live in Switzerland cannot be persuaded to travel five thousand miles to see the mountains in Colorado. Advertise whatever is unique [to each particular audience.]”
“When people aren't having any fun, they seldom produce good work. Kill grimness with laughter. Encourage exuberance. Get rid of sad dogs that spread gloom.”
“Don't judge the value of higher education in terms of careermanship. Judge it for what it is -- a priceless opportunity to furnish your mind and enrich the quality of your life. My father was a failure in business, but he read Horace in the loo until he died, poor but happy.”
[From a letter to his 18-year-old great nephew]
“If you tell lies about a product, you will be found out by the Government, which will prosecute you, or by the consumer, who will punish you by not buying your product a second time.”
“Give people a taste of Old Crow, and tell them it's Old Crow. Then give them another taste of Old Crow, but tell them it's Jack Daniel's. Ask them which they prefer. They'll think the two drinks are quite different. They are tasting [mental] images.”
"If you always hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants."
[from Ogilvy on Advertising]
"If you ever find a man who is better than you are, hire him. If necessary, pay him more than you pay yourself."
“It has taken more than a hundred scientists two years to find out how to make the product in question: I have been given thirty days to create its personality and plan its launching. If I do my job well, I shall contribute as much as two hundred scientists to the success of this product.”
[From Confessions of An Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy.]

If you write for US audiences, best keep your writing simple, lest a large segment of readers are unable to fully understand what you mean. Some lamentable problems of comprehension among the American general public were found in a survey study by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman.
The U.S. is 11th among developed nations in the proportion of 25-to-34 year-olds who have graduated from high school, 16th in college completion rate, 22nd in broadband Internet access, 24th in life expectancy at birth, 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college graduates who have degrees in science or engineering, 48th in the quality of kindergarten to Grade 12 math and science education, and 29th in the number of mobile phones per 100 people.
Forty-nine per cent of U.S. adults do not know how long it takes the Earth to revolve around the sun. U.S. consumers spend more on potato chips than their government does on energy research and development. The average American kindergarten-to-Grade-12 student spends four hours a day watching TV.
During a recent period when two high-rise buildings were built in Los Angeles, 5,000 were built in Shanghai. Sixty-nine per cent of U.S. public school students in Grades 5 through 8 are taught mathematics by teachers who have neither a degree nor a certificate in math.
Friedman has been-writing about this stuff for a long time. He thought the U.S.'s future in the world's economy should have been the overriding issue in the campaigns for the Senate and House of Representatives. All indications are that more trivial issues occupy centre stage.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

As novelist Sholem Asch said, “Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.”