Book Summary: Ogilvy on Advertising

This is the Holy Bible of Advertising. You would think a book that was written in 1985 have no significance in this social world. But the fact is, every single person who works in an advertising industry start out with this book. Hence the name.

This book has loads to offer for anyone who is thinking of writing content.

I have summarized my learning from the book below. Or You can download it here.


  • Product
  • Customers
  • What your competitors are advertising


Dove – for women with dry skin vs for men with dirty hands

Brand Image

  • Personality – name, packaging, style of advertising, nature of product,
  • Consistently project the same image
  • People buy the Image


  • Unless the advertising consist of big ideas, it will pass like ship in the night
  • Comes form unconscious – it has to be well informed else it will be irrellevant
  • “Humility in the presence of a good idea” Albert Lasker
  • Horribiliy difficult to recognize a good idea.
    • Did it make me gasp when I first saw it?
    • Do I wish I had thought of it myself?
    • Is it unique?
    • Does it fit the Strategy to perfection?
    • Could it be used for 30 years?

Make the product the hero

  • There are no dull products only dull writers.
  • Positively Good – You don’t have to convince your customers that your product is superior to competitors, but positively good.
    • What is good about your product – clearer, more honest , more informative job of saying it

Repeat your winners – repeat until it stops selling

  • You aren’t advertising to a standard army but to a moving parade (new prospect who fit in to the image you propose)
  • Run it at regular intervals – repeat till the research shows its worn out

Word of mouth

Campaigns enter culture

Tag line (just do it yaar), Darke aage jeet hai

Research & Analyze

Copy writer who knows his factors (the triggers which make people read advertisements) can reach many more readers than the one who doesn’t

Direct response – Advertisement contributing to sales (time,#buying)

  • Style vs what sells what is important
  • If doesn’t sell it isn’t creative

Creativity Relevance

  • Advertising reflects more of society than influence them
  • Long time for women to advertise smoking (social influence)
  • More explicit sex on novels not in ads


  • Sense of humor
  • Curiosity for products
  • Hard work
  • Intersting post & tv campaings
  • Think visually

Crown Prince

  • Power of analysis
  • Imagination
  • Sense of reality
  • Helicopter quality (birds eye view)
  • Headlines:
  • Containing news – sure-fire. (announcement of a product, improvment, new version)
  • Donot put in in the background. Let it stand out and cry out loud.
  • Include brand name in the headline (80% wont know what product/company it is other wise)
  • Specifics (asthma..women..children) work more than generics
  • If you put it in quotes it increases recall by 28%
  • READ: Tested Advertising Methods – John Caples


  • Subject of the illustration is all important (even a great photo won’t help you there)
  • Catches Readers Curiosity – invokes them to ask – “What goes on here”
  • If you don’t have the story tell make your package the subject of your illustration
  • End-result campaign (before, after)
  • Photographs > Drawings (not cartoons)
  • Use of characters known to consumers boosts recalls
  • Simple – one person in the focus. Crowd does attract people
  • Human face bigger than life size – BIG NO
  • Historical Subject – a big no
  • The subjects that interest you need not interest the readers
  • Babies, animals, sex – interest readers
  • People are interested in the pictures of their own sex.
  • 4 colors > black & white
  • Cooked > raw
  • When A client moans and sighs, Make his logo twice the size, If he still should prove refractory, show a picture of his factory, Only in the gravest cases, should you show the client’s faces
  • Headlines below are read more than headlines above

Copy first, do your own thing later


  • Promise not only in words but also in pictures
  • Largest possible type
  • Brand visible from long distance
  • Strong and pure colors
  • No more than 3 elements in your design


Good typography helps people read your copy

TV Commercials

  • Humor
  • Testimonials
  • Slice of life
  • Problem solution
  • Talking heads
  • Characters
  • Reason why
  • News
  • Emotion
  • Not so good:
    • Celebrity testimonials
    • Cartoons
    • Music vignetts
  • Better programs lesser chance of getting people to sign up

Tips for a great TV commercial

  • Brand Identification (Use the name within in first 10 secs) – Play games with it – spell it, flash it,
  • Show the package
  • Food in motion
  • Close ups – product hero of the commercial
  • Visual surprise – open with fire
  • When you have nothing to say sing it.
  • Sound effects – music not very much but sizzling noise of the frying pan- etc creates impact
  • Voice over < Talk on camera
  • Supers – type while you voice over
  • Avoid visual banality – show something the audience hasn’t seen before
  • Change of scene (less #)
  • Mnemonics Show the product in use
  • Everything is possible on TV
  • Make it crystal clear – most of the commercials are misunderstood
  • The grand scandal – TV commercial costs > program cost – so lesser the better


  • Identify the brand early in the commercial
  • Identify often
  • Promise a benefit early in the commercial
  • Repeat often

B2B Advertising

  • Advertise specifics – $ saved,%, Time etc
  • Testimonials
  • Demonstrations
  • Information – around product and role it plays to the customer
  • Layouts – Simple + editorial like pages → more readers
  • Headlines – 5 times readership as body content
  • Promise a benefit, deliver a news, quote a customer, tell a story,recognize a problem
  • Body copy – 10% of people read it.. they are mostly your prospects.
  • >350 words attracts more people to read it
  • Captions

Stimulate Inquiries

  • Toll free #
  • Close body copy with an offer

Analyze inquiries

  • Survey a sample – do they intend to buy or do they need information
  • Follow up with sales people
  • Inquiries to media (conversion from every media)

Advertisement to top managment

  • Avoid specifics
  • They are interested in cost savings only

Direct mail

  • Success = long mails
  • Invite people to order without going to store
  • Good photograph sells more if not use drawings
  • Testimonials increase credibility →sales
  • Coupons – mini ads (has photo)
  • To avoid keeping your mail for later:
  • Limited supply
  • Limited edition
  • Last time at this price
  • Special price for promptness
  • Identify the media competitors particularly in large
  • Media → sales more (repeat)

Discounts, Sales and Volumes – Don’t let these numbers fool you!

It’s the time of the year you shop for the next one year. Yes, Diwali is just around the corner!

With Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal leading the online scene, it’s raining festival offers all around!

(Side note: Look beyond these e-commerce giants you might find what you are looking for at a cheaper price!)

The background story

(Skip it if you already know)

If you call the e-commerce game in India as a battle between David and Goliath, Amazon would be the Goliath and Flipkart the David. They have been at each other for quite a long time. When Flipkart started Big Billion Sale in 2014, Amazon came up with Great Indian Festival.  And every (not only, but especially) Diwali season, they have been eating off each other’s plate. It all started because, they wanted to get people online to shop. In 2015, Flipkart even tried to get people on mobile to shop. And this time around they wanted people to make big purchases online* by promoting home electronics.

Let’s get to Now.

Despite their efforts to get people to shop online,

Right now just 1% of Indian retail is online, compared with 10% in China. (Source: Live Mint).

So, yes there is a room for a lot more players and many such sales.

Fundamentally what e-commerce companies are trying to do is change customer behavior and all of us know it is not an easy thing to do (if you don’t try changing your own habits!). By offering deep discounts, the e-commerce sites are triggering(discounts) a behavior(buy online) but if the trigger is needed every time to observe the behavior are the efforts even worth? And this bring us to,

Elephant in the room



So, who is paying for it?

As a consumer you are not. The sellers may be, but not much. The reason I say not much is because, some sellers might markdown if the volumes are high. Then who has to?

E-Commerce Companies (Duh!)

Surely, they cannot do that with the Venture  Capital. I mean how long before VCs realize that their cash is burning their own pockets?

So how do they do it?

Building the ecosystem

Throwing such a big discount party takes quite a lot of effort. As a consumer you might be aware of ads popping up everywhere. Surely, there are invisible anchors that support the great purchase tsunami . I mean, we are looking at a temporary surge(quite huge) in volumes of traffic, transactions, deliveries and customer support calls. So, each of these big giants have to ensure that they have the proper ecosystem to support such huge numbers.

If we were to scratch the surface, we would be talking about:

  1. Data centers – to support the traffic and the applications
  2. Supply Chain – to make the products available on time to the customers at the lowest cost ie. have partnership with the sellers, warehousing and delivery
  3. Payment System – to ensure trust and easy of transaction
  4. People – to support systems for whole 24 hrs for 5 days

Both Flipkart and Amazon learned their lessons about having data centers (the website crash in 2014), partnership with sellers and false pricing. But more importantly, getting people online doesn’t mean getting people to their website. (Hence, the eating off each other’s plate analogy.) So the real story?

Let’s get to numbers.

(But not the ones you hear in the news.)

Over 70% Discounts. Over 1.5 million units sold. Rs. 1400 Cr in one day.

Sounds familiar?

Such fleeting numbers indicate very less about the value of the business. I mean with the big marketing budget you might expect a big number such as these. But it really doesn’t talk about the impact. Impact in terms of new customers, revenue (or loss) per customer and many more.

In order to understand the value we need to try and look at it from different perspectives:

  1. Consumer – I care about discounts and sub-consciously care about units sold (behaviorist calls it confirmation bias – everyone’s buying it).
  2. E-commerce – Never seen such huge numbers in my life! I am doing awesome! (That’s what I will tell the media, but secretly how far are we down on our cash flow?)
  3. Venture Capitalist – I worry about discounts but give me more data!!

That’s right. No VC would take any of these numbers to the face value because they do not give the whole picture.

Every campaign has a goal:

“What we want to do during Big Billion Days is provide incredible NPS (net promoter score) experience—one of the things we’re trying to do without increasing costs dramatically is how to keep the NPS incredibly high during the event. I primarily view this event not for revenue, but for customer experience,” said Ananth Narayanan, CEO of Myntra. (Source: Live Mint)

NPS is a very good measure. But that is not all. Especially if you were to look at campaigns at this scale. Here are a few metrics that will help us understand the impact of such sales better:

  1. Customer Interest – # of searches
  2. Customer Experience – NPS
  3. Customer Engagement – Time taken for purchase decision
  4. Customer Adoption – # of New Users, Average Value of Purchases (are they buying costlier products online)
  5. Customer Loyalty – Retention Rate, Repeat purchases.
Relative Interest ie a value of 50 means that the term is half as popular as others.

Though the above is not a comprehensive list, but it touches most of the aspects of a successful campaign mapping the customer journey from interest to loyalty.

So, next time some one comes with a sweeping number of Rs X million sales you should probably not jump in to conclusions but ask for more data.

* You may argue, that they have been doing that all along, but if you notice keenly, it’s been more this time around with better success.

**A crude assumption to make a point.

Featured Image Source: MarketingLand


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Marketing as an Art of story telling

Great artists steal. I am not sure they lie. But Marketers are liars. But again, all of us are.

For example, we lie to ourselves that Coke is better than Pepsi. In fact, when we reverse the contents of the bottle, we would still stick with the drink in the Coke bottle to be better. In reality they aren’t much different.

That’s one among many lies we tell ourselves.

But really, we are just telling ourselves a story that makes us believe in our biases (in this case, Coke the brand is a story).

It’s not a new thing.It’s a as old as – like attracts like (except if you are a magnet). Only, it’s wearing a different costume now.

We hangout with people who tell similar stories like ourselves.

(But we don’t have share the same story, just similar ones).

Simply because our ego needs a little thing they call it “ huge stamp of approval” for our idea say – Coke is better than Pepsi. And that’s final.Nah Nada No. Final words.

Yeah, we don’t usually change our biases. (until we form them)

So, If I have to succeed as a marketer,I can intervene at two places:

a) When I from my first Impression of a product – the story I form

b) When I reiterate my bias (this indeed can go on for ever and ever) – the story I continue to believe.

[Quick Note: That’s why Facebook is famous of one reason – the Like button, the reiteration of my story, hence more posting, hence more friends..]

The tricky part is first impression need not happen when consumers first see the product. It can happen anytime.

That means – the ideas surrounding the product has to be consistent (Else, as a consumer I would be confused, I don’t have a bias to believe, so I wouldn’t buy the idea or a product) and authentic (if its not authentic it will not be consistent).

A great example of consistency I would site is Starbucks. Which ever branch you go, you find a similar setting, similar menus cards and a similar taste (with respect to countries).

So, at whatever point consumer has their my first impression – it will be the same no matter which branch I visit.

But,the part of marketers job isn’t over yet, in fact it hasn’t even begun.

The biggest challenge of any marketer is to identify the cohort – the idea or product shares story with. And tell a great story they the consumers want(read:love) to share. As Seth Godin puts it – the story should match the worldview of a set of people. That’s enough to get the ball rolling.

In simple terms , I can’t sell Steak Burger to a vegetarian. If I do, I probably loose the market or never open my accounts in the first place.

As well as I can’t tell a Apple-mongers that I source my components from China.

But I can tell, him that every single product is designed in California, USA. Thus,when we buy the product, we buy the idea (or story) associated with America – free thinking, forward looking, etc.

In conclusion,

Marketing has got nothing to do with logic or mechanics of an idea, but the story that goes with it.

The views stated here are my understanding of the book Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin. If by any chance, I am contradicting the author any where in this article, it’s not authors views but mine and mine alone. Though I have used quite a few ideas, I hope this article has given you enough spoilers to pick up that book and to give it a go.

If you are looking for a detailed summary of the book check out this mind map.