David Ogilvy’s first love – alive and well

“Are you not getting a bit sensational?” asked Prasna** as I typed the headline.

“Why do you think so?”

“The world is talking about David Ogilvy’s centenary year, and you are talking about his first love.”

David once said that ‘Direct Response is my first love and secret weapon’. He staunchly believed that all advertising must sell. He was always keen to measure the results of his advertising.”

” Oh! But why do you say that his first love is alive and well?”

I say that because of  what is happening in the internet. Something that David would have loved to see. Many of David’s views are getting validated in the internet. For example the famous debate about long copy vs short copy is put to rest. Contrary to popular belief long copy sells on the internet. Many experts confirm that. David had said that one headline worked 19 times better than another one, when he tested two headlines. Today people are testing subject lines for e-mail campaigns in a classic A/B test.  I was running a campaign in Facebook for a charity. One picture did much better than others. You can track what exactly works.”

“Tell me more about the long copy vs short copy debate.”

“David was of the view that long copy worked harder to sell a product than short copy. I remember an incident when David visited one of our clients. Our client said ‘Mr Ogilvy, you say long copy in advertisements works. But who has the time to read long copy?’. David said ‘Sir, if I wrote an advertisement with 4000 words, and the headline said ‘This advertisement is all about Mr. Viswanathan’, I bet you would read every word of text, because the advertisement is all about you.’ His point is that advertising must appeal to the self interest of people. He further said ‘You can’t bore people into buying. Unless your copy is interesting and well written, nobody would read it. I am advocating long copy that is charming, well written, where every word counts.”

“What else did he say about Direct Response Advertising?”

“He recommended that advertising copywriters must be trained in Direct Response Advertising first. I discovered one of his speeches ‘We Sell or Else‘ in You Tube. It is just 7 minutes long and you can see how well he makes his point. Ogilvy India launched its direct response division on January 7, 1987, during David Ogilvy’s visit. We released a full page advertisement in The Economic Times with David’s views on Direct Response. When I met him for lunch, his first question was ‘How many calls did you get?’ Luckily I had the answer. Such was his obsession about advertising effectiveness.”

“Do people still find him relevant?”

“I had the same question in my mind. So I tried a Google search with the words ‘David Ogilvy and the internet’. Online marketers treat his words as gospel. Take a look at this line ‘All I Need to Know About Internet Marketing I Learned from David Ogilvy’; I found it in my search. David’s relevance is unquestionable. Now do you understand why I said his first love is alive and well?”

“Point taken. What is your favourite David Ogilvy quotation?”

“Unless your advertisement contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the dark. It is David who put me on to the obsession with studying ideas. What they are, where they come from, how to get ideas and how to make ideas work. He gave me three books – Obvious Adams by Robert  Updegraf and another  one called ‘Simple Simon stories as his gifts. They are treasures.”

“Tell me about the picture. You look  quite nervous.”

“This was taken when David Ogilvy visited India in 1982. David noticed that I was nervous and tense. So he said to me ‘Laugh and make people wonder what I told you’.”

**Prasna Rao is an unusual friend. He appears every time I start writing something. He is almost always there when I am writing my blog. He asks questions that are razor sharp and often makes me uncomfortable. He is relentless till I answer his questions in simple, clear terms.  You might find that he is most of the times asking questions that you want to. Therefore he is on your side, while he is putting me in the dock. I call him my Uninvited Coach



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