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What David Ogilvy Can Teach You About Marketing

  • Nick ThackerNick Thacker

David Ogilvy, the “Father of Advertising” as some have described him, was a well-known and very successful advertiser in the middle part of the 20th century. Actually, Time magazine called Ogilvy “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry.”

Quite the curriculum vitae, I’d say.

Ogilvy started an ad agency named Ogilvy & Mathers, and while he died in 1999, he’s left a legacy of great advertising and marketing advice-much of which is still useful to marketers today.

I’ll let Ogilvy speak for himself, through popular quotes and quips of his, but this post will hopefully help you understand marketing and advertising from another perspective altogether.

David Ogilvy on Advertising and Marketing:

“Don’t bunt. Aim out of the ballpark. Aim for the company of immortals.”

With any marketing campaign plan, don’t “settle.” Its one thing to define a specific, targetable niche market, but it’s another altogether to focus on a market segment due to a lack of funds, confidence, or having too much fear.

Shoot for the stars-I wrote about this, and why it’s OK to be naïve, here-but just know that it’s okay to be a dreamer. I’m sure Danny didn’t start Mirasee with the expectation that it would quickly grow into the largest marketing firm on the planet, but you’d better believe that he did hope and plan for the very best.

If you don’t have a large marketing and advertising budget, enlist help from people who have the best guerrilla marketing ideas, or are great at social media campaigns, and generating word-of-mouth buzz. Read up on promotional tactics that don’t cost much, and create a marketing plan that you’d be proud to show off.

“A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.”

You’ve probably seen sales pages that scream for attention-big and bold, with red titles and super-long subtitles.

Sure, they probably generate leads, but there’s a reason you don’t fall for them. Don’t call attention to your ads, sales pages, and landing squeeze pages any more than you need to. Using great design like professional-quality imagery, proper text formatting that’s easy on the eye (serif fonts for copy, sans-serif for headers, etc.) and non-spam-worthy copy will help solidify your brand as “premium” in the eyes of your customers.

Ogilvy was in the business of advertising-getting people to read ad copy in a magazine or on a television screen. You are also in the business of advertising, but it’s through online ads, blog posts, Twitter, and other forms of “new media.” Don’t miss out on the opportunity to reach people where they are, in a way that’s comfortable, inviting, and relevant to them.

“Advertising is a business of words, but advertising agencies are infested with men and women who cannot write. They cannot write advertisements, and they cannot write plans. They are helpless as deaf mutes on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.”

I absolutely love this quote from David Ogilvy-it’s direct, like he was known to be, and it makes so much sense to me.

More and more often, as the barrier for entry for starting an online business is lowered, people use easy and free access to tools like WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter as an excuse to not focus on the craft of writing.

I’m tired of seeing marketing that’s either over-the-top “sales-y” or filled with so much dry verbiage that they lose me in the first sentence.

Learn to Write

Read through the posts here at Mirasee or enroll in a Copyblogger or MenWithPens online course, but do yourself a favor as a marketer and learn to write well.

As trends, products, and the online landscape change, your writing needs to adapt and adopt the current dictions, syntax, and vernaculars of your market. The best ay I’ve found to stay up-to-date with it all?

Read more.

Reading helps with many aspects of great writing, and it’s key to understanding your markets better. Read newspapers and journals from your niche, blogs and articles, and books relevant to your market.

“Good copy can’t be written with tongue in cheek, written just for a living. You’ve got to believe in the product.”

Mmm, what a powerful message! Ogilvy strikes it right between-the-eyes for me here. I’ve spent a few years marketing things I like, and now I’m marketing things I absolutely love.

There’s a world of difference between the two-not to mention the difference between trying to sell something you dislike or hate and something you love. If you don’t like what you’re selling, figure out why:

  • Is it not a “good enough” product? How can you fix it?
  • Is it something you don’t understand? Read more, study it, and use it.
  • Is it something you just don’t feel like selling anymore? This happens to all of us, and it could be burnout, in which case you need to decide to push through “The Dip” or not, or give it up for good.

These are a few examples of reasons people often dislike what they’re selling-and all of them are possible to overcome, if it’s worth it. Ogilvy’s point still stands, though: you must like what you’re selling to make it worthwhile for your clients and yourself.

“I have a theory that the best ads come from personal experience. Some of the good ones I have done have really come out of the real experience of my life, and somehow this has come over as true and valid and persuasive.”

In other words, “story sells.” Buying and selling is an emotional connection.

When you’re trying to get someone to buy something-anything-tell the story. When I launched my free 20-part Writing Fiction course, I didn’t try to sell based on my “years of writing experience” (I don’t have any), or my “amazing teaching skills” (I’ve never taught anything). Instead, I focused on telling the story of what worked for me when I started writing.

People understand and are motivated by the story-the features and benefits of your products are just the bullet points they’ll use to sell their spouse on it!

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

Seth Godin calls it “shipping” – getting your product to market. If you can’t do that, it’s pretty much worthless.

Ideas are a dime-a-dozen until they’re implemented-a fact I tend to harp on a lot. You can have the greatest idea since (I’m not going to say “sliced bread” here), but if you don’t do anything with it, no one else in the world can ever benefit from it.

Or Pay You For It

“Be creative, and be original-just make sure you’re actually producing and shipping when the time comes. The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.”

Again, Ogilvy nailed it. I just re-launched my own blog and website, and I thought long and hard about what style, voice, and design I’d want to use.

Then it hit me-my wife, parents, and in-laws are probably going to read-and scrutinize-every word of everything I write. Would I present Blog A or Blog B to them? Or should I go with Blog C?

It wasn’t that I was going to be using tacky, unkempt, or rude wordings, but just knowing that my close-knit circle would be following along every step of the way caused me to sit back and think a bit harder before I hit the “Publish” button.

Imagine the most critical, inspiring person you know (or would like to know) is sitting over your shoulder every time you’re about to launch something into the world. Would they approve?

Marketing is Messaging

Don’t forget these quotes as you build your brand-your reputation-on and offline. They’ll help you develop your own marketing styles, and they’ll help improve your company for the better.

If it helps, jot them down on a piece of paper and stick them to your computer screen-or on your Marketing Director’s forehead.

Above all, be sure to add value at every opportunity-go over and above what’s required and expected, and help others find the answers they’re looking for.

That’s the real definition of what it means to be a marketer.

14 thoughts on What David Ogilvy Can Teach You About Marketing

Jeannette Paladino blogging, branding

Hi Nick — David Ogilvy was a marketing genius, no doubt. I, too, believe you need to believe in what you’re selling to be successful. I just perused your blog and I wonder why in this post you advocate “serif fonts for copy, sans-serif for headers,” and then only use serif fonts for both copy and headers in your blog posts. Same for Firepole Marketing. I personally like the serif/sans-serif format and use it on my blog. A nit-pik, but curious.

Nick Thacker

Hi Jeannette!

You know, that’s a great point! I think the answer has something to do with the fact that I recently came across the Google Fonts plugin for WordPress, and I’ve been messing around with my fonts…

Haha, glad you pointed it out–I should have written, “don’t use terrible fonts for your headings and terrible fonts for your body copy,” but I wanted to be more specific, and that one was a golden-oldie.

Not sure about Danny’s reasoning, though I like the look of his site 😉

Thanks for commenting!


Actually, as for the fonts on this blog, watch this space – changes are coming… 😉

Mike Kawula

Nice! Love the quote from Ogilvy, “Advertising is a business of words, but advertising agencies are infested with men and women who cannot write. They cannot write ….” Spent few years meeting with Ad agencies and amazed me at times the “account managers” who who handling multi-million dollar campaigns!

I love what I do everyday! For some time we worried about our initial marketing message to drive a sale and was always wondering why we didn’t get repeat business. Then it dawned on me we as an internet site had so many other touch points like “order confirmation”, “order shipped” and these were just so blah! Made some changes recently but definitely will have my team review this post to show them how crucial it is to connect.

Thanks again!

Nick Thacker

Hey Mike!

Thanks for the comment–great to hear your take on this, and awesome points about “blah” website touch points.

I’ll keep that in mind as I grow my own business as well!

Mike Kawula


Thanks for commenting back, love that about this blog! To hold me to the fire this is a “BLAH” page that every one of my customers get after each order! BORING and Ogilvy would certainly rise from his grave if he saw to smack be in the head with the “Boring”stick! This will be totally different in 2-3 days so visit back and let me know thoughts from another perspective:

Nick Thacker

Will do–thanks Mike!


Good afternoon Nick!

This business of writing is a bit of a thorny one, don’t you think?
It’s so subjective in relation to what’s good and what’s not. I’ve read a number of articles that were reputedly well written with viral content and been left thinking – ‘if that’s the best pity the rest’.

Not that I consider myself to be any great shakes in that department, but there does seem to be an awful lot of trash out there masquerading as prose (marketing or otherwise). So I guess I agree with you – before doing anything else, learn to write well!

Nick Thacker

Definitely, Linda!

It’s so easy to do, as well–I’m no genius, but I think I’m a decent-enough writer. And I never took extensive composition classes, literary critique classes, or anything like that…

I just read a lot! When I thought about writing my own book, it was never difficult to actually sit down and write–the words were there, the structure made sense–all because I constantly read!

Thanks for the great comment!

Nick Thacker

Definitely, Linda!

It’s so easy to do, as well–I’m no genius, but I think I’m a decent-enough writer. And I never took extensive composition classes, literary critique classes, or anything like that…

I just read a lot! When I thought about writing my own book, it was never difficult to actually sit down and write–the words were there, the structure made sense–all because I constantly read!

Thanks for the great comment!

Lisa Cash Hanson

I think we’ll always hear copy copy copy, content content- And it’s very true. I’ve been very fortunate my book Get Famous The Most Amazing Mom Blogger’s Resource on The Planet ( my ebook) is selling. However I can always work on my writing skills, keep growing and keep improving. Thanks for the reminder.

Nick Thacker

Great point, Lisa, and thanks for sharing your book! Glad it’s doing well–off to check it out now!


Discover Auctions

Hi Nick,
Great points and I love the quote, “the consumer isn’t a moron, she is your wife”. More people pushing products should write that quote down on a sticky note and put it on their monitor. What I write about and what my site is about are both huge passions of mine. Some of my blog posts tend to drift away from my niche market, however, I attempt to tie them back into it to help others in my niche. The above quote should be taped to every auctioneer’s playbook. Treat your consumer’s as you would want to be treated yourself.
My writing is still a bit rough, and I intend on working on that the next few months. Thank you for the reminder to never quit learning.

Nick Thacker

Definitely–that quote stood out to me as well!

Thanks for the comment, and we’ll talk to you soon!

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