David Ogilvy’s Guide To Writing Ads Explained Part 13

We use words to name objects. And if we see something we’re not sure of, we call it a ‘thing’ (until it becomes one). Most languages are noun heavy (that is, they contain more nouns than verbs), so, for example, we have husband and wife.

Traditionally that meant man and woman, and back in Ogilvy’s day, if there was one thing most people then believed and perceived, it was that women did the shopping.

With that in mind, Ogilvy used controversy for element 13 (he had no idea of the real controversy his statement would cause today).

TV ads of the time talked down to their audience (some still do). One assumption was that people who watched shopping ads on TV were women who needed to have everything explained to them.

To break that myth (and show how superior his thinking was) he said this: “the consumer isn’t a moron, she is your wife”.

However misogynistic we think this is today, he did have a point, but it had nothing to do with sexism.

In fact, what he proposed is now the de facto way to write good, honest, copy. It was this:

1) Find a problem a customer is facing.

2) Create a solution.

3) Prove it works.

The only reason he bought in the ‘wife’ bit was to create a pattern interrupt. A “say what!” moment to get people’s attention. He knew at the time that most men, when asked who did the weekly shop, would reply “my wife”.

So he stuck their own misogynistic tendencies right back at them. We have no idea what he really thought, but it’s irrelevant anyway, all he had to do was get agreement, and with that his trust factor for “telling it like it is” would rise above all other contenders.


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