David Ogilvy’s Guide To Direct Response Advertising Part 3

Whilst this mini-series is focused on getting clients and more business, there’s one important contributing factor most people ignore. I call it “The Work”. Catchy eh.

The work involves two things: a) read everything everywhere with intent, b) write constantly. Unless these two things are done every day (including holidays, birthdays, celebratory days, un-celebratory days etc.), nothing will fall into place (you may get many aha moments, but they won’t stick).

With that in mind, Ogilvy’s third element has this promise: “How to land your most profitable new customers”. But it fails to deliver. In fact, it doesn’t just fail to deliver, it leaves it up to the reader to figure out the obvious (which is this: “why would we ever reveal this to anyone for free when we’re paid vast amounts of money to do it for our clients?”).

The thing is, we’re only into element 3 of 19. So at this point, the reader has two choices: 1) give up because this is obviously some kind of blind sales copy, or 2) continue reading the rest of the elements in the vain hope that more will be revealed.

Ogilvy only wants believers. He is not here to convert non-believers into believers (that’s way too expensive). So he invites all non-believers to leave. However, before he does so, he reveals a formula.

It’s called the ‘Present Value Formula’. You can look it up online today, but back then, you’d need to be an economics expert to know where to find it.

In its simplest form it goes like this: Present Value = Future Value x 1 over the Rate of Return to the power n (where n = number of periods between now and the future we’re projecting to). Sounds complicated? Well, Ogilvy wasn’t content with that, so he expanded it to the point of obscurity (that point being, “if you can understand this, you should be working for us, not hiring us”).

He did give a few more clues though. He threw in the words “sophisticated list segmentation” and combined it with “highly selective basis” and “remarkably precise formula”. In short, he abused the adverb rule to the point of absurdity.

But if we read between the lines, it’s not so hard to see what he was saying:

1) You identify a group of existing good customers using segmentation techniques (i.e. by asking who spent what over how long without refunding – the more they spent over a long period without refunding told you the one thing that all businesses want from long term clients – they pay, they pay often, and they don’t complain).

2) You look for new customers (via paid advertising) using the demographics you just identified. In other words, this is all about creating avatars based on existing data.

If you’re looking for great new customers, then this is how to do it. But first you NEED GREAT CUSTOMERS. And there’s the rub for those of us just starting out. We have no customers and no data.

So did Ogilvy start with nothing? Nope. He started out as a chef, became a salesman (selling AGA cookers), then joined an advertising agency (who he later went into partnership with).

But he knew one thing that most copywriters don’t know – how to sell. These elements give you the best insight into how that’s done in print. Keep reading. More next week.

PS. What do I mean by reading with intent? Read actively, not passively. That means constantly asking questions about how you feel as you read. Why do I suddenly feel confident? Why do I feel sad? Why do I feel angry? Why do I want to suddenly buy something?

Learning about other people is one thing, but it starts with learning about ourselves.

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