David Ogilvy’s Guide To Writing Ads Explained Part 14

A golden rule of effective writing is to show readers what’s happening (as opposed to telling them what’s happening – aka the “show don’t tell” rule).

So instead of saying “She drove home…” we could say “On the way home…”.

The first version tells us what she’s doing. There is no ambiguity, we know everything, we have been told. The second leaves almost everything to the imagination.

The problem with showing in writing is that, well, it’s writing. There are no images, no video, no live action to help us show it.

So the idea is we write in a way that fires our readers’ imaginations so THEY start filling in the blanks we’re leaving on purpose.

Although some people may picture a lady driving a car in their mind when they read: “She drove home…”, most of us won’t because we’re not invested in the story. In short, “She drove home…” is boring.

However, “On the way home…” foreshadows something. We’re led to think that something is going to happen (so this is also an example of an open loop). As a result, our imaginations light up, and we start to wonder what’s going to happen next (we transition to visual mode).

So what has all this got to do with Ogilvy’s element 14? Element 14 tells us that demonstrating a product live on TV is the best way to show off a product’s features and benefits.

Whilst that seems obvious today, it clearly wasn’t in the 1960s, so it’s good to remember we can (and should) show this in words too.

PS. Looking at the image, earn extra Brownie points by completing the sentence: “On the way home…” in the comments below.

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