David Ogilvy’s Guide To Writing Ads Explained Part 24

Ever heard of a grabber? It’s David Ogilvy speak for anything that grabs attention at the start of an ad.

As with all ideas, the only people who can verify it works are the people who pay for it (as copywriters, that would be the people who pay us to write their copy).

Of course, if we were to not just write the copy, but also measure the results (which means access to our client’s sales figures and other data), we would also be able to verify results, but alas, that rarely happens.

Instead we assume that as long as they continue to hire us, then our copy must be working (this isn’t always true though).

It also depends on the expectations we set when we sold our services to our client(s). If, for example, we told them to expect a “surge in traffic”, then (if we’re lucky) they may give us access to their Google Analytics account to prove it.

But few companies will ever do that until they’ve built a deep enough trust to allow us to start looking at their numbers (with one exception, micro businesses will usually let you have most of the data you need).

Which means two things:

1) Unless you have concrete proof that “grabbers” work, you’ll be recommending hot air if you try to persuade them they do.

2) You have leverage. Explain that you have something that just might make the difference they’re looking for, but you want to prove it to them, and the only way to do that is to have sight of certain data so you can write the most effective copy for them.

Requests like this tell them you care (the more you care about them, the more they’ll care about you – provided it’s sincere).

So what is a grabber? Something out of the ordinary. It might be a LOUD sound. For example, people have tried starting ads with a telephone ring tone to get attention (we know that failed because, luckily, it never took off).

It might be a strong visual – something shocking to get their attention. This works better than a LOUD sound. Toyota had a good example they ran in 2020 that was still running in 2021 (it’s not certain proof, but a longer an ad runs, the more likely it is that it’s making money) – I can’t show it here for copyright reasons, but it’s easy to find if you search for “Toyota gymnast advert” (or something along those lines).

The Toyota ad may be striking visually, but it’s really more of the same old, same old – scantily dressed woman selling a car (but that’s OK from an advertising point of view – it’s evolutionary, not revolutionary – although it’s a bad idea from a PC point of view).

But can you create a grabber for written copy? Yes. We see them every day from the internet marketing brigade. The more outrageous the better (“Become the world’s first trillionaire in 30 days or double your money back”).

Do they work? Of course. But that’s only because they’re hitting a very specific market of desperate people.

For the rest of us, grabbers still matter (we need attention, just not trickery). This is why every ad needs a big idea to help it stand out. What’s a big idea? Something different. This series of 38 elements is a big idea in just the same way Ogilvy’s original 38 elements this series is based on was.

Toyota combining gymnastics and cars was a big idea. Creating a decentralised money supply (cryptocurrency) was a big idea, but so was Beanz with a z. You get the idea. Think different.

More of this crazy stuff next week 🙂



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