David Ogilvy’s Secret Weapon of Advertising

In 1962, Time magazine called David Ogilvy “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry.” In this 7-minute “We Sell or Else” video, Ogilvy discusses his “Secret Weapon” of Advertising.

David Ogilvy Video Transcript

I wish I could be with you today in the flesh, as they say, unfortunately I’m in India. Ever been in India? It’s very hot. If you don’t mind I’m going to take off my coat.

You know in the advertising community today, there are two worlds, your world of direct response advertising and that other world, the world of general advertising. These two worlds are on a collision course.

You direct response people know what kind of advertising works and what doesn’t work, you know to a dollar. The general advertising people don’t know. You know the two-minute commercials on television are more effective, more cost-effective than ten second commercials or thirty second commercials. You know that fringe time on television sells more than prime-time. In print advertising, you know that long copy sells more than short copy. You know that headlines and copy about the product and its benefits sell more than cute headlines and poetic copy. You know to a dollar.

The general advertisers and their agencies know almost nothing for sure because they cannot measure the results of their advertising. They worship at the altar of creativity, which really means originality, the most dangerous word in the lexicon of advertising. They opine that thirty-second commercials are more cost-effective than two-minute commercials. You know they’re wrong. In print advertising, they opine that short commercials sell more than long copy. You know they’re wrong. They indulge in entertainment, you know they’re wrong. You know to a dollar, they don’t. Why don’t you tell them? Why don’t you save them their follies?

For two reasons; first because you’re impressed by the fact that they’re so big and so well paid and so well-publicized. You’re even perhaps impressed by their reputation for creativity whatever that may mean. Second you never meet them. You inhabit a different world. But the chasm between direct response advertising and general advertising is wide. On your side of the chasm I see knowledge and reality. On the other side of the chasm, I see ignorance. You are the professionals.

This must not go on. I predict that the practitioners of general advertising are going to start learning from your experience. They’re going to start picking your brains. I see no reason why the direct response divisions of agencies should be separate from the main agencies. Some of you may remember when television people in agencies were kept separate wasn’t that idiotic? I expect to see the direct response people become an integral part of all agencies. You have more to teach them than they have to teach you. You have it in your power to rescue the advertising business from its manifold lunacies.

When I was 25, I took a correspondence course in direct mail. I bought it out of my own pocket from the Dardnell Corporation in Chicago. Direct response is my first love and later it became my secret weapon. When I started Ogilvy & Mather in New York, nobody had heard of us. But we were airborne within six months and grew at record speed. How did we achieve that? By using my secret weapon, direct-mail.

Every four weeks I sent personalized mailings to our new business prospects. I was always amazed to discover how many of our clients had been attracted to Ogilvy & Mather by those mailings. That was how we grew.

Whenever I look at an advertisement in a magazine or newspaper I can tell at a glance whether the writer has had any direct response experience. If he writes short copy or literary copy it is obvious that he has never had the disciplines of writing direct response. If he has had that discipline, he wouldn’t make those mistakes.

Nobody should be allowed to create general advertising until he has served his apprenticeship in direct response. That experience will keep his feet on the ground for the rest of his life.

You know the trouble with many copywriters and general agencies is that they don’t really think in terms of selling. They’ve never written direct response. They’ve never tasted blood.

Until recently, direct response was the Cinderella of the advertising world. Then came the computer and the credit card. And direct marketing exploded.

You guys are coming to your own. Your opportunities are colossal.

In the audience today, there are heads of some general agencies. I offer you this advice, insist that all your people, creative, media, account executives, that they’re all trained in your direct response division. If you don’t have such a division, make arrangements with a firm of direct marketing specialists to train your people. And make it a rule in your agency that no copy is ever presented to clients before it has been vetted by a direct response expert.

Ladies and gentlemen, I envy you. Your timing is perfect. You’ve come into the direct response business at the right moment in history. You’re on to a good thing. For forty years, I’ve been a voice crying in the wilderness trying to get my fellow advertising practitioners to take direct response seriously.

Today my first love is coming to its own. You face a golden future!