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What I Learned From David Ogilvy (Copywriting Lessons From A Legend)

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David Ogilvy, the Scottish-born French Chef, who farmed as an Amish, sold Aga stoves door-to-door and then got a job at his brother’s advertising agency, turned their advertising philosophy on its head and then went on start one of the most successful ad agencies of its era…

He jammed in enough experiences into his life for more than a lifetime. Amassing a fortune, buying a French Chateau, authoring books, and forever pressing the case for his first love—Direct Response Marketing.

By the end of his life he even managed to squander most of his fortune.

Perhaps most worth noting is that Ogilvy is unique among the Madison Avenue crowd as being liked by “The Direct Response” posse—most of marketing considers them the black sheep of marketing. Ogilvy credits all of his success as a copywriter and an agency owner to understanding direct response.

At the same time he is loved by ‘traditional’ marketers (by the way the first direct response sales letter was sent shortly after 11 June 1194—predating ‘traditional’ marketing by almost a millennium) for his brilliant creativity.

Ogilvy did explain that “if it doesn’t sell it isn’t creative”, but by then a lot of Madison Avenue had stopped listening.

The three core lessons he instilled in my marketing philosophy are:

“We sell or else.”

It was Ogilvy’s personal belief that the single purpose of advertising was to sell the product. He was adamant that advertising has no other function. It was this foundational belief that led him to take many of the principles of direct response and mail order and apply them to general advertising.

It was this idea that was behind Ogilvy’s insistence that everyone involved in writing copy should read “Scientific Advertising” at least seven times. I listened to that one.

Take an interest in lots of things


After reading Kenneth Roman’s biography of Ogilvy, “The King of Madison Avenue”, I say that Ogilvy was very inquisitive about a lot of things. He took great interest in all sorts of things so he could better understand his market but mostly because it was interesting to him. Roman relates stories about Ogilvy asking so many questions of people he met that it verged on an inquisition.

Research and Measurement

Early on Ogilvy brought George Gallup into his agency to do customer research. Now the thing is research is the foundation of creating persuasive copy—this goes back to before Hopkins. Measurement proves that your advertising actually works. Kind of simple when you think about it. Ogilvy did both. Being able to sell more for clients and proving his methods work brought him a great many new accounts.

Bonus Lesson:

Good copywriters are almost always salesmen first—Ogilvy started selling door to door. It should be a qualifying question of a copywriter you are looking to work with.

And now I would like to invite you to claim your FREE instant access to three free “Copywriting Video Critiques” (and two free copywriting reports) when you visit

You’ll see how common copywriting mistakes and what you can do to change them to increase the response rate to your sales letters, websites and much more. You can make these changes for yourself right away.

This is a cross-post from Ezine Articles.

Zac Nelles, Direct Response Copywriter and Direct Marketing Strategist, specializes in working with clients to create marketing campaigns and writing sales copy (and content to create sales) for information marketers, such as books, home study courses, publishers, coaches, consultants and seminar providers.

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