Ogilvy Modernized, Making Old School Advertising, New Again (with examples). PART ONE: OVERTURE.
“I run the risk of being denounced by the idiots who hold that any advertising technique which has been in use for more than two years is ipso facto obsolete.”
David Ogilvy is a legendary advertiser who founded Ogilvy & Mather, one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world. He is well known for the iconic advertisements above, still praised among marketers and advertisers today. He clearly has an excellent perspective on creating content that sells.
Although the title may make me seem like one of these denouncing idiots, in contrast I wanted to take a deeper look at how his advice can stand the test of time in a 2017 world. I believe there is a lot of evergreen advice that is still relevant today, but the context is totally different than it was in 1983. Let’s just get that out there.
It is the duty of me, the modern reader (and modern marketer) to internalize this advice and apply it in the context that works for me. I think a lot of readers do that naturally whether it’s Ogilvy, Gary Vee, or George R.R. Martin. At the same time, there’s a lot of young bucks who will take his advice too literally and try to market like it’s 1950. They’re the type that would go all in on making the best mailer they can. It can work, but it’s much more expensive to launch a bunch of mailers than it would be to launch hypertargeted Facebook ads as far as the quality and depth of that reach is concerned.
“When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative’. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”
At the end of the day, the creative you make whether it’s a video or image is built to SELL something. Whether it’s selling the next big enterprise software, organic cookies, or Dragonball Z shirts, you have to somehow implant the idea in people’s heads that this product will make their lives a little better.
But how do you use creative to drive demand for a product?
You educate and provide value to make the consumer’s life better, first.
This was done back in the day through compelling, informative ads like this famous Guinness ad above made by Ogilvy. Notice how it never explicitly told you how great Guinness beer tastes, but gave you information on something that would go good with that beer.
This ad from Shopify isn’t too different from the Guinness ad. What Shopify decided to do was utilize the platforms available to them and made a short documentary about the hip-hop scene in Alaska. They connected their brand by providing a certain narrative (like how Alaska isn’t too well known for hip-hop) and how Shopify can be a hero in that narrative by providing more avenues for that scene to grow by featuring Alaskan native Travis Brady’s drum sample store on Shopify.
With both of these ads, I was more informed while holding a positive outlook on the brand because of the value they gave me (a.k.a. making my life a little better), thus priming me for conversion (more on that at a later time). These advertisements are different in how they are distributed, but they both practice the same strategy. There’s a lot of older executives (or young executives with old-school mentalities) who are quick to dismiss social media as a fad. With this mindset, even if they craft the best magazine ad in the world they will still miss out on the benefits of using the platform and telling their story the way it’s meant to be told, in places where people’s attention is actually at.
The advertising mogul asserts that the perspective of old age helps seperate the core truths in advertising from what’s just trendy. I don’t think my boy Dave would have dismissed social media as a fad, though. It would have been just another platform to deploy the messages he was already deploying. There’s a share of old heads who are quick to dismiss the new, but there are some who know these core truths and can manuver accordingly.
OGilvy takes a moment to take shots at his haters who are quick to critizice his tactics like “slice-of-life commercials, demonstrations and talking heads, turning a blind eye to the fact that these techniques still make the cash register ring”. A lot of his competitors at the time were focused on cheap, overly-eccentric creative with NO context for the brand. Here are some examples of how Ogilvy’s strategies still hold true.
This a literal slice-of-life commercial for Budweiser by digital agency Vaynermedia, shot and edited on the night of Game 7 of the World Series. They captured the moment that the Cubs officially became World Series Champions, and pulled an all-nighter to release the commercial by 8 AM the next day.
Vayner does an excellent job in channeling the sentimental nature of a team whose last appearance in the World Series was in 1908, capturing the pride of a winning city, and placing Budweiser within the story. Notice how they never outwardly talk about how great Budweiser is. Rather, they associate a historic memory with a beer that was probably at the party during other great sports moments. Read their full case study.
Demonstrations and talking heads
Purple, an up and coming mattress brand features a “talking head” in the form of Goldilocks, famous for her work with The Three Bears. Now she’s back with some informative perspective on what makes a good bed. I bumped into this on a Facebook ad, and I didn’t even know it was an advertisement at first, I was attracted by the prospect of eggs being crushed under glass in slow motion. The video took me along for the ride and went on to inform me on why beds that are too hard, too soft, and in-between aren’t good enough to support your weight AND cradle your pressure points.
Great creative, great native advertising, and they put their money where their mouth is by demonstrating how their product is better than the competition. They even show some behind the scenes stuff at the end showing how legit they are and it shows how savvy they are to internet trolls who will be first to call it fake by addressing this head on. Don’t sleep on them (pun intended).
Ogilvy also brings up how people view him as someone who opposes rules. In fact, Ogilvy claims to hate rules, for he merely reports the data of how consumers react to certain things. I personally hate rules too. I pull back on a visceral level whenever I’m dealt absolutes (social doesn’t convert as well as TV, Snapchat is for dickpics, etc).
But that is different from respecting the data. Ogilvy puts it best when he stated that data is simply “a hint, perhaps, but scarcely a rule.” It is up to the marketer and the context of the business itself to decide where to turn the ship.
It’s the difference between using celebrity endorsements for the sake of it, with cringey results…
…and using celebrity endorsements that actually work within the context of the brand that’s getting the cosign.
For example, local Texas supermarket chain H.E.B. hired the San Antonio Spurs to be in their commercials. They are a beloved Texas team, repping a Texas brand. The creative is a key factor in what makes these commercials feel more authentic.
They filled with some of the best talent the NBA has to offer (including Laker great, Pau Gasol). Seeing these superstars act goofy about groceries, humanizes them in a way. They don’t seem like big shot celebrities who think they’re better than anyone (well, basketball’s a different case, you kinda have to be better than everyone). That means a lot to audiences. That’s why if I’m ever in Texas, I’m going to be shopping at H.E.B. and their fancy steaks.
All tactics can work, but the main variables for success in marketing is:
•Great creative (with well placed content)
•The quality of the product (trippy right?)
There’s no room for absolutes. Data is absolute, but how we accomodate to it isn’t. Black text over a white background and following all the data in the world isn’t going to help you sell if your product sucks.
Ogilvy ends his introduction by leaving a disclaimer that this book isn’t for readers “who think they already know all there is to be known about advertising.” Although I’ve had a lot of experience helping companies with their marketing, like my approach to my rap music, I consider myself a student of the game at all times. This means I am always open to new perspectives while looking to the past for timeless advice from people who “did it” and taking the best parts and acting on them. This makes me ready to adapt to a changing landscape instead of being the complacent marketer who believe they have no more to learn. Those people end up getting lost in the noise.
Hope you enjoyed the first installment of my MODERNIZING OGILVY series. This book had a huge impact on how I view marketing, and how I market in 2017, so I wish to be the bridge for others that connects these views together.
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If you got some value out of this, please click that heart! Ogilvy is an influental figure in modern marketing and I’m interested in how my perspective is digested. Let me know what you think in the comments. Much love.