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Marketing ideology seems to change every ten years or so—unless you’re David Ogilvy, and your philosophy has lasted the better part of a century.
Despite having passed on over a decade and a half ago, Ogilvy’s ideas on marketing are as true now as they were when he founded Ogilvy & Mather back in 1948. The Mad Men-esque figure was once called “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry.” Despite that, companies today still scorn his advice (often to their financial dismay).
Here are 10 marketing tips, updated with modern examples, from one of the greatest business minds this world has seen. All were taken from his book Confessions of an Advertising Man.
1. “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.”
Sexism aside, Ogilvy was preaching an often overlooked notion in marketing way back in 1963: the customer is smarter than you think and is always getting smarter.
Nowadays, 73% of customers research a product on the internet before buying it. Inferior products won’t cut it with the savvy buyer. You can’t fool your way into a profit (and if you can, you won’t be able to for long).
2. “The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.”
Blogs are all about free information. So are e-books. That’s why they’re so wildly popular with businesses these days.
If you give out useful, practical, and actionable information for free, customers will trust you and want to work with you. The stats don’t lie—businesses that blog regularly and offer fresh, informative content receive 13x the ROI of businesses that don’t.
3. “The headline is the ‘ticket on the meat.’ Use it to flag down readers who are prospects for the kind of product you are advertising.”
Headlines sell, plain and simple. While everyone knows this fact when it comes to newspapers and blogs, people often forget how important headlines are when it comes to email marketing. Your subject line is the most important element of your email marketing strategy. The pros spend half of their time just writing the subject line.
4. “I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information.”
While many would disagree, countless case studies have proven Ogilvy’s opinion to be true.
Dollar Shave Club is a perfect example of this. They based their entire business model off the idea that you can get a great shave for a few bucks a month. Sure, the commercials were hilarious, but more importantly, they challenged the overpriced, brand name razors that were dominating the market. In a few years, Dollar Shave Club was worth $120 million.
To quote Ogilvy again, “What you say is more important than how you say it.”
5. “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.”
High-falutin’ language, jargon, and formalities have worn out their welcome with readers. Instead, everyday language dominates the marketing world. We’ve seen it with the California Milk Processor Board’s “Got Milk?” campaign, we’ve seen it in Nike’s legendary “Just Do It” motto, and most recently, we’ve seen it with the staggering success of Taco Bell’s “Fourth Meal”.
Give people what they know. Don’t talk up or down to them—just talk to them.
6. “Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.”
Only seek to hire and work with the best. The biggest mistake you can make is to see new talent as a threat, instead of seeing them for what they really are: partners in a grand adventure. Marketing is a collaborative effort. It’s okay if you’re not always the smartest person in the room.
7. “Image means personality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the market place.”
The big boys know this to be true. Coca-Cola could have been just a soda, but it instead achieved one of the most powerful names in business thanks to their branding and advertising strategies. They spend $2.9 billion annually on branding—more than the combined marketing budgets of Apple and Microsoft. Clever branding gave a carbonated beverage manufacturer a higher value than the GDP of many small nations.
8. “Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”
Research is essential to identifying what the customer wants from you and what they think of your brand. If you’re not taking the time to be analytical with your business, you’re going to fall by the wayside. In Ogilvy’s words, “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”
9. “I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support, rather than for illumination.”
Research helps, but you need to be able to take decisive action, innovate, and make radical decisions to determine the fate of your business. Failure to use good judgement when marketing your product will result in repeated losses of money. Look at Gap, which repeatedly failed to evolve its brand to fit the lifestyle and needs of the modern shopper, and relied instead on what had “worked in the past.”
10. “It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product. Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”
This is especially true when marketing to Millennials. They see too many ads, and as a result, they stopped responding to them. Only once in a long while does one get through. Ogilvy knew this long ago, “Ninety-nine percent of advertising doesn’t sell much of anything.”
That’s why good marketing is hard to come by. But if you take a few tips from this marketing sage, you can start out on the right track.