David Ogilvy: Five Lessons You Can Learn from “The Father of Advertising”

Written by: Corina Leslie

February 12, 2018

For advertising pros and copywriters around the world, David Ogilvy remains a fantastic source of knowledge and inspiration. Years after his passing, he is still considered “the father of advertising,” as his heritage is timeless and continues to influence the industry. Today we want to talk about five of Ogilvy’s essential principles, which can help us create better marketing copy and actually sell – for the very pragmatic David Ogilvy, this was the sole purpose of advertising.

“The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her.”

We started with this quote because we believe it should be at the core of every single ad out there. Many times, companies tend to forget who they are communicating to and they treat their audience as if it was an abstract entity, not real people. Real people want you to give them a good reason to respond to your call-to-action. Find a smart manner to do that and don’t forget to be human.

“When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it creative. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product. (…) Your role is to sell, don’t let anything distract you from the sole purpose of advertising. In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”

This may seem quite aggressive, but David Ogilvy was someone who never lost sight of his goal. His target was to write copy good enough to persuade people to open their wallets and buy. While he was an avid researcher and a person with a strong sense of imagination, he didn’t value creativity for the sake of creativity. He measured it in the results it would provide.

“The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.”

If you ask a woman what’s the quality she most appreciates in a man, she will most likely tell you that it’s humor. Humor seduces us all, regardless of our gender or profession, and we also tend to respond better to funny ads, don’t we? So if you can come up with a funny remark in your next marketing email or social media post, don’t hesitate to use it. David Ogilvy would applaud you.

“Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”

We should apply this in our advertising strategy, as well as in our email marketing plan. The world is constantly changing, and so are your audience’s expectations, so you have to always update your practices and techniques to stay on top of your game. Applied in email marketing, this principle will work wonders for your business. Experiment with different types of content, subject lines and call-to-actions. Use an email verifier to validate your database and then send your campaigns to your clean email list. Study your reports and see what performs best. Pay attention to every single detail and fine-tune your approach.

“Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science, and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret. Suddenly, if the telephone line from your unconscious is open, a big idea wells up within you.”

We’ve talked about how to find inspiration for your email writing, and we actually mentioned both of these crucial steps: research and relaxation. Without information, there is no great content. You communicate empty words that wouldn’t help anyone. But take research to an exaggerated level and pretty soon you will experience a burn-out that will force you to take a break. David Ogilvy’s advice in a nutshell: do your research, but make sure you take a step back, every once in a while, to clear your mind and allow it to serve you those big ideas we are all looking for.

Final bonus: “Editors of magazines are better communicators than advertising people. Copy their techniques.”


Founder of Ogilvy and Mather, David Ogilvy created some of the most iconic marketing campaigns in the world. He worked for Schweppes, Rolls Royce, Shell, Dove, and the island of Puerto Rico. In 1962, Time magazine called him  “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry.” David Ogilvy died in 1999.

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