Copywriting greatness awaits - 12 magic copywriting tips from David Ogilvy

Copywriting greatness awaits - 12 magic copywriting tips from David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy is considered as the Father of Advertising.

If you’ve never come across him before, this Letterman appearance is a pretty good crammer.

He was one of the original Madison Avenue men, Mad Men and his influence still looms large over the advertising industry, especially when it comes to copywriting.

Below are 12 quotes from David Ogilvy’s famous books that serve as an incomplete, but even today quite surprisingly robust, basic guide to writing effective copy.

The quotes are also a great refresher for any copywriter looking for a touch of inspiration from the old man.

Words with work to do

Lest any copywriter should ever forget the reason they are working - copywriting is creating words that have a serious job to do.

I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. 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.

If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative
— Ogilvy on Advertising

Test your headlines

Attention-grabbing headlines were forefront in David Ogilvy’s copywriting process. Would anyone argue that they’re not even more important now?

Getting a fresh set of eyes to look over your headline before you publish is a must.

Use bosses, colleagues or one of the many online headline analyser online tools.

Gather opinion to ensure your headline is truly doing what you wanted it to do… and not that it’s just working for your brain alone.

The headlines which work best are those which promise the reader a benefit

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.

Some copywriters write tricky headlines – double meanings, puns and other obscurities. This is counter-productive. In the average newspaper your headline has to compete with 350 others. Readers travel fast through this jungle. Your headline should telegraph what you want to say.
— Ogilvy on Advertising

Use the words your customer uses

In our Copywriting course, legendary advertising giant, Dave Trott speaks passionately on this topic.

Basically the message is ‘Don’t try to be clever, for clever’s sake’.

Your words have to hit home.


Your lexical choices have to be completely in-tune with your audience’s everyday vocabulary.

Ogilvy was adamant about this too.

A psychologist flashed hundreds of words on a screen and used an electric gadget to measure emotional reactions. High marks went to darling. So I used it in a headline for Dove

I don’t know the rules of grammar. If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language.
— Ogilvy on Advertising

Treat your audience with respect

The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife.
— Confessions of an Advertising Man

Rory Sutherland says that while the Ogilvy quote “…she’s your wife” is clearly from a bygone era, this could now be updated as “Brexit voters aren’t morons. They’re your grandparents”

The lesson holds true: Think highly of your reader.

Don’t be cocky.

Don’t try to prove you’re more intelligent.

Respect your reader and they might respect what they’re reading.

Go for a walk to get wonderful ideas

Ogilvy said that the best copywriters are those that are interested in the broadest range of things.

Because ideas can come from anywhere.

But if/when your ideas aren’t flowing, don’t sit there, get up and walk.

Beethoven was known for his rigorous afternoon walks to inspire creativity.

A 2014 Standford study, Give Your Ideas Some Legs, showed that walking boosts creative thinking during and afterwards.

Ogilvy was onto this as well… with a few extra suggestions - Fill, fill, fill your head with info, then unplug it to get your mind out of the way of good ideas.

Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret.
— Ogilvy on Advertising

Just have fun with it

Copywriting is easier, better and quicker when you are happy.

Let’s face it, if you’re in a bad mood, your words will probably sound like that too.

Keep an optimistic, positive and best of all humorous mindset… and you won’t bore your readers

The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.

You cannot bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them in buying it.
— Ogilvy on Advertising

Look at the big picture

Fresh eyes!

It’s so easy to be writing right up until the last minute of your deadline.

Don’t do this :)

Copywriting is vastly improved by:
- Going away
- Coming back later with fresh eyes
- Editing like a medieval peasant scything a field of hay after downing 14 pints of Mead.

Only reviewing with fresh eyes, can you truly ask yourself the killer questions on David Ogilvy’s checklist to ascertain if you’ve really hit the nail on the head.

It will help you recognise a big idea if you ask yourself five questions:
1. Did it make me gasp when I first saw it?
2. Do I wish I had thought of it myself?
3. Is it unique?
4. Does it fit the strategy to perfection?
5. Could it be used for 30 years?
— Ogilvy on Advertising

If all this has whet your appetite for more Ogilvy, you’ll like our article on his 8 habits

And here’s a real in-depth treat for you… (especially if you love Czech subtitles)

Copywriters - a rallying cry! Podcast with Derek Walker

Copywriters - a rallying cry! Podcast with Derek Walker

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