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Do You Know David Ogilvy’s Secret Weapon of Advertising?

By Garrett Moon on June 2, 2011 in News.

So, I stumbled on this video over at Copyblogger this morning, a staple in my morning reading routine. I have always been a fan of David Ogilvy. One of my college professors recommended his book Ogilvy On Advertising long ago and I have read it a couple of times since. His approach is straight forward, focused on sales, and comes with a track record of success. It’s surprising that his lessons didn’t stick.

Confessions of an Advertising Man

Before started Todaymade I worked in “advertising” for several years. It was never my goal as a designer to be in an agency setting, but it was where I ended up. I spent those years examining not only the work that I was involved in, but the advertising that was going on all around the world. You see, I’ve always been a design guy, but I loved the strategic side of the advertising business. It isn’t only about looking great, it’s about making sales, turning heads, and stirring emotions. It is a great game, but has unfortunately been robbed of what really matters.


In the video, Ogilvy describes two worlds of advertising. The first is the one that we know today. These are short, low-impact, TV commercials that make us laugh and leave us languishing on our living room sofa. The second world is direct-response advertising, characterized by long copy, laser-beam like focus, and a craving for sales. One is focused on results, sales, and action. The other is focused on… well, egos, I guess.

Make Me Laugh, But Don’t Take My Wallet

The Superbowl is full of them. Expensive ads that make us laugh, and leave our billfolds in our pocket. Funny ads. Hilarious ads. Ads that steal the show, but do almost nothing at the cash register. Ok, if your hands are in the air already, relax. Just stick with me.

Here’s the deal. Those Superbowl ads that we know and love – yeah – they aren’t designed to sell. They are designed to entertain. For a giant like Proctor and Gamble, this is fine. For them, mere awareness is worth paying for, and can actually work in some ways. For us, the real people, spending money on nothing but eyeballs is laughable. It reminds me of the companies that paid to tattoo their logo on somebodies head. If you bought one of those, who’s laughing now?

But you say, yeah, those are the big guys – we’re not like them!

The real problem with the state of today’s advertising world is that it is designed to emulate the big dogs. Small agencies, with small clients, pretending they are getting paid to make people giggle. And, lets not let the agencies get the bad rap. Small businesses and agency-less corporations are doing the same thing. Heck, we’re all guilty. Rather than focusing on direct marketing we attempt to emulate the things that we see on TV every Sunday. Funny ads, hilarious ads, cute ads, and ads without souls or sales.

These are ads that aim to entertain, but end up ignored.

Don’t Say He Didn’t Warn You

Decades ago Ogilvy warned us about the problems with whiz-bang, me-too, advertising. His solution was measurable, trackable, direct-response advertising. He called it his ‘secret weapon’, and his message didn’t fall on deaf ears. Direct advertising, better know as direct mail or direct marketing, has enjoyed great popularity and great results. In fact, it’s never gone out of style.

Online Marketing, Is Direct-Response Advertising

Terms like marketing and advertising have gone through the ringer. Advertising is sometimes called marketing and vise versa. There is plenty that I could write on that, but I will save it for another day. The long and short of it is that the term advertising has been lost. It has come to mean what Ogilvy feared it would. Sure, those that know, know, but for most of us ‘advertising’ symbolizes what we see on TV. In our own businesses we’ve followed the lead, but find that it just doesn’t work. So, lets leave the branding to Coke and Pepsi, and focus on selling some stuff.

If you watch the video with Ogilvy again, replace ever instance of ‘direct-response advertising ‘with ‘online marketing’ or even ‘social media marketing.’ You’ll be surprised – the shoe fits, and it fits well. Internet marketing is nothing like advertising, and when we treat it like advertising – it fails. Sure, ads can go viral, but that isn’t so much strategy as it is luck of the draw. And again, eyeballs don’t always equal revenue.

Our culture is full of short-cuts. Full of shiny objects that we all love – easy diets, funny ads, and instant gourmet meals. Online marketing is full of shiny short-cuts too. As it turns out, it is a lot easier to make someone laugh than it is to make them buy something. And really, that’s my point. Short-cuts don’t sell. Shiny things don’t sell widgets. Is there advertising that actually focuses on make sales? Yes, I talked about that earlier this week, but for the rest of us, the reality of budgets and time are upon us. We need better marketing, because what we really need is results.