Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy


Every copywriter should start his or her career by spending two years in direct response.


Any damn fool can put on a price reduction, but it takes brains and perseverance to create a brand.


“Deals don’t build the kind of indestructible image which is the only thing that can make your brand part of the fabric of life.”


Pay peanuts and you get monkeys.


The key to success is to promise the consumer a benefit.


The function of most advertising is not to persuade people to try your product, but to persuade them to use it more often than other brands in their repertoire. 


What works in one country almost always works in other countries.


Editors of magazines are better communicators than advertising people. Copy their techniques. 


Don’t let men write advertising for products which are bought by women.


Once a salesman, always a salesman.


Today I praise my staff as rarely as Pitard praised his chefs, in the hope that they too will appreciate it more than a steady gush of appreciation.


It is demoralizing for professionals to work alongside incompetent amateurs. 


One must always honor what one has promised on the menu. 


In the best establishments, promises are always kept, whatever it may cost in agony and overtime. 


Today I am a martinet in making my staff keep their offices shipshape. A messy office creates an atmosphere of sloppiness, and leads to the disappearance of secret papers. 


If you can make yourself indispensable to a client, you will never be fired. 


William Menninger has described the difficulties with uncanny insight: In the advertising industry to be successful you must, of necessity, accumulate a group of creative people. This probably means a fairly high percentage of high strung, brilliant, eccentric nonconformists. Like most doctors, you are on call day and night, seven days a week. This constant pressure on every advertising executive must take a considerable physical and psychological toll — the pressure that the executive places on the account executive, on the supervisor, and they in turn on the creative people. Then, most of all, the clients’ pressure on them and on you. A special problem with the employees of an advertising agency is that each one watches the other one very carefully to see if one gets a carpet before the other, to see if one has an assistant before the other, or to see if one makes an extra nickel before the other. It isn’t that they want the carpet or the assistant or the nickel so much as it is the recognition of their “standing with father.” The executive is inevitably a father figure. To be a good father, whether it is to his children or to his associates, requires that he be understanding, that he be considerate, and that he be human enough to be affectionate.  


I admire people who work hard, who bite the bullet. I dislike passengers who don’t pull their weight in the boat. It is more fun to be overworked than to be underworked. There is an economic factor built into hard work. The harder you work, the fewer employees we need, and the more profit we make. The more profit we make, the more money becomes available for all of us.


My success or failure as the head of an agency depends more than anything else on my ability to find people who can create great campaigns, men with fire in their bellies.


They see things as others do, but also as others do not.


Advertising is a business of words.


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 unconscious. 


In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create. Management cannot be expected to recognize a good idea unless it is presented to them by a good salesman. 


Finally, I have observed that no creative organization, whether it is a research laboratory, a magazine, a Paris kitchen, or an advertising agency, will produce a great body of work unless it is led by a formidable individual. 


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.


Silence can be golden.


Professional detachment doesn’t work in advertising. Some measure of personal commitment is required before a copywriter can sell a product.


I never accept an account unless I believe that we can do a conspicuously better job than the previous agency.


I steer clear of products whose sales have been falling over a long period, because this almost always means that there is an intrinsic weakness in the product, or that the management of the company is incompetent. No amount of good advertising can make up for either of these deficiencies.


However hungry a new agency may be, it must have the self-restraint to turn down moribund accounts.


It is important to find out whether the prospective client wants his agency to make a profit. 


I prefer clients for whom advertising is the breath of life. 


On the whole, the most lucrative accounts are products of low unit cost, universal use, and frequent purchase. They generate larger budgets, and more opportunities for testing, than high-priced durables.


I never take new products, before they have emerged from the laboratory, unless they are included in a hamper with another product which has already reached national distribution. It costs an agency more to steer a new product through test markets than to handle a going product, and eight out of ten new products die in test markets. With an overall profit margin of one-half of one per cent, we cannot afford this risk. 


If you aspire to produce great advertising, never take associations as clients. 


It pays to listen more than you talk.


I like to succeed in public, but to fail in secret. 


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. 


“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is I don’t know which half.”


Another thing you can do to reduce the risk of losing accounts is to adopt my ice-box policy. As soon as a client has approved a new campaign, begin work to develop another one, and put it in test markets. You will then be ready with a shot in your locker if your first campaign flops, or incurs the displeasure of your client’s top management for some more subjective reason. This restless preparation of reserve positions will cut into your profits and exasperate your copywriters, but it will prolong your tenure of accounts.


When you try to umpire disputes between clients, you end up with a bloody nose.


Once a client loses confidence in your discretion, you’ve had it.


I always use my clients’ products. This is not toadyism, but elementary good manners.


Every time this happens, it is expedient for the agency to convince the new adviser that his predecessor was right in selecting our agency. The new adviser should be treated as if he were a new business prospect. 


If you get into the habit of seeing clients when the weather is calm, you will establish an easy relationship which may save your life when a storm blows up. 


It is important to admit your mistakes, and to do so before you are charged with them.


I will not allow my staff to be bullied by tyrants, and I will not run a campaign dictated by a client unless I believe in its basic soundness. When you do that, you imperil the creative reputation of your agency, which ought to be your most treasured possession.


No team can write an advertisement, and I doubt whether there is a single agency of any consequence which is not the lengthened shadow of one man.


It is less distracting to the audience if one man does all the talking. He should be the most persuasive advocate available, and he should be so thoroughly briefed that he can stand up under cross-examination. 


As you read aloud, never depart from your printed text by a single word … The trick lies in assaulting your audience simultaneously through their eyes and their ears. If they see one set of words, and hear a different set, they become confused and inattentive. 


American businessmen are not taught that it is a sin to bore your fellow creatures. 


Clients get the advertising they deserve. Some behave so badly that no agency could produce effective advertising for them. Some behalf so well that no agency could fail to do so.


Why keep a dog and bark yourself?


Committees can criticize advertisements, but they should never be allows to create them.


The most important word in the vocabulary of advertising is TEST. If you pretest your product with consumers, and pretest your advertising, you will do well in the marketplace.


Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.


In advertising, it is the mark of a brave man to look unfavorable test results in the face, cut your loss, and move on.


A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself. It should rivet the reader’s attention on the product. Instead of saying, “What a clever advertisement,” the reader says, “I never knew that before, I must try this product.”


I am an inveterate brain picker, and the most rewarding brains I have picked are the brains of my predecessors and my competitors. 


What you say is more important than how you say it. What really decides consumers to buy or not to buy is the content of your advertising, not its form. Your most important job is to decided what you are going to say about your product, what benefit you are going to promise. “Promise, large promise is the soul of an advertisement.”


The selection of the right promise is so vitally important that you should never rely on guesswork to decide it.


Another technique is to prepare a series of advertisements, each built around a different promise. We then mail the advertisements to matched samples and count the number of orders procured by each promise.


Unless your campaign is built around a great idea, it will flop.


Very few advertisements contain enough factual information to sell the product. 


The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her.


When I was a door-to-door salesman I discovered that the more information I gave about my product, the more I sold. 


Collecting facts is hard work.


You cannot bore people into buying.


We make advertisements that people want to read. You can’t save souls in an empty church. 


What distinguishes the great surgeon is that he knows more than other surgeons.


It is easier to sell people with a friendly handshake than by hitting them over the head with a hammer. You should try to charm the consumer into buying your product. This doesn’t mean that your advertisements should be cute or comic. People don’t buy from clowns. When the housewife fills her shopping basket, she is in a fairly serious frame of mind.


Committees can criticize advertisements, but they cannot write them. 


Advertising seems to sell most when it is written by a solitary individual. He must study the product, the research, and the precedents. Then he must shut the door of his office and write the advertisement. The best advertisement I ever wrote went through seventeen drafts, and built a business. 


If you are lucky enough to write a good advertisement, repeat it until it stops pulling. 


Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your own family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine. Do as you would be done by.


Good products can be sold by honest advertising. If you don’t think the product is good, you have no business to be advertising it. 


Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image. If you take that long view, a great many day-to-day problems solve themselves. Research cannot help you much here. You have actually got to use judgement.


Golden rewards await the advertiser who has the brains to create a coherent image, and the stability to stick with it over a long period. 


Every advertisement, every radio program, every TV commercial is not a one-time show, but a long-term investment in the total personality of their brands. They have presented a consistent image to the world, and grown rich in the process.


The manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most sharply defined personality for his brand will get the largest share of the market at the highest profit. By the same token, the manufacturers who will find themselves up the creek are those shortsighted opportunities who siphon off their advertising funds for promotions. 


“Sales are a function of product-value and advertising. Promotions cannot produce more than a temporary kink in the sales curve.”


Plan your campaign for years ahead, on the assumption that your clients intend to stay in business forever. Build sharply defined personalities for their brands, and stick to those personalities, year after year. It is the total personality of a brand rather than any trivial product difference which decides its ultimate position in the market. 


Imitation may be the “sincerest form of plagiarism,” but it is also them mark of an inferior person.


The headline is the most important element in most advertisements. It is the telegram which decides the reader whether to read the copy. 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. If you haven’t done some selling in your headline, you have wasted 80 percent of your client’s money. They wickedest of all sins is to run an advertisement without a headline. A changes of headline can make a difference of ten to one in sales. I never write fewer than sixteen headlines for a single advertisement. 


The headline is the “ticket on the meat.” Use it to flag down the readers who are prospects for the kind of product you are advertising. If you are selling a remedy for bladder wakens, display the words BLADDER WEAKNESS in your headline; they catch the eye of everyone who suffers from this inconvenience. If you want mothers to read your advertisement, display MOTHERS in your headline. And so on. Conversely, do not say anything in your headline which is likely to exclude any readers who might be prospects for your product. Thus, if you are advertising a product which can be used equally well by mend and women, don’t slant your headline at women alone; it would frighten men away. 


Every headline should appear to the reader’s self-interest … It should promise her a benefit, as in my headline for Helena Rubinstein’s Hormone Cream: HOW WOMAN OVER 35 CAN LOOK YOUNGER.


Always try to inject news into your headlines, because the consumer is always on the lookout for new products, or new ways to use an old product, or new improvements in an old product. The two most powerful words you can use in a headline are FREE and NEW. You can seldom use FREE< but you can almost always use NEW — if you try hard enough.




Headlines can be strengthened by the inclusion of emotional words, like DARLING, LOVE, FEAR, PROUD, FRIEND, and BABY. One of the most provocative advertisements which has come out of our agency showed a girl in a bathtub, taking to her lover on the telephone. The headline: Darling, I’m having the most extraordinary experience … I’m head over heals in DOVE.


You should always include the brand name in your headline.


Include your selling promise in your headline. This requires long headlines. Headlines of ten words or longer, containing news and information, consistently sold more merchandise than short headlines. Headlines containing six to twelve words pull more coupon returns than short headlines, and there is no significant difference between the readership of twelve-word headline and the readership of three-word headlines. The best headline I ever wrote contained eighteen words: At Sixty Miles an Hour the Loudest Noise in the New Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.


People are more likely to read your body copy if your headline arouses their curiosity; so you should end your headline with a lure to read on.


Research has shown that readers travel so fast through this jungle that they don’t stop to decipher the meaning of obscure headlines. Your headline must telegraph what you want to say, and it must telegraph it in plain language. Don’t play games with the reader. 


Research shows that it is dangerous to use negatives in headlines.


Avoid blind headlines — the kind which mean nothing unless you read the body copy underneath them; most people don’t.


When you sit down to write your body copy, pretend that you are talking to the woman on your right at a dinner party. She has asked you, “I am thinking of buying a new car. Which would you recommend?” Write your copy as if you were answering that question.


Don’t beat about the busy — go straight to the point. Avoid analogies of the “just as, so too” variety. 


Avoid superlatives, generalizations, and platitudes. Be specific and factual. Be enthusiastic, friendly, and memorable. Don’t be a bore. Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating. 


The more you tell, the more you sell. 


Research shows that readership falls off rapidly up to fifty words of copy, but drops very little between fifty and 500 words.


Every advertisement should be a complete sales pitch for your product. It is unrealistic to assume that consumers will read a series of advertisements for the same product. You should shoot the works in every advertisement, on the assumption that it is the only change you will ever have to sell your product to the reader — now or never. 


“The more facts you tell, the more you sell. An advertisement’s chance for success invariably increases as the number of pertinent merchandise facts included in the advertisement increases.”


Advertisers who put coupons in their advertisements know that short copy doesn’t sell. In split-run tests, long copy invariably outsells short copy.


You should always include testimonials in your copy. The reader finds it easier to believe the endorsement of a fellow consumer than the puffery of an anonymous copywriter.


Another profitable gambit is to give the reader helpful advise, or service. It hooks about 75 percent more readers than copy which deals entirely with the product. 


Unless you have some special reason to be solemn and pretentious, write your copy in the colloquial language which your customers use in everyday conversation. 


A good advertisement has this in common with drama and oratory, that it must be immediately comprehensible and directly moving.


Resist the temptation to write the kind of copy which wins awards. Most of the campaigns which produce results never win awards, because they don’t draw attention to themselves.


Good copywriters have always resisted the temptation to entertain. Their achievement lies in the number of new products they get off to a flying start.


The illustration often occupies more space than the copy, and it should work just as hard to sell the product. It should telegraph the same promise that you make in your headlines. 


The subject of your illustration is more important than its technique … As in all areas of advertising, substance is more important than form. 


What does work are photographs which arouse the reader’s curiosity … He glances at the photograph and says to himself, “What goes on here?” Then he reads your copy to find out. This is the trap to set. 


Harold Rudolph called this magic element “story appeal,” and  demonstrated that the more of it you inject into your photographs, the more people will look at your advertisements. Over and over again research has shown that photographs sell more than drawings. They attract more readers. They deliver more appetite appeal. They are better remembered. They pull more coupons. And they sell more merchandise. Photographs represent reality, whereas drawings represent fantasy, which is less believable. 


It is imperative that your illustrations telegraph to the reader what it is that you are offering for sale. Abstract art does not telegraph its message fast enough for use in advertisements. 


Beware of eccentricity when you advertise to people who are not eccentric. 


Before-and-after photographs seem to fascinate readers, and to make their point better than any words. So does a challenge to the reader to tell the difference between two similar photographs. 


Moviegoers are more interested in actors of their own sex than in actors of the opposite sex. In the same way the cast of characters in most people’s dreams contain more people of their own sex than of the opposite sex.


If you want to attract women readers, your best bet is to use a photograph of a baby. Research has shown that they stop almost twice as many women as photographs of families … When you were a baby you were the cynosure of every eye, but by the time you became a mere member of the family, you attracted no special attention. 


Men don’t like the same kind of girls that girls like.


Avoid historical subjects. They may be useful for advertising whisky, but for nothing else.


Don’t show enlarged close-ups of the human face; they seem to repel readers.


Keep your illustrations as simple as possible, with the focus of interest on one person. Crowd scenes don’t pull. Avoid stereotyped situations like grinning housewives pointing fatuously into open refrigerators.


When the client moans and sighs, Make his logo twice the size, If he still should prove refractory, Show a picture of the factory, Only in the gravest cases, Should you show the clients’ faces.


Always design your layout for the publication in which it will appear, and never approve it until you have seen how it looks when pasted into that publication. A layout must relate to the graphic climate of the newspaper or magazine which is to carry it.


There is no need for advertisements to look like advertisements. If you make them look like editorial pages, you will attract about 50 percent more readers. You might think that the public would resent this trick, but there is no evidence to suggest that they do.


Trademarks and symbols were valuable in olden days, because they made it possible for illiterates to identify your brand. But illiteracy has disappeared in the United States, and you can now rely on printed names for purposes of identification. 


We found that on the average twice as many people read the captions as read the body copy. Thus captions offer you twice the audience you get for body copy. It follows that you should never use a photograph without putting a caption under it, and each caption should be a miniature advertisement, complete with brand name and promise. 


If you can keep your body copy down to 170 words, you should set it in the form of a caption under your photograph.


If you need very long copy, there are several devices which are known to increase its readership. A display subhead of two or three lines, between your headline and your body copy, will heighten the reader’s appetite for the feast to come. If you start your body copy with a large initial letter, you will increase readership by an average of 13 percent. Keep your opening paragraph down to a maximum of eleven words. A long first paragraph frightens readers away. All your paragraphs should be as short as possible; long paragraphs are fatiguing. It has been discovered that “widows” increase readership, except at the bottom of a column, where they make it too easy for the reader to quit. Break up the monotony of long copy by setting key paragraphs in boldface or italic. Never set your copy in reverse (white type on a black background).


The more typographical changes you make in your headline, the fewer people will read it.


Set your headline, and indeed your whole advertisement, in lower case. People read all their books, newspapers, and magazines in lower case.


In general, imitate the editors; they form the reading habits of your customers.


When your advertisement is to contain a coupon, and you want the maximum returns, put it at the top, bang in the middle. This position pulls 80 percent more coupons than the traditional outside-bottom of the page.


An ugly layout suggests an ugly product. There are very few products which do not benefit from being given a First-Class ticket through life. In a socially mobile society, people do not like to be seen consuming products which their friends regard as Second-Class.


I have never liked posters. The passing motorist does not have time to read more than six words on a poster, and my early experiences as a door-to-door salesman convinced me that it is impossible to sell anything with only six words. In a newspaper or magazine advertisement, I can use hundreds of words. Posters are for sloganeers. 


Dr. Gallup found that the posters which worked best with the most people were those which used realistic artwork or photographs. Abstract or symbolic designs did not communicate their message fast enough.


I have found that it is easier to double the selling power of a commercial than to double the audience of a program. 


The purpose of a commercial is not to entertain the viewer, but to sell him.


I now know that in television you must make your pictures tell the story; what you show is more important than what you say … Words and pictures must march together, reinforcing each other. The only function of the words is to explain what the pictures are showing. 

Dr. Gallup reports that if you say something which you don’t also illustrate, the viewer immediately forgets it. I conclude that if you don’t show it, there is no point in saying it. Try running your commercial with the sound turned off; it it doesn’t sell without sound, it is useless. 


When you advertise in magazines and newspapers, you must start by attracting the reader’s attention. But in television the viewer is already attending; your problem is not to frighten her away.


The purpose of most commercials is to deliver your selling promise in a way the viewer will remember next time she goes shopping. I therefore advise you to repeat your promise at least twice in every commercial, to illustrate it pictorially, and to print it on the screen as a “title” or “super.”


Start selling in your first frame, and never stop selling until the last.


Commercials which start by setting up a problem, then wheel up your product to solve the problem, then prove the solution by demonstration, sell to four times as many people as commercials which merely preach about the product. 


Commercials with a strong element of news are particularly effective.


Commercials are for selling. Don’t allow entertainment to dominate. 


Advertise what is unique in your country.


Set yourself to becoming the best-informed man in the agency on the account to which you are assigned. If, for example, it is a gasoline account, read text books on the chemistry, geology and distribution of petroleum products. Read all the trade journals in the field. Read all the research reports and marketing plans that your agency has ever written on the product. Spend Saturday morning in service stations, pumping gasoline and talking to motorists. Visit your client’s refineries and research laboratories. Study the advertising of his competitors. At the end of your second year, you will know more about gasoline than your boss; you will then be ready to succeed him. 


Managers promote the men who produce the most.


Don’t discuss your client’s business in elevators, and keep their secret papers under lock and key. A reputation for leaking may ruin you.


If you are brave about admitting your mistakes to your clients and your colleagues, you will earn their respect. Candor, objectivity and intellectual honesty are a sine qua nom for the advertising careerist. 


Once you become the acknowledge authority on any of these troublesome subjects, you will be able to write your own ticket.


Sir Winston Churchill agrees with Mr. Roosevelt: Advertising nourishes the consuming power of men. It sets up before a man the goal of a better home, better clothing, better food for himself and his family. It spurs individual exertion and greater production.


The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be. 


“The quickest way to kill a brand that is off in quality is to promote it aggressively. People find out about its poor quality just that much more quickly.”


Advertising and scientific research have come to work hand-in-glove on a vast and amazingly productive scale. The direct beneficiary is the consumer, who enjoys an ever-widening selection of better products and services. 


It may be said that a good advertising agency represents the consumer’s interest in the councils of industry. 


The use of advertising to sell statesmen is the ultimate vulgarity. 


I believe in the Scottish proverb, ‘Hard work never killed a man’, men die of boredom, psychological conflict and disease. They do not die of hard work.


It is important to admit your mistakes and to do so before you are charged with them.


Big ideas are usually simple ideas.


Get rid of sad dogs who spread doom.


In the best establishment, promises are always kept, whatever it may cost in agony and overtime.


Change is our lifeblood.


Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating. 


People do not buy from bad-mannered liars.


Tolerate genius.


We prefer the discipline of knowledge to the anarchy of ignorance. 


I admire people with gentle manners who treat other people as human beings.