Marketing Book Worth a Look (Retro Edition): Confessions of an Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy

October 31, 2015

david ogilvy

Can a book written when the fax machine was cutting edge technology really be relevant to modern marketers?

It can, when it was written by the legendary David Ogilvy. He was the Steve Jobs of his time, always thinking two steps ahead of his contemporaries. As the founder of advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather, he was the world’s most famous copywriter, creating iconic campaigns for Hathaway Shirts, Dove Soap, Rolls Royce, and many other brands. While some of his cultural references may have aged, Ogilvy’s advice on advertising, business, and life is timeless.

So for this Marketing Book Worth a Look, we’re going retro with David Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man.

This book revolutionized the advertising industry, and it’s not hard to see why. Ogilvy delivers the lessons he learned building Ogilvy & Mather with good-humored warmth and hard-won wisdom. Just like every music fan should listen to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, every marketer should read this book.

This Month’s Recommended Reading: Confessions of an Advertising Manconfessions adman

Born in England in 1911, Ogilvy was educated at Oxford, then worked in a hotel kitchen in Paris, sold cookstoves door-to-door in England, and came to the U.S. in 1938. He worked for Gallup’s Research Institute, and became a disciple of facts and research, one of the hallmarks of his career. Ogilvy was 38 before he touched an ad.

When he started in the industry, Ogilvy realized that manufacturers were spending money on pricing schemes, not effective ad campaigns. Agencies were not consumer, product, or client-centric. His solution was to base advertising on research, creativity, and measurable results. “In the modern world of business,” he wrote, “it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”

Why Ogilvy Wrote Confessions of an Advertising Man

In the book’s foreword, Ogilvy writes that he wrote the book to address, in his words, “four problems of crisis dimensions” in the world of advertising:

  1. Too much emphasis on price, too little on using advertising to build a strong brand
  2. Advertising agencies creating self-indulgent work, without researching their audience
  3. A financial rather than creative mindset for the biggest agencies
  4. Advertising agencies repeating the same mistakes, rather than learning from failure

Some, if not all of these points will sound familiar to anyone in the marketing industry today. Ogilvy addresses these four crises with a prescriptive account of how Ogilvy & Mather succeeded where others failed.

Why You Should Read It

Ogilvy knew how to create brand magic, and he didn’t hold back on his personal brand. The book’s writing style is itself a lesson on how to write powerful, persuasive copy. Following Ogilvy through his exploits and triumphs will make you feel smarter, more confident, and inspired to excel.

Read Confessions of an Advertising Man to Learn

  • The extraordinary importance of headline writing. Ogilvy said: “I never write fewer than sixteen headlines for a single advertisement, and I observe certain guides in writing them”
  • How to cultivate authentic respect for the consumer and the client
  • The rules of successful ad campaigns
  • How ambition and integrity are part of the art and science of rising to the top
  • Why rebels and non-conformists can be the greatest creative hires
  • The crucial role of continuously analyzing the results of your work. “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving,” Ogilvy said

Sometimes it seems like marketing is a never-ending rush toward the next big thing, that new bit of tech or latest fad we can obsess over. Confessions of an Advertising Man is the perfect antidote for Shiny Object Syndrome. It’s the kind of look to the past that can inform and inspire your marketing in the future.

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