Book Review 11: Ogilvy on Advertising

“All life is sex. There is one person in charge of every office in America, and that person is Charles Darwin.” – Robert California, The Office.

It’s easy to forget that business is quite simple – all business is sales. When people are willing to pay for a product or service, that’s a business. One way to encourage people to pay is an advertisement for a product or service.

At Perfect Keto, we produce all kinds of ads, and I’m not involved in them. When I start my own business this year, that’ll change. I therefore am very interested in learning what makes a great ad, and ad strategy.

One level deeper, I’m certain I’ll sell an information product someday, like an online course. H/t to Ramit Sethi, who in my opinion does this better than anyone right now. His ad copywriting, and his copywriting on copywriting is excellent. I aspire to be a great copywriter as well.

So – how to level up in the most efficient fashion? Stick to basics. I’ve only been a “marketer” since Jan 2018, so ~2 years. The book that got me started is The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, read at Tim Ferriss’ recommendation. It’s incredible, and set the foundation for the job I have now.

Like Tim, I find older books spend more time teaching ways of thinking, acting, and doing. These are the meat and potatoes of learning. To learn about ads and copy, the obvious choice became Ogilvy on Advertising. Let’s jump into some highlights:

1- My biggest takeaway is creativity (in an advertising sense) is a trash word. Ogilvy doesn’t give a shit if you think an ad is “creative”, he gives many shits if the ad compelled you go out and buy the product. So – a great ad defined as one that increases sales. Don’t get cute for cuteness’ sake.

Found later: “The first duty of advertising is to communicate effectively, not to be original or entertaining”

1.5 – “Thirty-two per cent of beer-drinkers drink 80 per cent of all beer. In everything you do, keep your eye glued to the heavy users.” The Power User cash rules everything around me.

2 – “My ads not only promised useful information, they provided it.” Great ads bring value to their consumer. They don’t tease, and they don’t beat around the bush.

3 – “Five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 per cent of your money.” Apply the 80/20 of your effort to the headline of your ads. Promise benefits, never features – better skin, washboard abs, etc.

4 – “When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing each of them a letter on behalf of your client. One human being to another, second person singular.” An amazing lens to see writing through. I learned a ton from my time at Sumo (shoutout to Anton Sepetov) about how to be normal in business interactions. Odd that is hard to be yourself in professional interactions, but it is. If you can, you will be more effective. Unless you suck – then I advise becoming more interesting and fun.

5 – Only amateurs use short copy. Color me surprised, and I’m still not sure where I land here. I’ve heard shorter, simpler = better. But Ogilvy says “advertisements with long copy convey the impression that you have something important to say”. I’m coming around.

6 – There is no law which says that advertisements have to look like advertisements. Most digital platforms call out when consumers are looking at an #ad, and we’re learning to tune them out. Banner ads don’t even register with me. How can you be so value-first and subtle to sell something without them noticing?

7 – On testimonials: “The most effective testimonial commercials are those which show loyal users of your product testifying to its virtues –when they don’t know they are being filmed. The interviewer pretends to find fault with the product and the loyal user rises to its defense with far more conviction than if you simply asked him what he thought of it. The more amateurish the performance, the more credible.” I lol’d. In the age of 4k cell phone cameras, perhaps an old RAZR phone and selfie angle would be the best performing video ad?

Sadly, the ability to curate reviews has ruined any kind of ⭐rating in eCommerce. It’s highly manipulated on Amazon too. Perhap a bitcoined iron-clad credibility system will arise for reviews, and we’ll get reliable data on customer’s opinions. That would be amazing.

8 – On photography: “The kind of photographs which work hardest are those which arouse the reader’s curiosity. He glances at the photograph and says to himself, ‘What goes on here?’ Then he reads your copy to find out.” Ok – for static ads, use visuals to inspire questions. Answer those questions in the copy. Formulaic and effective.

9 – On research, the problem isn’t in the lack of studies or learnings. It’s in the way you integrate learnings in an evergreen way. Swipe files is a start, but I think PK has a long long way to go here. 1% improvement each day is the goal. Doomed to repeat history if we don’t study it etc…

10 – On video ads: “Open with the fire. You have only 30 seconds. If you grab attention in the first frame with a visual surprise, you stand a better chance of holding the viewer.” Simple, but I got it. Lead with your best benefit!

#2 on video ads: “Show the product in use. It pays to show the product being used, and, if possible, the end-result of using it.” Use and result of use. Yes!

11 – “People who know a company well are five times more likely to have a favorable opinion of it.” I had no idea, but it makes sense. Invest in company storytelling – who we are, why we do what we do, how can we publicly share employee stories? PK for example, we have some crazy athletic employees to showcase.

12 – “Sales are a function of product-value and advertising. Promotions cannot produce more than a temporary kink in the sales curve.” Promotions equate to sales, and I couldn’t agree more. Ads position, ads sell. Promotions create anomalies in the sales curve, and little more.

13 – “I have written factual advertising for a bank, for gasoline, for a stockbroker, margarine, foreign travel and many other products. It always sells better than empty advertising.” Don’t be afraid to use facts, agnostic of what you’re selling. I think I can be a bit of an over-emotional copywriter, working on that. Facts sell!

Those are my favorite learnings from this book, and this extremely interesting man. Hit me in the comments if you agree/disagree or are just bored 🙂

Onward!

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