For copywriters the world over, a certain advertising executive – notorious for having never suffered fools gladly – not only made his mark on the advertising and marketing industry, but revolutionised the whole game. The man in question is of course the imitable David Ogilvy; nicknamed the Father of Advertising, widely reported to be the inspiration behind Mad Men’s Don Draper, and originator of concepts that have inspired generations of content creators ever since.


His best-selling book, Confessions of an Advertising Man, is likely to take centre stage at any copywriter’s coffee-stained desk. And while a few principles in the 1963 publication may feel a little outdated, the core fundamentals remain true. In 1955 one of Ogilvy’s many mantras, ‘The customer is not a moron, she’s your wife’, provided ad execs with a new way of thinking about consumers and the way they communicate with them.

So, in this age of only having 140-characters to grab your audience’s attention or ensuring that that Paid Facebook post was a worthwhile investment, what can we learn from one of the most revolutionary periods of copywriting?

Let’s strap into our figurative DeLorean and take a trip back in time; where sexism in ads edged on the side of wince-inducing, cigarettes were publicised with pride, and avant-garde ideas about copy creation were beginning to emerge.

The Loudest Noise In This New Rolls-Royce Comes From The Electric Clock

Let’s kick off with an Ogilvy-classic: the bold statement. A single line hooks the reader’s attention and tells them everything they need to know; Rolls-Royce IS the car of choice for the elite. But how does the copy do this? Pinpointing a smaller selling point of the product actually highlights the main selling point and ties it up in a concise, nonchalant sentence.


What can we learn from it today?

We can always go for the obvious. Our laptop is the fastest. This drink is the tastiest. Those sweaters are the most stylish, even Kanye West wishes he was able to slap a 4-figure price tag on them. But this won’t be anything the audience hasn’t already seen a million times over. Pick your USP and dazzle the audience with it so they’re able to see the product’s features in a different light, and one that will benefit users in a way they didn’t think mattered to them. With around 92% of social marketers using Facebook advertising, users are subject to a LOT of ads in their News Feeds. Create something enticing and allow your message to stand above the rest of the ad noise.

Also, notice how Ogilvy managed to throw in the fact that the clock was electric? Subtle.

And now for our very own in-house example…


The copy doesn’t mention the features of the device. In fact, it doesn’t even mention the device at all. Instead, it focuses on how the product will benefit users’ lives by taking hold of their interest with a question and provoking an internal deliberation.

They Laughed When I Sat Down At The Piano

Let’s jump back to before Ogilvy’s time (1926 to be exact) to one of the best-known direct-mail ads of all time. John Caples’ line for The School of Music became an overnight success and still remains influential today. But, why?


The exclamation mark delivers surprise – the surprise that ‘they’ felt, as well as the surprise of the reader. And the dash suggests there’s more to the story, that is, ‘they’ were lost for words by the fact that their friend could play the piano. Essentially, we can conclude that this gent was once so inept at music even his own friends thought him to be a joke. But with The School of Music, he proved them wrong. We’re then left with an enticing proposition… Don’t we want to prove people wrong too?

What can we learn from it today?

Storytelling is everything. Caples’ copy works on the audience’s willingness to complete the beginning and end of the story. What we’re gifted with is the middle, and from this we can work out the rest. For a great tale to really talk, you need to engage readers’ imaginations and emotions and get them to create the story. Take a platform with limited copy space (something that only allows 140 characters for example), give viewers part of the story and let them apply the scenario to a situation that’s personal. It provides inclusiveness and inspires a nod of the head in agreement.

And now for our very own in-house example…


Beginning: It’s been a tough week, we know – we’ve been there ourselves.

Middle: Go on. You deserve it. #TGIF

End: The weekend is finally here, relax! (And at what better place than this gorgeous beachside destination?)

See, it’s as simple as ‘once upon a time…’

Put A Tiger In Your Tank

How do you get audiences to make a brand allegiance to something as necessary as fuel? In 1959, a young Chicago copywriter named Emery Smith not only answered that question but redefined the way everyday items were seen. The campaign was so successful that even now, Esso’s 1960s promotional tiger tails still go for a fortune on internet auction sites. How’s that for a lasting impression?


What can we learn from it today?

Never underestimate the power of imagery. Almost five decades later and ‘put a tiger in your tank’ still holds up against the Nike-and-Starbucks-one-liners of today. ‘Tiger’ tells us exactly what we need to know about the product, but in a way that generates a lasting impression. This is a case where less is most definitely more, as Esso doesn’t bother going to great lengths to describe the fuel’s chemical compound and why it works so efficiently in your car. All the reader cares about is power and speed. Two things congruous with driving that just happen to be descriptive of a tiger. Put them together and…bam! You’ve got a line to last a lifetime. Literally.

And now for our very own in-house example…


When it comes to copy making a visual impact, need we say more than this tasty post? We can practically smell the dessert now…

In conclusion, what have we learnt?

Well then, after our whistle-stop tour back in time what copywriting tips and tricks can we take from the good ol’ days? To put it simply:

  • Be bold.
  • Be original.
  • Be conscious of who you are writing for.

And perhaps it’s best to heed Ogilvy’s wise words: “Good copy can’t be written with tongue in cheek, written just for a living. You’ve got to believe in the product.”.