Notes On: Ogilvy On Advertising

By Jon Elordi

Ogilvy’s writing style is short and quick to the point. It’s like getting beat over the head with a thesis after thesis. This leads him to be able to cover a multitude of topics in one chapter. Often dedicating one paragraph to what others would/could write a whole book about. It’s packed with information. The book drips in pith.

Advertising That Sells

Do Your Homework

Understand what you are advertising through and through. Knowing your product will allow you to understand how it is different from its competition. This is the most boring part of advertising it is also one of the most important.


This is what Christopher Lochhead would call category design. Know it’s a bit of an amorphous idea. But it’s essentially your niche. What’s your value proposition that you can create a cult around.

Brand Image

This is related to positioning. Every brand like every person has an identity and personality. What is your brand’s personality? When you figure it out, keep it consistent. Try to have your brand associated with quality and high status if you can.

Brands, just like with people, will attract loyalty from their personalities not necessarily from their facts. No cares you make a better cigarette if it doesn’t make you feel like a cowboy.

Big Idea

There should be a big idea behind all of your campaigns. This is Ogilvy’s most esoteric idea. He claims that big ideas usually come in the shower or when one is walking. The best campaigns have a big idea behind them/ You’ll know them because it’ll make you gasp when you hear it.


Make your product the hero – Sometimes you just have to tell a better story than your competitor. Just be good – Your product doesn’t have to be the best. It just needs to be good and trusted. Trusted to be good is often more important than best(McDonald’s made a living off of this). Repeat Your Winners – You’re not advertising to a standing army. You’re advertising to a moving parade. Word of Mouth – Ogilvy laments that going viral is amazing when it happens and he has no idea how it happens. Ryan Holiday talks about this. Get Rid of Committees – I can attest no place is better spinning wheels and burning cash like a marketing agency. Teams ought to be kept small and decisions final. Ambition and Pursuit of Knowledge – the market should do and have both. Direct Response and Creativity – creativity is masturbatory. Do what works. Do what sells. There’s no use in being creative if you’re out of business. This is where direct response excels. They have the ability to test their marketing as it is directly related to their bottom line. Do what they do and you’re likely to do better. Sex – There are a time and a place for sex in advertising. But it’s not as often as you think.

Jobs in Advertising & Running an Agency

Pretty much nothing has changed. Account executives sucked back then too. There’s a section dedicated to alcoholism.

Print Advertisements, But Applicable to Display Advertising

An excellent chapter that is really a primer on copywriting and ad design. Tons of great information too much for just a paragraph. Has tons of applications to Facebook, search, and display ads.


People look at the picture than the headline and then the copy. Use a layout that works with this flow/


Are the most important part of your ad. Promise a benefit and give the reader helpful information. Use specific when you can this will help the reader identify with your ads. DON’T get cute with your headlines or really any of your copy. No puns. No double meanings. No analogies. Just say it. No $0.10 words either. Talk like an everyman. Don’t end your headlines with a period


Use clear images that suggest a story. If no story can be sold show the product. Use individuals instead of crowds. Choose images that pique curiosity and draw people in. Keep the illustrations simple. Over complications just muddies the waters. People are interested in their own gender. Men ignore ads featuring women and vice versa.

Body Copy

Relatively few people will read body copy, but it’s still a lot of people. Make it good. There’s nothing wrong with a longer copy, but make it easy to read. Break it up with subheadlines and paragraphs. Typography is important when it comes to the body copy. Serif fonts!

Corporate Advertising

Corporate advertising is a bit esoteric as it doesn’t directly lead to the sale of a product, but it can have many positive effects on the company. A better company images boost company morale and allow for hiring better employees. People want to work for a company other shave heard of. It can also help with stock evaluations.

Public opinion is important. However, it can take a long time to change. Public opinion of a corporation was never changed because of a short-term ad campaign. The campaigns need to belong and need to hammer away at public opinion.

Don’t change your name to initials. It’s an alphabet soup

Be honest and specific. Candor is disarming. So can giving both sides of the argument. The general public does not trust corporations. Using techniques to build trust will help advertisements.

What Ogilvy Knows About Marketing

New Products

New products can drive profit. However, new products can’t be too new or the customer won’t know how or why to use it. But it can’t be too old that the customer can’t tell the difference. Diet Soda, Lite Beer, Paper Towels.

Don’t Expect Many More Blockbuster Brands

Targeting for marketing is getting nicher and nicher by the day. Don’t expect there to be a big brand push that everyone will love. Expect the more niche brands to develop and market segments to be defined as smaller and smaller.

Cut Your Loses On Losers

Promotions Aren’t Worth It

Yes, they produce a short-term spike in sales. But that is all they do. The money spent/lost on promotion could have gone to advertising. Advertising moves the needle slowly but permanently.

Advertise During Recessions Because no one else will be.

It’s a Classic

After having read it I understand why the book is a classic. It’s a short book but it packs a punch. It’s an excellent primer on marketing and what to expect from marketing. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in a career in marketing. It’s not necessarily a book for the person who has already made marketing a career. The professional is likely to nod in agreement throughout the whole book. The uninitiated will benefit the most from this short book.