Notes from “Ogilvy on Advertising”

This one is a dated book – it describes advertising in the age when digital channels didn’t exist. But that doesn’t make it irrelevant.

Rather, the basic principles that made a great ad in the TV/print era remain the same. Consumer psychology is shaped by a million years of evolution, so while mediums change, what makes people buy stuff doesn’t.

A beautiful book!

My notes from the book

How to work with an agency

  • Leaf through the medium you’re interested in and see which ads strike you the most
  • Find out who made those ads
  • Talk to their head and creative director
  • Ask them to give their best ads
  • Go with the one who appeal you the most

Principles of writing headlines

  • Spend a lot of time getting the headline right (5 times more people read it vs copy)
  • Headline should promise the reader a clear benefit
  • News style headlines work (introducing, amazing, now, suddenly)
  • Include brand name in headline (most people don’t read copy and wouldn’t know what product is being advertised)
  • Personalise. If a product targets certain people, put a word in the headline to address them.
  • Specifics work better than generics.
  • Helpful information work great as headline (e.g. how to do xyz).
  • Don’t put full stops in headlines, as they stop the reader.
  • Use a standard font that everyone can read easily (those that people are accustomed to reading)
  • Drama belongs to what you say, not in the typeface.

Principles of illustrations

  • The job of illustrations is to catch interest while the reader is leafing, though. It should inspire curiosity (what’s going on), that the copy will answer.
  • Photos work better than drawings.
  • Keep illustrations simple (one person)
  • Before and after ads work great
  • People notice advertisements that feature models of their own sex only (men notice men, while women notice women)
  • More people read captions under images than copy, so always put captions under images. The caption should include brand name and promise.

Principles of copy

  • Write in story format (hook people)
  • Write in everyday language (simple words)
  • Don’t use analogies (people don’t understand)
  • Don’t use celebrities (people remember them, not the product)
  • Include the price always (people move on when they don’t know the price)
  • Long copy works better than short copy (as the more facts you tell, the more you sell), but with long copy, the first paragraph should be a grabber (and not generic)
  • A subheadline helps whet the appetite for the copy
  • Limit opening paragraph to 11 words


  • Readers first look at illustration, then at headline, then at copy (so put them in that order)
  • Headlines below illustration are read by 10% more than headlines above illustration
  • Advertisements shouldn’t look like ads (they should look like editorial)


  • Copy what’s working (don’t innovate until you have a better idea)
  • Pretend you’re an editor (not an ad creator) and you’ll get more sign-ups
  • Never set copy in black background over white (they’re hard to read)


  • Posters should be “visual scandal” and sell promise in words and pictorially
  • Never use more than 3 elements in posters

Video / TV ads

  • The first frame has to be something surprising that the viewer has never seen before (you got only 30 seconds)
  • Name the brand in the first 10 seconds and do it multiple times as people forget
  • Don’t use celebrities, people remember them but not the product
  • The lower the production cost, the better the ad will perform
  • Show the product in use, what will the person look/feel with the product
  • Don’t do change of scenes, you only have 30 seconds
  • Use sound effects to enhance the visuals (music doesn’t add or harm)
  • On camera recording by actors works better (vs voiceover)
  • Pitch people not one but several benefits
  • Allow ample time (20-30 seconds) on how to order/buy (like website with a coupon or URL)

Types of videos that work

  • Humor (but it’s hard)
  • News
  • Emotion
  • Demos (crazy ones like fevicol)
  • Slice of life (one actor arguing about the product with another in everyday setting)
  • Testimonials
  • Problem solution

Marketing commodity products

  • There’s no such thing as a commodity product
  • In commodity industries, you differentiate either by price or by quality/service & that you have to pronounce in your ads

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