There are many people I wish I hadn’t worked with. There are also some I wish I had. David Ogilvy is in the latter category. In case you haven’t heard of him, Ogilvy was the founder of the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, which eventually morphed into simply “Ogilvy.” His agency, which started with a handful of crummy accounts back in 1948, now has offices in 83 countries and billings in the billions.
If anyone in advertising is a legend, David Ogilvy is. But above all, he was a copywriter. I’ve also read that he was kind of a prick, not particularly happy or nice, demanding, driven, egotistical and worse. I don’t know if any of this is true – I wasn’t there.
But I do know that he had an incredible gift for writing. His book, Ogilvy on Advertising, is one of the best ever written on the subject. His work, sixty years later, is still wonderful to read. Clean, straightforward, imaginative, and above all, effective. Much of his stuff was written for companies that were major forces in the Sixties, and despite all the dust that has settled on them and their products, his headlines still give me goosebumps. Here are a couple:
For Rolls-Royce: “At Sixty Miles Per Hour, the Loudest Noise in The New Rolls-Royce Comes From the Electric Clock”
For London Tourism (About Westminster Abbey): “Tread Softly Past the Long, Long Sleep of Kings.”
And he also loved making lists. So, rather than continue my fanboy post here, for your benefit, and mine, is one of them. Naturally, it’s about how to be a good writer. And, yes, I agree with all of it. Here are Ogilvy’s ten tips on how to write:
1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally,judgmentally. They are the hallmark of a pretentious ass.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
6. Check your quotations.
7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
9. Before you send your letter or memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.