There comes a day when you find your new favourite non-fiction book. It was only some time ago that I got my hands on “Confessions of an Advertising Man” by David Ogilvy and I fell in love right away. I have never, ever, underlined so much in one single book, not even during my school time. If you work in advertising there is so much good stuff in here that it should be a must-read for any new employee of any ad agency . Ogilvy’s book gives so much advice and many marketing lessons and quotes that are still very much applicable even after 30 years, which makes “Confessions of an ad-man” a truly timeless book.
If you're into Mad Men, THIS IS IT. Ogilvy is the inspiration for Don Draper. He writes about being a Madison Avenue ad man in the 60s, among drunken lunches, award galas and 80-hour working weeks. I know, the book isn't new, but I just found it and thought if you haven't read it or have forgotten about it, I'd collect its best quotes here for you.
David: I've got a mancrush on you and hopefully others will fall in love with you too.
Now let’s get to the quotes.
For the record: I collected 62 quotes but my colleagues thought no one would read a blog called "62 lessons from the king of advertising". So here are the best 10 and what I think about them.
1: "You cannot bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them in buying it"
Billboards, newspapers, TV, leaflets and even on social media. Ads are everywhere and we're used to them. Your product doesn't necessarily need to be better than the competition (it might not be) and therefore you need to be at least more interesting. Be interesting and they might just buy your services.
2: "The recommendation we make to our clients are the recommendations we would make if we owned their companies."
This should be true for anyone working in any business. It's getting harder and harder to fool your consumers: they're now used to read the label of the products and to research online before any purchase. Honesty is a value that is very valuable and your clients are those paying your salary: be honest with them.
3: "Unless your campaign contains a Big Idea, it will pass like a ship in the night"
It's simple: in a world where anything you want is at a click's distance, with one of the few possibilities you have to get noticed is to do something different. You need to have such good content that it makes people stop scrolling and look at your brand. It’s about creative brilliance and emotions. It's about the right idea and it is true for advertising as it is for any product or service.
4: "When a crisis keeps [the people in my agency] working all night, their morale is high for weeks"
I like this quote because it's so true. It doesn't happen often, but when you have a deadline and you make it just in time, working maybe for one or two nights until 2 am, the adrenaline of those days carries on for weeks. And we need that from time to time. If you're passionate about your job, occasionally working late doesn't suck at all, it actually motivates you to do even more, even better, even greater things.
5: "The product must be one which we would be proud to advertise"
You cannot like every single product you advertise, but you
need must like at least something in the brief you get, otherwise you'll fail. You shouldn't work for a brand you hate, creativity cannot flow freely if you have negative feelings about the products or services you're writing about. Take something you like in the brief and get passionate about that, even if it's a tiny bit. That’s what will motivate you work with them in the long run. And if you can choose, always use your clients' products. By helping them you're helping yourself. And it is always positive to know the consumer journey from inside out.
6: "Do not compete with your agency in the creative area […] Why keep a dog and bark yourself?"
I'm amazed by some clients who pay good money for creatives and then shoot down many ideas, maybe even just a Facebook status, for no other reasons than "it doesn't feel right". Hiring someone to do a job and then trying to do half the job yourself is counterproductive and might hurt your relationship with the agency. Are you sure that's what you want?
7: "The most important word in the vocabulary of advertising is TEST."
It was true in the 60s and it is even truer nowadays. Testing is essential to any good marketer, especially in the digital world, where A/B testing is easy and you can even automatize it. David Ogilvy had a background in research and never underestimated its importance in advertising. You should do the same. Always test your copy, your pictures, your videos. We don't have the ultimate answer and neither do you. The users do and you can try to design a copy they like but you can't know it's the ultimate, perfect copy until you test it against others.
8: "I still die a thousand deaths before every presentation."
I wrote and recorded a podcast about how to prepare and give a kick-ass presentation. One of the things we talk about is that at the beginning of every keynote or presentation you should tell a story or at least say something that the audience can relate to. Afterwards, when they feel accustomed, you can start with heavier and more controversial claims. And the only way to not be scared once you step in front of an audience is to rehearse. Rehearse and prepare well. Experience creates mastery.
9: "Every commercial is not a one-time shot, but a long-term investment in the total personality of the brands"
If it was true in the 60s, think about today: with social media like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, creating daily or weekly content and engaging regularly with your audience is surely better than spending a lot of money for a Christmas TV ad. With the same amount you could reach millions of people each day throughout the whole year. Think about it.
10: "Everybody should have a hobby. The hobby I recommend is advertising…"
I love to read. I read quite few books each month and many of them are about advertising. I have a subscription to AdWeek and discuss about digital marketing with friends and family. Heck, I created a podcast to talk about it even more! This passion helps me in my work and to be happy when going to the office every day. What it is that makes you click? Following David Ogilvy's advice on advertising: are you passionate about what you do? If you are, read, dive deep into it and create something meaningful for us to see, because there's nothing more rewarding than to be successful in the field that you love.
After almost 50 years, "Confessions of an advertising man" is still very much relevant and a timeless book on advertising.
Thank you David, I really enjoyed it.