Advertising is Not a Dirty Word, But I Know a Lot of Them Anyway!

This series of articles looks at quotes from one of the advertising giants, David Ogilvy, and some of the logic behind his wisdom and why it still holds true today

What really decides consumers to buy or not to buy is the content of your advertising, not its form.

David Ogilvy

We get the questions from clients “Should I have a web site?” or statements like “I need a video!” and one of my first questions is “Why?”.

I am not in the business of being rude, but I do ask very direct questions. Even if you have a flash of brilliance, it is good to at least go back and fill in the blanks. I want to understand why you think you need something. “Why, do you feel you need that?”

Many of our greatest thought leaders and innovators rely on those flashes of brilliance; but eventually you need to have someone create that sketch you created on the napkin. Word is that almost 20 years ago Steve Jobs sketched out the design for the iPad in front of journalist Robert Kringely, but it took a number of years to fill in the gaps.

Let’s fill in the gaps. Why do you think that you need a web site, video or anything? Why is the mechanism so important?

Spend adequately on your strategy and message. One of the things most creatives miss is that this is not a product you are marketing. Every year more than one million blueprints are generated for single family homes. How many people do you think wanted a blueprint? NOBODY!!!!! They all wanted a house! Customers rarely want your product, they want the results of your product. Sell the outcome. People spend little time on your product specs, features or benefits. Ultimately, they want the specific outcome you are providing. Creating a powerful message that sells is challenging. My guess is, that if your agency has a copy writer they hired off Craig’s List for a few bucks over minimum wage; you are getting poor messaging. When your product specs or data sheet comes back re-worded. No go. It all goes back to selling the lifestyle and dream associated with your product in a unique and creative way. Not all “creative” is created equal. The best looking graphic in the world only serves its purpose when it is selling the outcome and makes the sale. Advertising is not your opportunity to be a patron of the arts; you need results.

Form or Format Doesn’t Matter. Did you know that 41% of successful small businesses don’t have web sites? How could that be? Every web company is selling you hard on having a web site. Yet, only 9-13% of all goods are sold online? Your advertising should take a balanced approach and purchase creative services based on a solid strategy and plan. We are not against web sites, but they are a hot commodity right now; so, they are ripe for scrutiny. Get the message right, with a balanced approach that includes many forms of media. Do some methods work better than others? That all depends on your market. Most small businesses are built on word-of-mouth and even kids with iPhones are still asking a friend before asking Siri. Everything works, to a point. However, your message is most important. Big agencies are constantly performing testing for their clients, you should do and expect the same and your agency should be facilitating that rather than selling creative and thinking their job is over.

The Unspoken Factor. I am a big believer that the attitude and DNA of a company are huge contributors toward sales numbers. Having a great staff with a great attitude is as important as the marketing. I know I am probably one of the few to say this, but people sense problems if you or your staff have the wrong mindset. This ultimately comes through to your customers in your messaging, your customer service staff and all your interactions. During an interview with one potential client, I told them very specifically about many of their internal marketing issues. She was shocked, wanted to know who leaked the information. It was simple, I just called their customer service line, acted like a customer and put their staff in situations that spoke volumes about their internal practices and mindset; which were in serious trouble.

Begin with the End In Mind. Finally, one of the things we forget is that; when we got into business, we did it for a reason. You wanted something bigger. You had a dream of changing the world, international travel or charitable work. Keep that in focus. However, also remember that your staff is seeing your work for that; reward them too so they feel like they are part of the team. It took me some time to convince one client to offer a very small bonus or commission to his staff because he thought it would cost too much. He doubled his revenue in one year and cost him very little. – That goes back to the first point. Help your customers achieve their dreams. When you focus on what they ultimately want, you will sell more. Just like you want an outcome, so do your customers.

Is it the method or message? Almost ten years ago , when I was an executive at one of he major US television networks, a representative from one of the high definition television electronics manufacturers visited us. He began extolling how high definition would make our stories better. Over and over he told us about this new technology that would make our stories better. I asked the question, “Will your high definition make our writing better?” Their was dead silence as he pondered the question. I continued, “Your technology will not make our stories better. They will be bigger at home and at a higher resolution. We are already producing our TV shows at a resolution higher than high definition on 35mm. What you are doing is costing us millions in constructing new towers and infrastructure so you can sell more TV sets. However, our storytelling originates with the writers, not your technology.” He quit the next day. The message is king.

So, what is the take away? Make sure you are using an agency that is immersed in your business or dream; so that agency understands your desired outcomes as well as your customer’s dream outcomes. Then, make your purchases based on the plan or strategy that is balanced; someone that understands your industry. Also, understand that the people aspect of your business is extremely important to your marketing and create the proper atmosphere for success.

Do I think you should have a web site? Yes. We have built more than $15M in web sites over the last 10 years. I am not against web sites. However, given that only about 10% of sales nationwide come from the Internet, you could be leaving a lot of money on the table by neglecting other forms of media and your internal business dynamics.

Regardless of your web site, video or event, the message you send is critical to the success of every medium.


Carl Hartman is a former executive with a major American television network, reality television producer and co-founder of Brand.gineering. His best-selling book Brand.gineering: A 14-Step Powerful & Profitable Brand Development Blueprint for the Digital Marketing Age, is available FREE on our web site.