Comprehensive Review of “Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy

Comprehensive Review of "Ogilvy on Advertising" by David Ogilvy

“Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy is often hailed as the bible of advertising. Written by the father of modern advertising, the book is a treasure trove of insights and practical advice that remains relevant even decades after its initial publication. Having read the book, I am excited to share the best tips and insights from Ogilvy’s comprehensive guide on how to create compelling advertising, manage an agency, and understand the intricacies of the advertising world.


David Ogilvy, the founder of one of the most successful advertising agencies, Ogilvy & Mather, shares his decades-long experience in the field. The book covers various aspects of advertising, from creating advertisements that sell to managing an advertising agency, acquiring clients, and leveraging research effectively. Ogilvy’s writing is straightforward, candid, and often laced with humor, making it an engaging read.

Key Takeaways

The Essence of Advertising

Advertising as Information: Ogilvy firmly believes that advertising should be informative rather than purely creative or entertaining. The primary goal of an advertisement is to communicate effectively with potential customers, presenting them with compelling reasons to buy the product. This perspective is encapsulated in one of Ogilvy’s core principles: “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.”

Consumer Psychology: Understanding consumer behavior is crucial. Ogilvy emphasizes that consumers are drawn to advertisements that promise value, beauty, nutrition, relief from suffering, and social status. He points out that research indicates celebrity endorsements are generally less persuasive than one might expect. Additionally, advertisements with black text on a white background are more likely to be read.

Creating Advertising That Sells

Debunking Myths: Not all advertising is beneficial; some can actually harm sales. The effectiveness of an advertisement hinges on thorough research and a deep understanding of the product and market.

Homework and Research: To create successful advertising, you must start by studying the product in detail. Understanding its features, benefits, and market positioning is critical. Next, analyze the advertising strategies of competitors to identify successful tactics and areas for differentiation. Conducting consumer research is also essential to understand how potential customers perceive the product, what language they use, and what attributes they find important.

Positioning and Big Ideas: Positioning the product effectively involves defining what the product does and who it is for. This clarity helps in crafting a compelling brand image. Ogilvy stresses the importance of the “big idea”—a powerful, attention-grabbing concept that can drive an advertising campaign. He suggests that big ideas often come from the unconscious mind and advises “stuffing your conscious mind with information, then unhooking your rational thought process.”

Consistency and Simplicity: Maintaining a consistent brand image across all advertising is crucial. Each advertisement should contribute to the brand’s overall image. Ogilvy also advocates for simplicity in advertising, noting that sometimes the most effective approach is to showcase the product in a straightforward manner.

Personal Interest and Passion: Assigning products to writers who are genuinely interested in them can lead to better advertising. Ogilvy believes that personal interest in the product translates to more compelling and authentic advertising.

Effective Advertising Techniques

Visual Appeal and Headlines: The visual and textual elements of an advertisement must work together to capture the audience’s attention. Ogilvy provides several tips for crafting effective headlines, such as promising a benefit, using news elements, and being specific. He also suggests that long headlines and specific promises perform better.

Print Advertising: In print advertising, Ogilvy emphasizes the importance of a clear, compelling headline that promises a benefit. He advises against using tricky headlines or puns, as they tend to be less effective. Instead, straightforward, benefit-oriented headlines are more likely to engage readers. Including the brand name in the headline is also crucial to ensure readers associate the advertisement with the product.

TV Commercials: Television commercials should be engaging from the first frame. Ogilvy outlines several types of commercials that tend to be effective, including humor, slice of life, testimonials, demonstrations, problem-solution formats, talking heads, and emotional appeals. He advises against using too many scenes or relying solely on voice-overs.

Product Focus and Demonstrations: Whenever possible, make the product the hero of the advertisement. Demonstrations showing how the product works and the benefits it offers are particularly persuasive. Ogilvy also highlights the effectiveness of problem-solution formats, where the advertisement presents a common problem and demonstrates how the product solves it.

Job Roles in Advertising

Copywriters: Copywriters are the most crucial personnel in an advertising agency. They need to possess an obsessive curiosity about products, people, and advertising, coupled with a sense of humor, hard work, and the ability to write compelling prose and dialogue. Copywriters should also have a strong visual sense, as television commercials rely heavily on visuals.

Account Executives: The role of account executives is to ensure the best possible work from the agency’s other departments. They act as the main point of contact with clients, understanding their needs and translating them into effective advertising strategies. Ogilvy advises account executives to become the best-informed individuals on their accounts and to build strong, honest relationships with clients.

Research and Media Departments: These departments require analytical minds and the ability to communicate findings effectively. Researchers must be intellectually honest and capable of working with creative teams. Media planners need to understand numerical data and have a taste for negotiation with media owners.

Running an Advertising Agency

Creating a Positive Work Environment: A positive work environment is crucial for producing good advertising. Ogilvy stresses the importance of making work fun and maintaining high morale among staff. Encouraging laughter and exuberance can significantly enhance creativity and productivity.

Talent Management: Hiring exceptional talent, providing thorough training, and making the most of their abilities are key to an agency’s success. Ogilvy emphasizes the importance of hiring people with well-furnished minds, a sense of humor, and a fanatical interest in advertising.

Client Relations: Building strong, honest relationships with clients is essential. Account executives should understand their clients’ businesses deeply and always keep their secrets. Ogilvy also advises against discussing clients’ business in public places to maintain confidentiality.

Acquiring Clients

Quality Work: The most effective way to attract new clients is by producing outstanding advertising. Ogilvy shares that during one period, his agency won every account they competed for simply by showcasing their campaigns.

Presentation Skills: Effective presentations are crucial in winning new accounts. Ogilvy suggests rehearsing presentations thoroughly and focusing on listening to the prospective client to understand their needs better.

Credibility: Being upfront about your weaknesses can enhance credibility when boasting about your strengths. Ogilvy also recommends sending a follow-up letter summarizing the reasons why the prospective client should choose your agency.

Specific Advertising Techniques

Print Advertising:

  • Headlines: Ogilvy advises crafting headlines that promise a benefit, contain news, and are specific. Long headlines and specific promises tend to perform better. Including the brand name in the headline ensures that readers associate the advertisement with the product.
  • Visual Elements: Simple, compelling visuals that arouse curiosity are more effective. Ogilvy suggests avoiding cluttered layouts and focusing on the product or end-result of using the product.

TV Commercials:

  • Engagement: Grab the viewer’s attention in the first frame with a visual surprise. Effective formats include humor, slice of life, testimonials, demonstrations, problem-solving, and emotional appeal.
  • Product Focus: Showing the product in use and demonstrating its benefits are key. Close-ups of the product can also enhance effectiveness.
  • Clarity: Avoid visual banality and ensure the commercial is crystal clear to avoid miscomprehension.

Advertising for Specific Audiences

Foreign Travel:

  • Unique Features: Highlight unique aspects of the country being advertised. People are drawn to experiences they cannot get at home.
  • Detailed Information: Provide comprehensive information about the destination, including practical details like weather, language, and costs.


  • Promise and Specificity: Make specific, important promises to your customer. Use testimonials from experts and demonstrations comparing your product’s performance with competitors’.
  • Layout and Copy: Keep layouts simple and avoid overly artistic designs. Long copy is effective for complex products.

Direct Mail Advertising

Testing and Variables:

  • Testing: Test every variable, including pricing, payment terms, and format, to find the most effective combination.
  • Premiums and Offers: Offer premiums, sweepstakes, or cash prizes to boost initial response rates. However, focus on attracting long-term customers.
  • Copy and Layout: Long copy and well-organized, tidy layouts are more effective. Use cross-heads to break up the text and make it more readable.

Follow-Up: Include clear, compelling calls to action and make it easy for recipients to respond. Highlight any urgency or limited-time offers to encourage prompt responses.

Competing with Industry Giants

Procter & Gamble (P&G): Ogilvy outlines the strategies that make P&G a formidable competitor:

  • Discipline and Planning: P&G meticulously plans their strategies and sticks to proven principles.
  • Product Superiority: They focus on creating products that are superior to their competitors’.
  • Effective Advertising: P&G’s advertisements are designed to communicate effectively, often using slices of life, testimonials, and demonstrations.
  • Consistency: They maintain consistent strategies and support successful brands with substantial budgets.

Leveraging Research

Importance of Research: Ogilvy emphasizes that ignoring research is as dangerous as a general ignoring decoded enemy signals. Research can provide invaluable insights into consumer behavior, product positioning, and the effectiveness of advertising strategies.

Types of Research:

  • Consumer Insights: Understand how consumers perceive your product, what benefits they value, and what language they use.
  • Product Testing: Use research to test product formulations, packaging designs, and advertising promises.
  • Effectiveness Measurement: Measure the effectiveness of advertisements through reader recall, consumer reactions, and sales data.

Marketing Insights

New Products: Successful new products offer a perceptible point of difference, such as better quality, flavor, value, or convenience. They also resonate with consumers’ past experiences, providing a balance of innovation and familiarity.

Product Naming: Choosing the right name for a product involves considering factors like memorability, pronunciation, and relevance. Ogilvy categorizes names into three types:

  • Personal Names: Names like FORD and CAMPBELL suggest the product is the invention of a human being.
  • Meaningless Names: Names like KODAK and KOTEX require significant investment to build brand recognition.
  • Descriptive Names: Names like 3-IN-ONE OIL and BAND-AID start with inherent sales appeal but may be too specific for line extensions.

Advertising Spend: Ogilvy advises against cutting advertising budgets during recessions. Studies show that companies maintaining their advertising spend during economic downturns achieve greater long-term profit increases.

Heavy Users: Focus on heavy users, as they drive the majority of sales. Understanding their motivations and preferences is crucial for effective advertising.

Criticisms and Realities of Advertising

Effectiveness and Ethics: Ogilvy acknowledges the criticism that advertising can persuade people to buy inferior products. However, he argues that such products will only sell once, and repeat purchases depend on quality. He emphasizes that the best way to increase sales is to improve the product itself.

Factual Advertising: Factual, informative advertising tends to perform better than empty, creative advertising. Ogilvy advocates for providing consumers with enough information to make informed decisions.


“Ogilvy on Advertising” is a timeless guide for anyone involved in the advertising industry. David Ogilvy’s insights, drawn from his extensive experience, provide valuable lessons on creating effective advertising, managing an agency, and understanding consumer behavior. The book emphasizes the importance of thorough research, clear communication, and maintaining high standards of creativity and professionalism. By following Ogilvy’s principles, advertisers can create compelling campaigns that not only capture attention but also drive sales and build lasting brand loyalty.

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