On Ogilvy on Advertising

Last week I delivered a lecture to my Massey University class based on chapter 2 of David Ogilvy's 1983 book Ogilvy on Advertising - How to create advertising that sells. It had struck me that, while the references to early figures in advertising seemed quaint, the core of the conversation remained as pertinent today as they were back when Ogilvy was active. His references to the practices of 'direct marketing' could easily be updated to read 'Internet marketing' (or some other all embracing term).

One of the most obvious pieces of advice that Ogilvy dispenses with curmudgeonly charm is that, when creating ads, there is no substitute for doing your homework. He talks about his disdain for the word creativity (and says it did not appear anywhere in his 18 volume set of the Oxford Dictionary). For him creativity was simply the work to be done between receiving the brief and the deadline for presenting it. I suppose that is a fair description.

The term 'creativity' is one of the things I find most often makes business people as uncomfortable as the proverbial long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Business is specific, creativity is vague and covers a multitude of sins. I have begun to prefer the term innovation. The problem in advertising is that innovation doesn't really apply to the craft of making the majority of ads - it isn't an innovation to come up with a decidedly clever juxtaposition of picture and headline or visual pun/metaphor. On that matter Ogilvy has an opinion too (as if we could expect anything less), he says that originality is over-rated in advertising. I would have to say that the business has taken this one to heart since he published the book. In the past week I have seen more than a few commercials that refer to movies - such as the Beaurepairs homage to Sin City currently on New Zealand TV (which I rather like, I have to confess).

The fixation with execution and the elevation of 'creativity' in that context has made advertising vulnerable to changes in the media landscape. The most successful advertising company in the world today must (surely) be Google. Their Adsense and Adwords programmes have zero creativity, at least as it is understood in advertising but are a global, billion dollar business. Are there lessons in that for traditionalists in advertising? Of course there will always be a co-existence between traditional forms of advertising narratives - well so long as there are media outlets that require their support. It is important to consider that the shape of media is what has always defined the methods of advertising - and media is morphing daily.
I doubt we'll be seeing anyone pick up a D&AD award anytime soon for a Google Adwords campaign ....or will we?


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