David Ogilvy’s Guide To Writing Ads Explained Part 17

Element 17 is intriguing and has moved on since the 1960s, but it’s still just as important today, and as we’re still on the TV section of Ogilvy’s ad, we’d better make sure we understand it’s real meaning.

It’s not just TV though, this applies to any type of moving image.

[At this point you’re probably thinking “well go on then, what is it?”. The first two paragraphs of this post represent the lead (or hook). If the lead reveals the answer, no one will read further. This has nothing to do with element 17, but it’s an important pattern.]

Everything is an act. We are selfish creatures (well, most of us anyway). We’re always after something. It might be consolation or congratulation, or even simply agreement, but whatever it is, our inner conniving selves use words along with physical movements such as facial or hand expressions to get what we want.

The most successful win (this is something every copywriter needs to remember). People don’t win by being winners, they win because they’re able to convince people to give them what they want (it’s that simple).

Element 17, from a cursory glance, hardly seems connected to this at all, but here it is: “prefer on-voice camera to voice over” (or in modern parlance: “on-camera vs voice over”).

Ogilvy maintains that an original recording of some actor saying something live beats any voice over added later (what he fails to say is “but it depends on the acting”).

Actors these days take voice overs very seriously (look at the myriad animations made by stars today compared with the 1960s – it’s become an art in itself).

But from our perspective as copywriters, it means when we write a script for a video (whether it’s a direct sales promo or webinar for example) it’s in our interest to ensure our client also gets the best actor they can afford, and that that actor delivers our script live – and not over-dubbed or voice overed later.

Because the point is this, reading from a script will never beat reading from the heart (which is done by learning the script so well, it’s no longer needed).

Never let a client ruin the power of your writing through ignorance.


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