Saturday, September 7, 2013

Advertising Lessons from One of the Great Ones: David Ogilvy

"A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time." ~Henry Ford

On the face of it, the quote above from Henry Ford comes across as amusing and thought-provoking. It caught my attention about five years ago when one of the ad salespeople who contacts me regularly began using it as a tagline in their signature. The housing market had collapsed and the economy was in shambles with one of the consequences being a serious erosion of advertising dollars at the same time as news stand magazine sales were tanking. In short, the pincers were on for print media publishers.

So one of the sales reps from one of these magazines added the Ford quote to his sig line, to encourage us not to quit putting out our message. This would not have bothered me except that a short time later I had a second ad rep adding this statement to his emails.

Five years have passed and at least a half dozen different ad reps have used Henry Ford's admonition... to the extent that as far as I'm concerned it's become a cliche and a byword. Its gotten stale.

There are so many great quotes and insights on advertising out there. Why must everybody key in on the same one? My recommendation: find something fresh.

One place to find gems is in the writings of David Ogilvy.

I'm well aware that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for advertising. Many people find F. Scott Fitzgerald's pithy sentiment more to their liking. "Advertising is a racket, like the movies and the brokerage business. You cannot be honest without admitting that its constructive contribution to humanity is exactly minus zero." That's pretty harsh. Will Rogers' assessment of the advertising profession profession goes like this: "Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don't have for something they don't need." Often this does appear to be the essence of it.

Calvin Coolidge, on the other hand, called advertising "the life of trade." And Anton Chekov stated that advertising was "the essence of democracy." That's pretty heady stuff.

Yesterday, while thinking about all these things -- triggered by yet another email with the Ford banality -- I went looking for a fresh batch of ideas from Mr. Ogilvy that I could offer up to these sales folk who mean well but have gotten tiresome. Here's a good place to start... 13 Timeless Lessons from the Father of Advertising.

Here's one from that list: of timeless lessons: "Do not … address your readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium. When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client."

That's a lesson I've taken to heart in all my writing. I don't know how many people will read these words today, but as far as I'm concerned, you're the only one. I'm writing for you. Thanks for being there. Hope you're having a good weekend.

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