Confessions of an Advertising Man is included on most "required reading" lists of advertising classics, and has just come back in print.
David Ogilvy is one of the role models of advertising.
A Scotsman, he was expelled from Oxford in 1931. Then he went through a succession of careers – a chef in Paris, a door-to-door salesman, a social worker in the Edinburgh slums, a research associate of Dr. Gallup for the motion picture industry, an assistant to Sir William Stephenson in British Security Co-ordination, and a farmer in Pennsylvania.
Then he founded Ogilvy, Benson & Mather and built it in short order into one of the largest and most respected advertising agencies in the United States.
Confessions of an Advertising Man is the "little red book" of advertising, containing distilled wisdom of years of research, testing and experience.
According to David Ogilvy, new recruits for the agency went through a training program consisting of a "magic lantern" (projected photo slide) show of the basic principles and practices of the agency. Those who weren't enthusiastically in agreement with the training were invited to leave. The information from those photo slides has been incorporated into this book.
Ogilvy's philosophy was, "once a salesman, always a salesman." Advertising that doesn't sell a product or service is worthless. He avoided having company ads submitted for artistic awards. Winning one would be an embarrassment.
He was an able copywriter, and some of his ads became classics. (See reprints in his other book, Ogilvy On Advertising.) Two of his famous headlines were "At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock" and "The man in the Hathaway shirt".
Ogilvy also emphasized the importance of research in creating effective ads. He felt his experience working with Gallup contributed as much to his success as his selling experience.
Since Ogilvy's goal was for the agency's advertising to be effective at selling, he admired and studied direct response advertisers, who test and measure everything and whose companies live or die based on the effectiveness of their ads.
Ogilvy discusses every aspect of the advertising business as it was in 1963 – How to Manage an Agency, How to Get and Keep Clients, How to Build Great Campaigns, How to Write Potent Copy, How to Make Good Television Commercials, How to Work Your Way to the Top. If you don't care about the other topics, you should definitely read How to Be a Good Client. (Leave our stuff alone!)
David Ogilvy infused this book with his warm character, showing the gentle humor of a true English gentleman. He passed away in 1999 at age 88, and is greatly missed.
Buy it on Amazon: Confessions of an Advertising Man.
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