David Ogilvy’s Guide To Writing Ads Explained Part 1

If you believe what some copywriting gurus say – which is to ignore the old stuff written by dead copywriters – you’d be missing out on a vast ocean of knowledge.

One drop in that vast ocean is found in the writings of legendary copywriter David Ogilvy.

I bring him up a lot for one reason: he was NOT a snake oil salesman. What he said in his ‘anatomy of a sales ad’ piece (which he published as an advertisement for his own agency) is as true today as it was back then in the 1960s.

So in his honour, rather than reproduce his original ad, I will pick out the best points starting today with point #1 (more will follow later in this new mini series).

Ogilvy physically numbered each point in his ad (thus making a point of it – bullet points for the win eh!). There were 38 of them. No doubt he could have listed 10 or 100, but 38 was the number he chose because it was the exact number he needed to fill a full page ad with a readable font size and enough detail to sell the concepts (or rather, the position of his agency in relation to all other agencies “look, we tell it like it is, unlike everyone else”). It positioned the piece (and his agency) as THE expert guide

Once you’d read through the list, you were left in no doubt who the BOSS was. To go with any other agency (after reading it) would be not just a foolish thing, but a complete waste of advertising dollars.

And once you’d learned that his agency had created $1.48bn worth of advertising (worth $13 billion in today’s money), you had no doubt who the goto person was. His agency ended up writing for the biggest brands in history.

Could you do that? Of course you could. But you need a place to start, and that is precisely where Ogilvy started too, not just in his own life, but in his guide to advertising.

He called it “The most important decision”, but as he went on to explain, he really meant “The most important position”.

Here’s today’s question: do you have a position in the market? And if so, what is it? The more you work on this one thing, the stronger your position will be, and as they say, if you haven’t got one yet, get one. Do share in the comments if you’re brave enough (when you’re brave enough, your competitors never get a look in).

Of course, Ogilvy was talking about position at a campaign level, but right now, if you’re fairly new to copywriting (or business in general), you need to adopt a position for yourself. How do you want your market to perceive you? Are you an Ogilvy or someone else? The people WANT to know.

PS. Not sure what a ‘position’ is? Here’s mine: “The world is full of heroes and villains, but the only people I care for are heroes. Every one of my clients is a hero to me, and I make sure the world knows it.”


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