Advertising’s maverick: lessons from David Ogilvy

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Dads speak some wise words. 

“Don’t drive with the music too loud”

“Eat your greens”

“Work smarter, not harder”. 

Generally, they give pretty good advice, right? 

Well, think what lessons you could learn from the “Father of Advertising” himself, David Ogilvy. 

There’s a lot to be said for listening to the oldies. They’ve been there, done that and got the wisdom.

I’m going to take you through the treasure trove of valuable advice that David proved to really work. Shown by his multi-billion dollar advertising empire (not to be sniffed at). 

Take note…



Words from David: “
Good copy can’t be written with tongue in cheek, written just for a living. You’ve got to believe in the product.”

Ok, so this sounds pretty obvious. But it can actually be tricky to do. If you’re trying to get creative around a product that you’re not feeling excited about, it can show in your copy. 

You know, when you’re telling someone their outfit suits them? But in reality, it doesn’t and you’re lacking conviction. 

It’s the same thing. 

It begs the question: how can you believe in what you’re selling, even if it doesn’t appeal to you?

The answer: you need to believe in how much it means to your audience. 

And to do that, you need to get to know them. 

Knowing your audience means that you can anticipate their needs. Think for a second, you’re throwing a dinner party at your house inviting friends. If you know their tastes, it’s going to be a success. Probably best to not assume what they like to eat, or you may have vegetarians running for the hills.

The same goes for audience analysis. If you know what they believe in, you can get passionate about it and convey that understanding. 



There are a few types of analysis you can carry out to delve into your audience. 

A demographic analysis i.e. “THE WHO”.

This type of analysis looks into aspects such as:

  • Age 
  • Location
  • Gender
  • Income level
  • Education level
  • Marital or family status
  • Occupation

Essentially, this information tells you who your audience is. 

A psychographic analysis is “THE WHY”

Psychographic segmentation is the process of dividing your market up based on a variety of personality traits. Hobbies, values, personalities, habits, and lifestyles all come into account when utilizing this form of customer segmentation.

You’ll look at: 

  • Personality characteristics
  • Lifestyle
  • Social class
  • Attitudes
  • Principles and beliefs
  • Activities and interests


There are three main ways to get hold of this super valuable information (and it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune or turn you into a stalker).


It’s effective to carry out a behind-the-scenes kind of investigation by looking at your existing site analytics. 

Here’s a handy article from Moz if you want to dig deeper into this. 



Head over to your social channels and listen to what your audience has to say. Take note of the language they use, things they like and things they don’t like. This research will give you a great idea of how to talk to your customers.


I know it sounds obvious, but not enough brands actually talk to their customers. 

Hold focus groups, send out customer surveys using a tool like Survey Monkey. The whole point is to understand what it is they actually care about. And guess what? The words they use can inform your copy to help capture what they believe in.

And next up…



Words of David:
On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.

A strong headline is going to make or break your copy. David Ogilvy was famous for his powerful headlines that grabbed the audience’s attention. 

Take a look at this world-famous Rolls Royce one, for example. 

Rolls Royce ad “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”

This headline is known as David Ogilvy’s personal favourite headline. 

And you can see why. 

The interesting part is, there’s no sensationalist wording in there, it’s just pure information. The concept is clear: the car is completely fine-tuned to be the best.

So how do you create the perfect headline?

Go for instant clarity

Don’t try to be too clever and lose the message in the process. Your audience needs to know exactly what you’re talking about right away. 

Let’s look at another from David to show this in action: 

Schweppes ad

The reader is left in no doubt. They don’t have to decipher a riddle. The message is clear: if you drink gin and tonic, you’re being verrry silly by not mixing with Schweppes. 

Get specific with numbers

Our brains are extra receptive to numbers. And according to The Content Marketing Institute, the brain seems to believe odd numbers more than even numbers. Odd numbers also seem to help people digest and recall information more easily.

Take a look at these Buzzfeed headlines – note there’s only one that has an even number (I bet it doesn’t get as many click-throughs!)

Buzzfeed example

HINT: Don’t push for an odd number if it’s going to be too tenuous in your body copy. You don’t want people thinking you sound contrived.



Words from David:
Like a midwife, I make my living bringing new babies into the world, except that mine are new advertising campaigns. 

Let’s face it, copy can be an afterthought. This happens for two main reasons: 

  1. a) Brands rely too heavily on the visuals to sell for them.
  2. b) Brands think it’s easy and jot down a few words and think it’ll do the trick. 

Here’s what I have to say: David Ogilvy looked at every ad campaign as one of his babies. He nurtured and developed them, to turn them into the best-selling campaigns in the history of advertising. 

It’s not easy to write powerful, effective copy. In fact, it can take a ton of time and energy. The best copywriters around could work on fine-tuning a simple headline for weeks, but that nurturing process will get results.


Words from David:
“A consumer is not a moron. She’s your wife. Don’t insult her intelligence, and don’t shock her. 

Aside from the sexist undertones of the 50s ringing through, the basic message is that speaking down to your customers is going to turn them away. 

You want to charm them, sure. You want to give the pitch of your lives, of course. But remember, essentially they just want to solve a problem. 

Tune into their pain points. Talk to them with respect. And this will go a long way to solving their problems. 

HINT: You’ll have sussed these pain points out when you carry out your focus groups, surveys etc at the research stage. 

Pain points can typically be grouped into one of four categories, as told by WordStream

  • Financial Pain Points: Your potential customers are spending too much money on their current provider/solution/products and want to reduce their spend
  • Productivity Pain Points: Your potential customers are wasting too much time using their current provider/solution/products or want to use their time more efficiently
  • Process Pain Points: Your potential customers want to improve internal processes, such as assigning leads to sales reps or nurturing lower-priority leads
  • Support Pain Points: Your potential customers aren’t receiving the support they need at critical stages of the customer journey or sales process

And once you have identified their pain point, you can show them exactly how your product or service compares.

Take a look at this ad from Nike: 

Nike ad

Now, who doesn’t want a quick fitness fix? 

I would say this is seriously tapping into their audience’s pain points.


Words from David:
“Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.”

I mean, I would say this, but it makes sense to only seek and hire people who actually know their stuff. 

The biggest mistake brands make is to see new talent as a bad thing. As if they’re failing in some way by needing an expert brought in. 

Powerful marketing is collaborative. 

And now, I’ll leave you with one final quote from David: 

“Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.”

Good luck (and don’t be a pretentious ass). 


Ella x


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About the author

Ella O'Donnell Head Writer at The Creative Copywriter
A creative mastermind. With years of experience in the copywriting scene, Ella’s marketing and PR skills are some of the most superb you’ll ever come across.

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