27 Secrets Behind Ads That Sell

Writers: Get More Done in a Lot Less Time

April 24, 2014

27 Secrets Behind Ads That Sell

Yes, You CAN Still Become a Copywriter After 50:

“Build a man a fire and he’ll be warm for
an hour. Set a man on fire and he’ll be
warm for the rest of his life.”

– Terry Pratchet

Last week, in the interest of my own travel schedule, I quoted David Ogilvy… telling us to study Claude Hopkins.

How about, this week — as I travel yet again — we close the loop and let Ogilvy have a turn?

Here, find some select points from the Ogilvy classic, “How to Write Advertising That Sells.”

I’ll let David take it from here…

by David Ogilvy

Ogilvy & Mather has created over $1,480,000,000 worth of advertising [Note: Obviously, a dated figure]. Here, with all the dogmatism of brevity are 38 of the things we have learned.

1) The most important decision. We have learned that the effect of your advertising on your sales depends more on this decision than on any other: how should you position your product? Should you position Schweppes as a soft drink – or as a mixer? Should you position Dove as a product for dry skin or as a product which gets hands really clean? The results of your campaign depend less on how we write your advertising than how your product is positioned. It follows that positioning should be decided before the advertising is created. Research can help. Look before you leap.

2) Large promise. The second most important decision is this: what should you promise the customer? A promise is not a claim, or a theme, or a slogan. It is a benefit for the consumer. It pays to promise a benefit which is unique and competitive, and the product must deliver the benefit your promise. Most advertising promises nothing. It is doomed to fail in the marketplace. ”Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement” – said Samuel Johnson.

3) Big ideas. Unless your advertising is built on a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night. It takes a big idea to jolt the consumer out of his indifference – to make him notice your advertising, remember it and take action. Big ideas are usually simple ideas. Said Charles Kettering, the great General Motors inventor: “this problem, when solved, will be simple.” Big, simple ideas are not easy to come by. They require genius – and midnight oil. A truly big one can be continued for 20 years – like our eye patch for Hathaway shirts.

4) Don’t be a bore. Nobody was ever bored into buying a product. Yet most advertising is impersonal, detached, cold – and dull. It pays to involve the customer. Talk to her like a human being. Charm her. Make her hungry. Get her to participate.

5) Innovate. Start trends – instead of following them. Advertising which follows a fashionable fad or is imitative, is seldom successful. It pays to innovate, to blaze new trails. But innovation is risky unless you pre-test your innovation with consumers. Look before you leap.

6) Successful advertising sells the product without drawing attention to itself, it rivets the consumer’s attention on the product. Make the product the hero of your advertising. [JTF NOTE: I would suggest, it’s even better to make the prospect the hero of your pitch.]

7) Psychological Segmentation. Any good ad writer knows how to position products for demographic segments of the market – for men, for young children, for farmers in the south, etc. But we have learned that it often pays to position for psychological segments of the market.

8) Don’t bury news. It is easier to interest the consumer in a product when it is new than at any other point in its life. Many copywriters have a fatal instinct for burying news. That is why most advertising for new products fails to exploit the opportunity that genuine news provides. It pays to launch your new product with a loud boom-boom.

9) Go the whole hog. Most advertising campaigns are too complicated. They reflect a long list of marketing objectives. They embrace the divergent views of too many executives. By attempting too many things, they achieve nothing. It pays to boil down your strategy to one simple promise – and go the whole hog in delivering that promise.

10) Problem-solution (don’t cheat!) You set up a problem that the consumer recognizes. And you show how your product can solve that problem. And you prove the solution. This technique has always been above average in sales results, and it still is. But don’t use it unless you can do so without cheating: the consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.

11) Visual demonstrations. If they are honest, visual demonstrations are generally effective in the marketplace. It pays to visualize your promise. It saves time. It drives the promise home. It is memorable.

12)Grabbers. We have found that commercials with an exciting opening hold their audience at a higher level than commercials which begin quietly.

13) Headline. On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. It follows that, if you don’t sell the product in your headline, you have wasted 80% of your money. That is why most of our headlines include the brand name and the promise.

15) Benefited headline. Headlines that promise to benefit sell more than those that don’t.

17) News and headlines. Time after time we have found that it pays to inject genuine news into headlines. The consumer is always on the lookout for new products or new improvements in an old product, or new ways to use an old product. Economists – even Russian economists – approve of this. They call it “informative” advertising. So do consumers.

18) Simple headlines. Your headline should telegraph what you want to say – in simple language. Readers do not stop to decipher the meanings of obscure headlines.

19) How many words in a headline? In headline tests conducted with cooperation from a big department store, it was found that headlines of 10 words or longer sold more goods than short headlines. In terms of recall, headlines between 8-and-10 words are most effective. In mail order advertising, headlines between 6-and-12 words get the must orders. On the average, long headlines sell more merchandise than short ones.

20) Select your prospects. When you advertise your product which is consumed by a special group, it pays to flag that group in your headline by naming them directly.

21) Yes, people read long copy. Readership falls off rapidly up to 50 words, but drops very little between 50 and 500 words. In short, “the more you tell, the more sell.”

22) Story appeal and picture. We have gotten noticeable results with photographs, which suggest the story. The reader glances at the photograph and asks himself, “what goes on here?” Then he reads the copy to find out. Harold Rudolph called this magic element “story appeal.” The more of it you inject into your photograph, the more people look at your advertisements. It is easier said than done.

23) Before and after. Before and after advertisements are somewhat above average in attention value. Any form of visualized contrast seems to work well.

24) Photographs versus artwork. Ogilvy & Mather has found that photographs work better than drawing – almost invariably. They attract more readers, generate more appetite appeal, are more believable, are better remembered, pull more coupons, and sell more merchandise.

25) Use captions to sell. On the average, twice as many people read the captions under photographs as read the body copies. It follows that you should never use a photograph without putting a caption under it; and each caption should be a miniature advertisement for the product – complete with the brand name and promise.

26) Editorial layout. We have had more success with editorial layouts, than with ad-like layouts. Editorial layouts get higher readership than conventional advertisements.

27) Repeat your winners. Scores of great advertisements have been discarded before they have begun to pay off. Readership can actually increase with repetition – up to five repetitions.

To call an Ogilvy piece “wise words” is, in my opinion, redundant. Only for that reason, I won’t.

But a heads up that I found this reproduced on Lawrence Bernstein’s amazing “Infomarketing Blog.”

You can find it here:


(and I reprinted this part of Jack Forde’s newsletter with permission from http://www.copywritersroundtable.com)