- culture

100SEVEN Reading List: Confessions of an Advertising Man

“Big ideas are usually simple ideas”

Could a book written when Xerox machines were considered the forefront of innovative technology, still be applicable to the marketers of today?

We think so.

David Ogilvy wrote Confessions of an Advertising Man in 1963 and it soon became required reading for anyone interested in Marketing/Advertising. While Ogilvy’s cultural references may come off as a bit dated, the subject matter that he covers is timeless.

Ogilvy, whose career ranged from apprentice chef at the Hotel Majestic in Paris to selling cookstoves door-to-door in England, was 38 before he approached the advertising industry. At this time, ad agencies were focused more on pricing schemes rather than creating effective campaigns. His fresh approach revolved around crafting campaigns through research, creativity and measurable results.

“In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”

His innovation and creativity brought great success to brands such as Shell, Guinness, and Hathaway Shirts. As mentioned in his book, when presenting one of his most famous headlines, ‘At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock’, Ogilvy describes how the chief engineer of Rolls-Royce shook his head sadly and said, “It is time we did something about that damned clock”. The campaign increased Rolls-Royce sales by 50% from the previous year.

As described in the foreword, Ogilvy went about writing this book to acknowledge the ‘four problems of crisis dimensions’ in the advertising industry.

  1. Too much emphasis on price, too little on using advertising to build a strong brand.
  2. Advertising agencies creating self-indulgent work, without researching their audience.
  3. A financial rather than creative mindset for the biggest agencies.
  4. Advertising agencies repeating the same mistakes, rather than learning from failure.

Considering that this was written 55 years ago, it’s fascinating that while the landscape has changed, these problems are still occurring.

Ogilvy had a natural sense for branding and reading Confessions of an Advertising Man is a distillation process of all the marketing philosophies that brought him success. This book is absolutely still relevant as it can revitalize truths of the past that give informative and inspirational insights to the marketing of the future.

“If you can’t be brilliant, at least be memorable”

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