Ogilvy On Advertising by David Ogilvy

Ogilvy On Advertising by David Ogilvy

The Book in a Few Sentences

Brilliant and comprehensive guide to the ins and outs of advertising (and business) from one of the most well-known and respected admen.

Ogilvy on Advertising summary

This is my book summary of Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy. My summary and notes include the key lessons and most important insights from the book.

1: Overture

  • When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.
  • Consumers still buy products whose advertising promises them value for money, beauty, nutrition, relief from suffering, social status and so on. All over the world.
  • All I do is report on how consumer react to different stimuli.
  • This is not a book for readers who think they already know all there is to be known about advertising. It is for young hopefuls — and veterans who are still in search of ways to improve their batting average eat the cash register.
  • I write only about aspects of advertising I know from my own experience. 

2: How to produce advertising that sells

  • Everyone involved in has a vested interest in prolonging the myth that all advertising increases sales to some degree. It doesn’t.

Do your homework

  • You don’t stand a tinker’s chance of producing successful advertising unless you start by doing your homework. 
  • First, study the product you are going to advertise. The more you know about it, the more likely you are to come up with a big idea for selling it.
  • Your next chore is to find out what kind of advertising your competitors have been doing for similar products, and with what success. 
  • Find out how they think about your kind of product, what language they use when they discuss the subject, what attributes are important to them, and what promise would be most likely to make them buy your brand

Brand image

  • You know have to decide what ‘image’ you want for your brand. Image means personality
  • The personality of a product is an amalgam of many things — its name, its packaging, its price, the style of its advertising, and, above all, the nature of the product itself. 

What’s the big idea?

  • You can do homework from now until doomsday, but you will never win fame and fortune unless you also invent big ideas.
  • Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process.
  • …no idea is big unless it will work for thirty years.
  • It will help you recognize a big idea if you ask yourself five questions:
  • 1  Did it make me gasp when I first saw it?
  • 2  Do I wish I had thought of it myself?
  • 3  Is it unique?
  • 4  Does it fit the strategy to perfection?
  • Could it be used for 30 years?

Make the product the hero

  • Whenever you can, make the product itself the hero of your advertising. 
  • …there are no dull products, only dull writers.
  • Every time I have written a bad campaign, it has been because the product did not interest me.
  • ‘If you and your competitors all make excellent products, don’t try to imply that your product is better. Just say what’s good about your product — and do a clearer, more honest, more informative job of saying it.
  • …measure the selling effectiveness of of your campaign at regular intervals, and to go on running it until the research shows it has worn out.
  • In my experience, committees can criticize, but they cannot create.
  • They don’t realize that a copywriter knows his factors — the triggers which make people read advertisements — can reach many times more readers than a copywriter who doesn’t.
  • With very few exceptions, consumers continue to react to the same techniques in the same ways.

The lessons of direct response

  • For all their research, most advertisers never know for sure whether their advertisements sell. But direct-response advertisers, who solicit orders by mail or telephone, know to a dollar how much each advertisement sells.
  • Every copywriter should start his career by spending two years in direct response.

What about sex?

  • Advertising reflects the mores of society, but does not influence them. 
  • If you follow the advice I have given you, you will do your homework, avoid committees, learn from research, watch what the direct-response advertisers do, and stay away from irrelevant sex. 

3: Jobs in advertising — and how to get them

  • The atmosphere is extraordinarily stimulating. Agencies are psychological hothouses. You will never be bored.
  • At the start of your career in advertising, what you learn is more important than what you earn. 


  • Copywriters may not be the most visible people in agencies, but they are the most important. The hallmarks of a potentially successful copywriter include:
  • Obsessive curiosity about products, people and advertising.
  • A sense of humor.
  • A habit of hard work.
  • The ability to write interesting prose for printed media, and natural dialogue for television.
  • The ability to think visually. Television commercials depend more on pictures than words.
  • The ambition to write better campaigns than anyone has ever written before.
  • ‘Most good copywriters’, says William Maynard of the Bates agency, ‘fall into two categories. Poets. And killers. Poets see an ad as an end. Killers as a means to an end. If you are both killer and poet, you get rich. 

Account Executives

  • Always tell your client what you would do if you were in his shoes. 
  • If you will take my advice, don’t get a job in advertising unless it interests you more than anything in the world.

4: How to run an advertising agency

  • The copywriter lives with fear. Will he have a big idea before Tuesday morning? Will the client buy it? Will it sell the product?
  • One of the most agreeable things about running an agency is that all your accounts are in different industries. In the morning you discuss the problems and opportunities of a client who makes soap. In the afternoon it is a bank, or an airline, or a manufacturer of medicines.


  • The most difficult people to find are those who have the capacity to be good copywriters. I have found that they always have well-furnished minds. They give evidence of exceptional curiosity about every subject under the sun. They have an above-average sense of humor. And they have a fanatical interest in the craft of advertising.

Who not to hire

  • Never hire your friends. I have made this mistake three times, and had to fire all three. They are not longer my friends.
  • Never hire your client’s children. If you have to fire them you may lose the client.
  • Never hire your own children, or the children of your partners. However able they may be, ambitious people won’t stay in outfits which practice nepotism.
  • I do not believe that fear is a tool used by good leaders. People do their best work in a happy atmosphere. Ferment and innovation depend on joie de vivre.
  • The Mose effective leader is one who satisfies the psychological needs of his followers.
  • It does an agency no good when its leader never shares his leadership functions with his lieutenants. The more centers of leadership you create, the stronger your agency will be.

Five Tips

  • Remember the French saying: ‘He who is absent is always wrong.’

5: How to get clients

  • The easiest way to get new clients is to do good advertising.
  • What you should worry about is not the price you pay for your agency’s services but the selling power of your advertising.

The meeting

  • Above all, listen. The more you get the prospective client to talk, the easier it will be to decide whether you really want his account.
  • Tell your prospective client what your weak points are, before he notices them. This will make you more credible when you boast about your strong points.
  • The day after a new business presentation, send the prospect a three-page letter summarizing the reasons why he should pick your agency. This will help him make the right decision.

Credit risks

  • Watch out for credit risks. Your profit margin is too slim to survive a prospective client’s bankruptcy.
  • Never pay a commission to an outsider who offers to introduce new business.
  • Avoid clients whose ethos is incompatible with yours. 
  • Beware of ventures which spend little or nothing today but might become major advertisers, if all goes well. Servicing such non-accounts can be expensive, and few of them make it.
  • Aside: I have resigned accounts five times as often as I have been fired, and always for the same reason: the client’s behavior was eroding the morale of the people working on his account. Erosion of morale does unacceptable damage to an agency.

6: Open letter to a client in search of an agency

  • Any fool can write a bad advertisement, but it takes a genius to keep his hands off a good one.
  • Even the best copywriters are preternaturally thin-skinned. When you have to reject their work, do it gently, and praise them to the skies when they perform well. They are the geese who can lay golden eggs. Inspire them to keep laying.

7: Wanted: a renaissance in print advertising

  • I never cease to be struck by the consistency of consumer reactions to different kinds of headline, illustration, layout and copy—year after year, country after country.


  • One the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 per cent of your money.
  • The headlines which work best are those which promise the reader a benefit — like a whiter wash, more miles per gallon, freedom from pimples, fewer cavities. 
  • Headlines which contain news are sure-fire. The news can be the announcement of a new product, an improvement in an old product, or a new say to use an old product — like serving Campbell’s Soup on the rocks.
  • If you are lucky enough to have some news to tell, don’t bury it in your body copy…State it loud and clear in your headline. And don’t scorn tried-and-true words like amazing, introducing, now, suddenly.
  • Headlines that offer the reader helpful information, like HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE, attract above-average readership.
  • I advise you to include the brand name in your headline. If you don’t, 80 percent of readers (who don’t read your body copy) will never know what product you are advertising.
  • If you are advertising a kind of product which is only bought by a small group of people, put a word in your headline which will flag them down, like asthma, bedwetter, women over thirty-five.
  • Specifics work better than generalities.
  • When you put your headline in quotes, you increase recall by an average of 26 percent.
  • When you advertise in local newspapers, you get better results if you include the name of each city in your headline. People are most interested in what is happening where they live.


  • 2  The kind of photographs which work hardest are those which arouse the reader’s curiosity.
  • 4  It pays to illustrate the end-result of using your product.
  • 5  When I arrived on Madison Avenue, most advertisements were illustrated with drawings. Then it was found that photographs attracted more readers, were more believable, and better remembered.
  • 7  Keep your illustrations as simple as possible, with the focus of interest on one person. Crowd scenes don’t pull.
  • 9  Historical subjects bore the majority of readers.
  • 15  When you advertise  products for use in cooking, you attract more readers if you show a photograph of the finished dish rather than the ingredients.

Body copy

  • ‘Nobody reads body copy.’ True or false? It depends on two things. First, on how many people are interested in the kind of product you are advertising…Second, on how many people have been enticed into your ad by your illustration and headline.
  • When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing each of them a letter on behalf of your client. One human being to another, second person singular.
  • You cannot bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them in buying it.
  • It pays to write short sentences and short paragraphs, and to avoid difficult words.
  • Copy should be written in the language people use in everyday conversation, as in this anonymous verse:

Carnation Milk is the best in the land, 

Here I sit with a can in my hand. 

No tits to pull, no hay to pitch.

Just punch a hole in the son-of-a-bitch.

  • Don’t write essays. Tell your reader what your product will do for him or her, and tell it with specifics.
  • I advise you to avoid analogies. Gallup has found that they are widely misunderstood. 
  • Stay away from superlatives like ‘Our product is the best in the world.’ 
  • If you include a testimonial in your in your copy, you make it more credible. 
  • On the other hand, testimonials from experts can be persuasive — like having an ex-burglar testify that he had never been able to crack a Chubb safe.
  • Most copywriters believe that markdowns and special offers are boring, but consumers don’t think so. 
  • Always try to include the price of your products.

Shorty copy or long?

  • All my experience says that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short. 
  • I believe, without any research to support me, that advertisements with long copy convey the impression that you have something important to say, whether people read the copy or not.
  • Direct-response advertisers know that short copy doesn’t sell. In split-run tests, long copy invariably outsells short copy.
  • But I must warn you that if you want your long copy to be read, you had better write it well. In particular, your first paragraph should be a grabber.

How to become a good copywriter

  • It is no bad thing to learn the craft of advertising by copying your elders and betters.


  • Readers look first at the illustration, then at the headline, then at the copy. So put these elements in that order — illustrations at the top, headline under the illustration, copy under the headline.
  • One the average, headlines below the illustration are read by 10 per cent more people than headlines above the illustration. 
  • Look at the news magazines which have been successful in attracting readers…They all use the same graphics:
  • Copy has priority over illustration.
  • The copy is set in serif type.
  • Three columns of type, 35 to 45 characters wide.
  • Every photograph has a caption.
  • The copy starts with drop-initials.
  • The type is set black on white.
  • Four times as many people read captions as read body copy


  • The readership of ads for low-interest products benefits more from big spaces than ads for high-interest products.
  • Your poster should deliver your selling promise not only in words, but also pictorially. Use the largest possible type. Make your brand name visible at a long distance. Use strong, pure colors. Never use more than three elements in your design.

Typography — ‘the eye is a creature of habit’

  • Good typography helps people read your copy, while bad typography prevents them doing so. 
  • Advertising agencies usually set their headline in capital letters. This is a mistake.
  • Another mistake is to put a period at the end of headlines. 
  • People are accustomed to reading newspapers which are set about 40 characters wide.

If you have to set very long copy, there are some typographical devices which increase its readership:

  • 1  A subhead of two lines, between your headlines and your body copy, heightens the reader’s appetite for the feast to come.
  • 2  If you start your body copy with a drop-initial, you increase readership by an average of 13 percent.
  • 3  Limit your opening paragraph to a maximum of 11 words.
  • 4  After two or three inches of copy, insert a cross-head, and thereafter throughout. 
  • 6  Set key paragraphs in bold face or italic.
  • 7  Help the reader into your paragraphs with arrowheads, bullets, asterisks and marginal marks. 
  • 8  If you have a lot of unrelated facts to recite, don’t use cumbersome connections. Simply number them — as I am doing here.
  • 10  If you use leading (line-spacing) between paragraphs, you increase readership by an average of 12 percent.

8: How to make TV commercials that sell

Radio — the Cinderella medium

  • 1  Identify your brand early in the commercial.
  • 2  Identify it often.
  • 3  Promise the listener a benefit early in the commercial.
  • 4  Repeat it often.

9: Advertising Corporations

  • Opinion Research Corporation has found that people who know a company well are five times more likely to have a favorable opinion of it.

Can advertising influence legislation?

  • If the issue is complicated, and it almost always is, simplify it as much as you reasonably can. But watch out. Simplistic distortion can insult people’s intelligence and do you more harm than good.
  • Present your case in terms of reader’s self-interest.
  • Disarm with candor
  • Give both sides of the issue.
  • Know who your target is

10: How to advertise foreign travel

  • Perhaps the most important factor in the success of tourism advertising is the subjects you choose to illustrate. My advice is to choose things that are unique to the country concerned. 
  • People don’t go half way around the world to see things they can equally well see at home. If you want to persuade the Swiss to visit the United States, don’t advertise ski resorts. If you wan Frenchmen, don’t advertise American food.
  • People dream about visiting foreign countries. The job of your advertising is to convert their dreams into action.
  • When you are advertising little-known countries, it is particularly important to give people a lot of information. 
  • Patterns of travel are peculiarly subject to fashion. Try to put your country on the map, with headlines like Suddenly everyone is going to Ruritania.

11: The secrets of success in business-to-business advertising


  • Admittedly an advertisement, however efficient, can seldom close a sale itself. Its function is to pave the way for salesman, by pre-selling your product and attracting leads.
  • By and large, the advertising techniques that work in this kind of advertising are the same as the techniques that work in consumer advertising — like promising the reader a benefit, news, testimonials, and helpful information.
  • Make sure that what you promise is important to your customer.
  • Make your promise specific. Instead of generalities, use percentages, time elapsed, dollars saved. 
  • Testimonials work well, as long as they come from experts in reputable companies.
  • Demonstrations are most effective when they compare your product’s performance with your competitors’. Try to devise a simple demonstration that your reader can perform himself, like inviting him to scrape the liner of your air-duct with a coin to see how tough it is.
  • Information that is useful to the reader in his job can also be effective, provided the information involves your product.
  • Layouts should be simple, avoiding the arty devices dear to second-rate art directors…If you make your ads look like editorial pages, you will get more readers. 
  • Headlines get fives times the readership of the body copy. Your headlines should promise a benefit, or deliver news, or offer a service, or tell a significant story, or recognize a problem, or quote a satisfied customer.
  • Body copy is seldom read by more than 10 percent of the readers of a publication. But that 10 percent consists of prospects — people interested enough in what you are selling to take the trouble to read about it. What you say to them determines the success of your advertisement.
  • Long copy — more than 350 words — actually attracts more readers than short copy.
  • Captions should appear under all your photographs. Twice as many people read them as read body copy. And use your captions to sell. The best captions are mini-advertisements in themselves. 

Differentiating commodity products

  • In a Harvard Business Review article, Professor William K. Hall reported on a study of eight industries, from steel to beer. The most successful companies were those that best differentiated their product or service.
  • According to professor Hall, the most successful commodity products differentiated themselves in one of two ways: either by low cost or by having the best reputation for quality or service.

How to stimulate inquiries

  • McGraw-Hill reports that nearly all inquiries come from people who have a specific need or application in mind; and a substantial percentage of them buy within six months of their inquiry.

Analyse your inquiries

  • Here are three ways to analyze inquiries
  • 1  Survey a sample of inquiries.
  • 2  Question the sales people who follow up the inquiries.
  • 3  Relate inquiries to the media that produced them.

Advertising to top management

  • Many businesses purchases require approval from top management as well as the purchasing agent. Top managers may not respond to, or even understand, the details that are important to the specifiers. They are only interested in the broad benefits — particularly cost savings.
  • It sometimes pays to run separate campaigns — one addressed to top management, the other to the specialists who read trade publications.

12: Direct mail, my first love and secret weapon

  • In direct mail, testing is the name of the game.
  • Yes you can test every variable in your mailings and determine exactly its effect on your sales.
  • Next to the positioning of your product, the most important variables to be tested are pricing, terms of payment, premiums and the format of your mailing.
  • Once you have evolved a making which produces profitable results, treat it as a ‘control’ and start testing easy to beat it. Try adding a premium, or putting in an expiration date, or adding enclosures — like a personalized letter from your President.
  • Successful mailings do not always depend on premiums, brochures and other such paraphernalia. 
  • Direct response advertising in magazines and television
  • In print advertisements, your headline is the most important element. If your headline promises your strongest and most distinct benefit, you are on your way to success.
  • Long copy sells more than short copy, particularly when you are asking the reader to spend a lot of money. Only amateurs use short copy.
  • Winston Churchill said, ‘Short words are best, and the old words when short are best of all.’ This applies in spades to mail order copy.
  • Tidy, well-organized layouts actually increase coupon returns.


  • The ‘right kind’ [of television commercial] are those which set up a problem and demonstrate how your product can solve it; give a money-back guarantee; include the price; and ask for the order, explicitly and urgently.
  • The most productive times are early morning, late evening and weekends. January, February and March are the most profitable months.
  • The better the program on which your commercials appear, the fewer sales you make.

13: Advertising for good causes

Raising money

  • Before you rush off to your favorite charity and volunteer to raise money by running advertisements, I must warn you that it is rare for any advertisement, however powerful, to bring in enough direct contributions to pay for the cost of the space.
  • What advertising can do, is to ‘sensitize’ the market, thus making it easier to raise money by more personal methods of solicitation.

14: Competing with Proctor & Gamble

  • First, P&G is disciplined. Their guiding philosophy is to plan thoroughly, minimize risk, and stick to their proven principles.
  • They use market research to identify consumer needs.
  • Their test marketing is unbelievably thorough — and patient. ‘Patience,’ says their President, ‘is one of the virtues of the company.’ They would rather be right than first. 
  • They use research to determine the most effective strategy, and never change a successful strategy. 
  • They always promise the the consumer one important benefit. 
  • They believe that the first duty of advertising is to communicate effectively, not to be original or entertaining…
  • All their commercials include a ‘moment of confirmation.’ They show a woman squeezing the Charmin and attesting to its softness. 
  • Their commercials talk directly to the consumer, using language and situations that are familiar to her.
  • Very often they also show the users of their products deriving some emotional benefit. 

15: 18 Miracles of research

  • Like I always say, hire people who are better than you are.
  • Research can get consumer reactions to a new product when it is still in the conceptual state.
  • Once a product is ready for market, research can tell you how consumers rate it compared with the products they are now buying. 
  • Research can tell you what formulation, flavor, fragrance and color will appeal to most consumers.
  • Research can find out which of several package designs will sell best.
  • Research can help you decide the optimum positioning for your product.
  • Research can define your target audience. 
  • It can find out what factors are most important to the purchase decision…
  • Research can warn you when consumers show signs of finding an established product less desirable than it once was.
  • Research can determine the most persuasive promise.
  • Advertising which promises no benefit to the consumer does not sell, yet the majority of campaigns contain no promise whatsoever. 
  • Only last year Starch reported that advertisements with headlines that promise a benefit are read by an average of four times more people than advertisements that don’t.
  • In my experience, the selection of the promise is the most valuable contribution that research can make to the advertising process.
  • You write two advertisements for your product, each with a different promise in the headline. At the end of the copy you offer a free sample of the product. You then run the advertisements in a newspaper or magazine, in such a way that half the circulation gets one headlines, and the other half gets the other headline. 
  • The headline which draws the more applications for a sample wins the test. This technique, which is called split-run, was invented by Richard Stanton. 
  • Try to find a promise which is not only persuasive, but also unique.
  • Keep in mind E. B. White’s warning, ‘When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of you having said it are only fair.’
  • Research can tell you how many people read your advertisements, and how many remember them. 
  • It came as a surprise to editors when he [Gallup] reported that more people read the comics then [sic] their editorials, and the captions under photographs were read by more people than the articles.
  • Research can settle arguments.
  • Consumers judge the quality of a product by its price.

16: What little I know about marketing

  • Don’t waste time on problem babies
  • Most marketers spend too much time worrying about how to revive products which are in trouble, and too little time worrying about how to make successful products even more successful.
  • Back your winners, and abandon your losers.


  • In the long run, the manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most sharply defined image for his product gets the largest share of the market.

Pricing is guesswork

  • The higher the price of your product, the more desirable it becomes in the eyes of the consumer.
  • In everything you do, keep your eye glued to the heavy users. They are unlike occasional users in their motivations. 

18: Lasker, Resor, Rubicam, Burnett, Hopkins and Bernbach

  • Resist the usual…Roy Whittier put it, ‘In advertising, the beginning of greatness is to be different, and the beginning of failure is to be the same.’

Leo Burnett 1891-1971

  • His attitude to the creative process can be summed up in three things he said:
  • 1  ‘There is an inherent drama in every product. Our No. 1 job is to dig for it and capitalize on it.’
  • 2  ‘When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.'
  • 3  ‘Steep yourself in your subject, work like hell, and love, honor and obey your hunches.’
  • ‘During the 36 years I have been in the agency business I have always been naively guided by the principle that if we do not believe in the products we advertise strongly enough to use them ourselves, we are not completely honest with ourselves in advertising them to others.

Claude C. Hopkins 1867-1932

  • ‘Almost any question can be answered, cheaply, quickly and finally, by a test campaign. And that’s the way to answer them—not by arguments around the table.
  • ‘Ad writers forget they are salesmen and try to be performers. Instead of sales, they seek applause.

Bill Bernbach 1911-1982

  • He held, as I do, that the quality of the idea and the excellence of its execution was the alpha and omega of successful advertising.
  • ‘Human nature hasn’t changed for a billion years. It won’t even vary in the next billion years. Only the superficial things have changed. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man — what compulsions drive him, what instincts dominate his every action, even though his language too often camouflages what really motivates him. For if you know these things about a man, you can touch him at the core of his being. One thing is unchangingly sure. The creative man with an insight into human nature, with the artistry to touch and move people, will succeed. Without them he will fail.’

19: What’s wrong with advertising

  • Is advertising a pack of lies?
  • I had ‘mastered what Stephen Leacock called the art of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.’


  • The majority of campaigns fail to give consumers enough information.

Reading List

  • REALITY IN ADVERTISING by Rosser Reeves.
  • MADISON AVENUE by Martin Mayer.
  • THE 100 GREATEST ADVERTISEMENTS by Julian Watkins.
  • HOW TO ADVERTISE by Kenneth Roman and Name Maas.
  • ADVERTISING INSIDE OUT by Philip Kleinman.
  • OR YOUR MONEY BACK by Alvin Eicoff.
  • THE ART OF PLAIN TALK by Rudolph Flesch.
  • WRITING THAT WORKS by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson.
  • THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by William Strunk and E B White.
  • THIRTY SECONDS by Michael Arlen.
  • SPEECH CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE by Dorothy Sarnoff.
  • OBVIOUS ADAMS by Robert Updegraff.