Confessions of an Advertising Man — 30 David Ogilvy quotes that are still applicable today

Lu Yang
5 min readMar 13, 2018

“Confessions of an Advertsing Man” is written by David Ogilvy, the founder of Ogilvy & Mather, as well as known as the father of advertising. The book stimulates my interests in advertising and marketing, and it is one of the reasons that I switched my major to marketing in university. It is because David Ogilvy formed such a fascinating advertising world in the book by sharing pioneering philosophy in the aspects of advertising, client relationship management and so on.

Even though “Confessions of an Advertising Man” got published in 1963, a lot of David Ogilvy’s thoughts still work today. Here are the collection of 30 quotes (listed by chapters) that I found can apply to the advertising industry and the digital marketing world.

1.We like reports and correspondence to be well written, easy-to-read and short. We are revolted by pseudo-academic jargon.

2. The function of most advertising is not to persuade people to try product, but to persuade them to use it more often than other brands in their repertoire.

How to manage an Advertising agency

3. In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.

How to get clients

4. The agencies which are most successful inner business are those whose spokesmen show the most sensitive insight into the psychological make-up of the prospective client.

How to keep clients

5. As soon as a client has approved new campaign, begin work to develop another one, and put it in test markets. You will then be ready with a shot in your locker if your first campaign flops, or incurs the displeasure of your client’s top management for some more subjective reason. This restless preparation of reserve positions will cut into your profits and exasperate your copywriters, but it will prolong your tenure of accounts.

6. I have always tried to sit on the same side of the tables as my clients, to see problems through their eyes.

7. I always use my clients’ products. This is not toadyism, but elementary good manners… [also] Why not? Are these not the finest goods and services? I think they are and that is why I advertise them.

8. The most dangerous thing that can happen than agency is to depend on a single personal tie with a client company… Only when the agency is wired in at every level can you hope for tenure.

9. It is difficult to tell a client that his product has a serious fault. On the whole, however, I have observed an increasing tendency on the part of clients to welcome candour, particularly when it is based on the results of consumer research.

Source: Ogilvy & Mather office in NYC

How to be a good client

10. There is one word which characterizes the ideal client-agency relationship: Permanency…If permanency is to be achieved, it must be deliberately and consciously built into the relationship.

How to build great campaigns

11. A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself. It should rivet the reader’s attention on the product. Instead of saying,”what a clever advertisement,” the reader says, “I never knew that before. I must try this product.

12. What you say is more important than how you say it… Two hundred years ago Dr. Johnson said, “Promise, large promise is the soul of an advertisement.”

13. Give the facts. The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assumer that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her;

14. It is flagrantly dishonest for an advertising agent to urge consumers to buy a product which he would not allow his own wife to buy;

15. Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image.

16. Every advertisement, every radio programme, every TV commercial is not a one-time shot, but a long-term investment in the total personality of their brands. They have presented a consistent image to the world, and grown rich in the process.

17. The manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most sharply defined personality for his brand will get the largest share of the market at the highest profit.

18. People are buying volume by price discounting, instead of using advertising to build strong brands. A steady diet of price-off promotions lowers the esteem in which the consumer holds the product.

How to write potent copy

19. On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.

20. Every advertisement should be a complete sales pitch for your product. It is unrealistic to assume that consumers will read a series of advertisements for the same product.

21. Unless you have some special reason to be solemn and pretentious, write your copy in the colloquial language which your customers use in everyday conversation.

Source: “Mad Men Season 4” poster

How to illustrate advertisements and posters

22. As in all areas of advertising, substance is more important than form.

23. The more of it [the story appeal element] you inject into your photographs, the more people will look at your advertisements.

24. Over and over again, research has shown that photographs sell more than drawings…[because] Photograph represent reality, whereas drawings represent fantasy, which is less believable

25. A layout must relate to the graphic climate of the newspaper or magazine which is to carry it.

26. There is no need for advertisements to look like advertisements. If you make them look like editorial pages, you will attract about 50 percent more readers.

27. In general, imitate the editors; they form the reading habits of your customers… [such as] set your headline and indeed your whole advertisement, in lower case [because] people read all their books, newspapers, and magazines in lower case.

28. You should give your commercials a touch of singularity, a burr that will make them stick in the viewer’s mind. But be very careful how you do this; the viewer is apt to remember your burr but forget your selling promise.

Should advertising be abolished

29. The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.

30. Advertising is a guarantee of quality. A firm which has spent a substantial sum advocating the merits of a product and accustoming the consumer to expect a standard that is both high and uniform, dare not later reduce the quality of its goods. Sometimes the public is gullible, but not to the extent of continuing to buy patently inferior article.

How do you think these quotes? Now it’s your turn. Feel free to share your thoughts with me.

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Lu Yang

My passion is a mixture of obsession and madness for creativity. I create contents on my website: Feel free to visit ;)