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Confessions of an Advertising Man by: David Ogilvy of Ogilvy Advertising

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 14 years and 4 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

Book: Confessions of an Advertising Man by: David Ogilvy

Here’s the scoop: A good friend of mine, and fellow search marketer who spent many years on Madison Avenue has convinced me to educate myself further about "old school" advertising, and has provided me with a great reading list, which I’m now one book through. If the rest are anything like this one, it should be pretty easy to get through them.

Interpreted Thesis:
More so than a thesis – there is a purpose behind this book. David Ogilvy wrote this book for three reasons -

  • To attract more business.
  • To demonstrate value for a public offering
  • To make himself better known in the business world. These three were in his own words, and I have a lot of respect for people who can admit to their own self serving motives. This book has no doubt educated a multitude of folks interested in advertising for many years as well. It really reminds me in many ways of a the motives for what a blog SHOULD be. It is highly specific to what he was knowledgeable about, and he stuck to that topic to educate others, and had no qualms about admitting that the writing was fueled by ego and self serving motives.


    I. How to Manage an Advertising Agency

    II. How to Get Clients

    III. How to Keep Clients

    IV. How to Be a Good Client

    V. How to Build Great Campaigns

    VI. How to Write Potent Copy

    VII. How to Illustrate Advertisements and Posters

    VIII. How to Make Good Television Commercials

    IX. How to Make Good Campaigns for Food Products, Tourist Destinations, and Proprietary Medicines

    X. How to Rise to the Top of the Tree – Advice to the Young

    XI. Should Advertising be Abolished


    Key Terminology

    Quotes from dog-eared pages:

    The creative process requires more than reason. Most original thinking isn’t even verbal. It requires "a groping experimentation with ideas, governed by intuitive hunches and inspired by the unconcious."

    There is one stratagem which seems to work in almost every case: get the prospect to do most of the talking. The more you listen, the wiser he thinks you are.

    Amateurs do it by cajoling a group of agencies into submitting free campaigns, on speculation. The agencies which win these contests are the ones which use their best brains for soliciting new accounts; they relegate their clients to their second-best brains. If I were a manufacturere, I would look for an agency which had no new-business department. The best agencies don’t need them; they get all the business they can handle without preparing speculative campaigns.

    (1) What You Say Is More Important Than How You Say It

    Once upon a time I was riding on the top of a Fifth Avenue bus, when I heard a mythical housewife say to another, "Molly, my dear, I would have bought that new brand of toilet soap if only they hadn’t set the body copy in ten point Garamond."

    (11) Don’t be a copy cat

    Rudyard Kipling wrote a long poem about a self-made shipping tycoon called Sir Anthony Gloster. On his death bed the old man reviews the course of his life for the benefit of his son, and refers contempuously to his competitors:

    They copied all they could follow, but they couldn’t copy my mind,
    And I left ‘em sweating and stealing, a year and a half behind.

    (4) Other words and phrases which work wonders are:

    How to, Suddenly, Now, Announcing, Introducing, It’s Here, Just Arrived, Important Development, Improvement, Amazing, Sensational, Remarkable, Revolutionary, Startling, Miracle, Magic, Offer, Quick, Easy, Wanted, Callenge, Advice to, The Truth About, Compare, Bargain, Hurry, Last Chance

    If you need very long copy, there are several devices which are known to increase its readership:

    (1) A display subhead of two or three lines, between your headline and your body copy, will heighten the reader’s appetite for feast to come.

    (2) If you start your body copy with a large initial letter, you will increase readership by an average of 13 per cent.

    -More quotes from David Ogilvy

    Application to Search

    It is not all to surprising that many of the same principles from ad agencies should apply to new SEM agencies. It was, however, good to see insight into how a TOP agency is run. The same principles of attracting and keeping clients, of being a good client, and on advertising seems to parallel a lot of what I’ve said in my top posts in the past as advice to SEO agencies, clients, and individual SEO’s (new school advertisers).

    I definitely have a love/hate relationship with the attitudes of old school advertising. I love the confidence they have in some great concepts they have set forth. I also hate the rigidity in thinking that the same confidence creates. I think being stubborn, and having this confidence is a prerequisite for creating any type of marketing, and knowing that your ideas will succeed when everyone else says they won’t.

    Aside to the folks at Ogilvy:

    I can only imagine the internal political warfare taking place with the NEO Ogilvy folks and their traditional breathren. I understand that the "cobbler’s kids sometimes has no shoes", but there’s still no excuse for still using frames and few titles on your site in 2007. Just click through on search results to see one of many reasons why. It may not be priority, but there is still no excuse for oversights like these. I’ll be happy to refer several people that could help. Quit letting the lawyers and politicians win the battles.

    It is also reassuring to see that these same top agencies, are still so worried about the old principles, or something else, that they are oblivious to search as a new ad medium. I know that it may not be a priority, but that is still no excuse for not utilizing title tags. I tried to demonstrate title tags to anyone who cared to listen a year and a half ago – ironically, at the time of this post – that post ranks #4 for "top ad agencies". I think David Ogilvy is probably rolling over in his grave now that he can see what a "web headline" (IE: title tag) is – and how underutilized it is at his agency and others. Can you imagine any ad agency not spending the proper amount of time crafting an effective headline?!? I can only hope he’s rooting for the new little guys to get bigger before the large agencies truly start to figure it out.

    Closing Notes

    This is definitely a book worth reading if you are blurring the lines between SEM and advertising, have clients, or even ARE a client of an SEM firm or ad agency. David Ogilvy had a proven track record of success, and has become a name synonymous with successful advertising. He lays out his knowledge in an offering that I’m sure his competitors and friends were quite thankful for.

    More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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    • Chris Sandberg

      Great review, Todd. I’ve been looking for a new book to read so thanks for sharing.

    • shor

      “What You Say Is More Important Than How You Say It”

      The Web 2.0 version: It’s not what you did or even how you did it, it’s how you made the customer feel.

      I read the Ogilvy book from a recommendation list at the end of a very good Joe Sugarman copywriting book (which itself is a recommendation from Copyblogger).

      One can only imagine what master advertisers like Ogilvy and Sugarman would be coming up with in the Web 2.0 era of social media.

    • eric hebert


    • terra

      Old school marketing is definitely not dead yet (although most of us act like it is). Great post, with lots of relevant information!

    • Karl Ribas

      Great review Todd. “Confessions of an Advertising Man” seems right up my alley. Thanks for the tip!

    • Joe Williams

      Todd – nice breakdown, I would be very interested to see how you get on with the other recommendations!


    • Dave Davis

      You had me at “advertising”.

    • Roland Head

      Todd, you’re right – it’s a good read and impressively relevant to SEM. As a copywriter, reading this was almost like an initiation into another world – a world where everything makes sense.

      Anyone who publishes online can probably learn from this – don’t make the mistake of thinking that the internet is somehow “different” or “new” – it ain’t.

    • Joseph McCabe

      Indeed an excellent book! As a do-it-yourself marketer it was definitely a good read with many of the principles working across different mediums.

      It touches base on the art of effective copywriting and references another even more powerful book on the subject authored by John Caples, “Tested Advertising Methods”. For anybody writing copy for the web this is definitley a must have book. Even though the priciples are geared toward print advertising, many of the methods can be utilized to sell on the web.

    • David Temple

      Todd you certainly know how to ‘tell it like it is’. It would certainly be remiss of me not to point this out to my new employer. Now that search is a major component we need to learn to eat our own dog food.

    • http://no tim

      i used to work for ogilvy about 5 years ago. they have not updated their site since. the all red screen hurts my eyes. the interactive department is pretty much a joke there. Ogilvy is a great traditional advertising form. (print, tv, etc) but they really lack on the internet end of things.

    • Ciaran

      Hey Todd – I’ll have to add this one to the list as I’ve read Ogilivy on Advertising (which is great if you haven’t checked it out).

    • Pingback: This Week In SEO - 6/15/07 - TheVanBlog

    • GerBot

      Where is the Affiliate link to Amazon Todd?
      This is the second book you’ve put me onto and you should be getting a comm off this.
      I’m an educated affiliate/seo but I don’t mind giving credit where credit is due.

    • tiffany

      Great Review.. I’m headed to the bookstore right after work! I’m lovin’ the Rudyard Kipling quote.

    • Pouria Loghmani

      Just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to thank you for the book review. It’s ordered and I’m really looking forward to readind it. Where is your amazon affiliate link btw? ;)

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