David Ogilvy’s Guide To Writing Ads Explained Part 29

We’re still on the topic of headlines with Ogilvy’s 29th element (on how to create successful advertisements), and in a way this one seems to contradict element 28 (which is, use the minimum number of words to say what you have to say, and make them short).

But as you’d expect from Ogilvy, it doesn’t (in terms of crafting a massively long ad and removing all objections and criticisms – the secondary goal of copy).

Element 29 says that longer headlines work better than shorter ones. Why? He doesn’t waste time justifying it, instead he provides anecdotal proof by stating results and contexts, then puts icing on the cake by quoting one of his most famous headlines:

“At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”

Note that he’s using an implied promise (i.e., if that’s the loudest noise, then this car MUST be really quiet, and therefore more comfortable – the benefit).

Note also that he uses the word NEW, and he mentions the brand – all things we’ve covered in earlier parts of this, his most famous agency building ad.

But there’s more to this element. He says “In headline tests conducted with a big department store…” – which lets the reader know that his agency not only works with (at least one) “big department store”, but that they trust him implicitly (and therefore by implication, so should the reader).

And then he gives us figures: “headlines of 10 words or more sell more goods”. He adds some science too: “ad recall works best with 8 to 10 words (which gives us the sweet spot we’re looking for – 10 words – in case we’re in any doubt).

And finally, he lets us know his agency also does direct response marketing (or rather ‘mail-order advertising’ as it was better known back then – you can argue they are different things, but the business model is the same – produce printed material with an offer and mail it to people – what he’s really doing is giving a call out to one of his markets, the mail-order industry, massive back then).

All in all, this is a powerhouse of an element, and when taken with the rest, gives us a blueprint worth exploring no matter which decade or century we’re operating in.

More on Wednesday. Don’t forget to sign up to the Science of Copywriting newsletter so you get everything every Sunday in my weekly digest.

PS. One question remains. If 10 words is the sweet spot for display ads, why did the Rolls-Royce ad work so well when it has 17 words? Ogilvy might say: “Experimentation old boy, experimentation”.

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