Six lessons from David Ogilvy that advertisers should remember today
A great personality in advertising history whose impact I believe can be felt even today is David Ogilvy. Ogilvy is often referred to as the "father of advertising" and is famed for his iconic advertising campaigns and for bringing his clients millions of dollars as a result of his efforts.
From my perspective, there’s a lot we can still learn from the past leaders in an industry, even when the current technological and social landscape has changed. This is why I’d like to share some lessons I learned from Ogilvy as drawn from his book Confessions of an Advertising Man, as well as offer a few of my suggestions for how we can implement these lessons today.
Remember that positioning matters.
Today, we rely on the user experience and user interface to guide how we design apps and websites, and for good reason, too. The positions of text, buttons, images and other elements can significantly impact whether you drive conversions on a website.
Ogilvy was a firm believer in this. He thought that the position of the different elements such as the image, caption and signature mattered. An important rule was to place the "signature" of an ad (in today’s terms this would be the call to action, contact information or opt-in button) at the bottom right section of a piece.
It's important to make use of positioning to optimize how well your advertising does. Experiment with different layouts. Do your research, and use A/B testing to find what works best with your audience.
Put people first.
As in my own business, Ogilvy strongly believed in putting people first. Since advertising is creative work that relies on people, it makes sense to make them happy. Regarding managing people in an ad agency, Ogilvy believed leaders should:
• Hire people based on what they bring to the table, not just family and friends.
• Make the workplace a fun, positive and empowering place to work in.
• Treat employees like people.
• When training, create a democratic setup and encourage independence.
• Promote civil behavior at the workplace.
It’s evident that he did not espouse the hard and fast manner of working à la Mad Men. He aimed to foster a great work environment where people enjoyed what they did.
From my perspective, these are values agencies can adopt today. Remote work, for example, is the new normal, but your agency needs to embrace it as a tool for productivity. You can do this by creating more flexibility so that employees work in a way that suits them, so long as they meet their deliverables. I also find that offering unlimited personal time off gives people responsibility and freedom, which leads to better work.
Focus on brand-building.
Ogilvy considered brand-building more effective than price competition. He was unhappy with businesses that focused on undercutting their competitors. Businesses need to focus on a long-term strategy of brand building and creating a positive image in customers’ minds.
To do so, provide awesome services for your clients. I also think that it's helpful to clients when you explain why you make certain choices. This means talking to them about the psychology of advertising and other techniques you use. It shows that you know what you're talking about, which will help build relationships and earn their trust.
Make your ads customer-oriented.
I think if Ogilvy were alive today, I like to think he'd be a modern-day UX designer — someone who focuses on how to makes things easier for customers. In my experience, advertisers can lose their focus on the customer by indulging in their desire to be creative. This isn't to say that creativity doesn’t matter; it does, but not at the expense of the customer.
You need to ensure that your business appeals to people. Your ad copy, visuals and the entire customer journey should be easy to understand and follow.
Temper creativity with research.
Ogilvy encouraged creativity and original thinking in advertising. However, he also believed that research should be the basis of one’s plans and decisions. In the end, I believe you need to find a balance between doing something new and ensuring that it meets the industry’s best practices and standards.
For example, when creating copy for a Google search result ad, you can't fully predict how well it will work. But you can follow best practices as much as possible, such as featuring the benefits or making sure that the headline fits a specific number of characters. You can do a bit of A/B testing and try out different phrases and offerings. Sometimes, the ads that convert more and get more clicks are unexpected. In this way, I recommend starting with best practices but using real-time data to get your final ad copy.
Use facts, numbers and power words.
A copywriting tip that we all use even today is to use facts, statistics and power words in ad copy to get attention. Ogilvy suggested that we insert certain words that are proven to work into ad copy. For example, “new” and “free” are good at grabbing attention. Emotional words like “love" also evoke powerful responses.
Power words are a great tool set that you can use to build your ad copy. I recommend making them a part of your online ads, social media posts, and the copy of your giveaways and contests. Power words can be quite compelling. Stick to positive terms, and avoid those that are based on fear, anger and other negative emotions.
As you can see, we've looked at what I consider some of David Ogilvy’s best ideas regarding successful adverting. What’s interesting is that these suggestions are still practiced and important today. As a businessperson, you’d do well to use industry best practices to act as the mainstay of your advertising effort. Learn from Ogilvy and find a balance between creativity and good research, and also build a happy workforce for a successful business.