David Ogilvy On Creativity And Success

Derrick DayeDecember 25, 20073 min

It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product,” wrote Ogilvy. “Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night. I doubt if more than one campaign in a hundred contains a big idea.”

Ogilvy was an advertising executive who praised the virtues of creativity; if an ad didn’t sell, it was because it wasn’t creative. His years of experience taught him that people were not going to buy a product if the ad was boring; only interest and curiosity would entice people to buy.

Ogilvy became the most sought-after advertising man because he understood precisely what it was that made an ad appealing. Take, for instance, his now famous campaign for Hathaway, a Maine-based shirt manufacturer. Ogilvy created a man with an eye patch, who appeared to be a sophisticated eccentric. The eye patch came to be the man’s signature garment, even though it was the Hathaway shirt he was meant to be selling. In the end, the character had become such an icon that Hathaway ads could be run without even mentioning the brand’s name and the company’s revenues tripled within just a few years.

In addition to having a creative idea, Ogilvy believed that “the most important decision is how to position your product.” His campaign for Dove soap, which he positioned with the phrase “one-quarter cleansing cream”, became one of the most successful and enduring ads of his career. However, Ogilvy also understood that positioning meant little if the rest of the ad was a flop. “A lot of today’s campaigns are based on optimum positioning but are totally ineffective – because they are dull, or badly constructed, or ineptly written,” said Ogilvy. “If nobody reads your advertisement or looks at your commercial, it doesn’t do you much good to have the right positioning.”

While Ogilvy didn’t believe that such “aesthetic intangibles” as “balance” and “movement” of an ad had an impact on its effectiveness, he did have certain creative techniques to make an ad more visually appealing. For instance, Ogilvy would often make the logo twice the size – “a good thing to do because most advertisements are deficient in brand identification.” On the other hand, he never made headlines too big to be legible in magazines or newspapers. He would also show his client’s faces “because the public is more interested in personalities than in corporations.”

Other Ogilvy techniques included studying and imitating graphics used by editors, since “it has been found that the less an advertisement looks like an advertisement, and the more it looks like an editorial, the more readers stop, look and read.” He would place photographs at the top of his ads, given that “people have a habit of scanning downwards,” and also learned that there is little value in saying something without illustrating it because “the viewer immediately forgets it.”

Ogilvy believed in making an ad creative, yet always in good taste. “There are very few products which do not benefit from being given a first class ticket through life,” he once said. Not everyone was going to agree with his strategies, but Ogilvy believed that “if you are too thin-skinned to survive this hazard, you should not become an account executive in an advertising agency.”

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One comment

  • Robert Davis

    December 26, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Regarding a couple of your comments… I believe you have misconstrued a little poem that Ogilvy wrote that appeared in his book, “Ogilvy on Advertising.” I goes something like this:

    “If the client moans and sighs, make his logo twice its size. If he still should prove refractory, show a picture of his factory. Only in the gravest cases, should you show the client’s faces.” I believe he went on to say that there are very few “Lee Iacocca’s” in the world.

    I would argue that Ogilvy wasn’t a proponent of “making the logo twice its size” OR “showing the client’s faces–” his little rythme pokes fun at the very ideas you attribute to him. Instead, he believed that it is the message that resonates with the market… and that people will remember (indeed seek out) the products and services that resonate in their minds.

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