Advertising explained by David Ogilvy

In 1985 a British man wrote a book which has become a masterpiece in the communication and advertising history: Ogilvy on Advertising.

Who is he? David Ogilvy, British, founder of the agency Ogilvy & Mather in 1948 and known as the “father of advertising”. Ogilvy on Advertising is his biography, a book full of advice, strategies and anecdotes on his work life spent on the research of the perfect marketing campaign to sell a product.

Why this book has become so popular but more importantly, why it’s still so popular? Well, because the approach is easy. There are not mince words, on the contrary, he gets straight to the point but the most important thing is that the insights he wrote in the book were applicable in 1985 and are still valid today! That’s the success key of this book.

If the reader is someone who is experiencing his/her first approach in the advertising industry, he/she will notice that the very first part of the book is almost a vademecum which can be categorized into: do your homework , competitors, target and positioning, brand image, big ideas. And I add one more which is budget but this is relative and I’ll explain why.


Do your homework not just like we used to do in school where the limited amount of study was decided by our teacher (or most of the time by our wish 😉 ). What Ogilvy meant was: do your homework as you did when you attended school but with the aim of learning more than what your professor knew on that subject. Study the product you are going to advertise, do some research and above all, interview the people who literally made the product (product managers, engineers etc…). They can share details that you’re not going to find in any book or user manual.


Analyze all the commercials created by your major competitors, try to understand what strategy they chose. For example, what tone and terminology they use? Do they prefer to gain the customers’ attention using only images, images and text or only text? Once this is clear, remember that you don’t have to copy them, on the opposite, you have to find a completely different way to sell the product you’ve been paid for. Most importantly, the competition must be a “good” one so no need to undermine or mock other companies for two reasons: first it’s not ethical and second you’ll need an attorney who will try to convince a jury that your purpose was not to be a jerk. The last reason requires A LOT OF MONEY.


Understand what kind of personality matches the product you’re advertising. Men, women or maybe both? What’s the age? What level of study do they have and what’s their economic status? And so on… Once created a profile it will come naturally on how to address to them, what terminology to use (verbal and visual). Target and market positioning are very close concepts in fact, one leads to the other but the second one is usually achieved after years of brand/product campaigning. Which leads us to the following category.


In order to realize a good commercial, you want for sure to consider the brand image as leverage, which is the ensemble of price, package, product materials and company values. A brand usually lasts for years or even decades and that’s one of the keys for companies to have high sales. This is because of a simple equation: brand = quality. So it doesn’t matter if a product is new on the market as if the brand is strong then the customers will buy it.

Finally and most important: you need a big idea. Some ads made history because the outcome was something never seen or done before and not because of a high budget. In fact, copywriters are good not because they have a huge amount of money to spend but rather when they think out of the box.

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