David Ogilvy did NOT say, as is widely believed, “it’s not creative unless it sells.” The mantra actually originated with Benton & Bowles in the 1970s, but David Ogilvy quoted it so frequently (actually, misquoted, as “if it doesn’t sell, it’s not creative”) he made it his own.
He did say “When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.” And, dear to my heart, David Ogilvy wrote “I am convinced that if all advertisers were to follow the example of their direct response brethren, they would get more sales per dollar. Every copywriter should start his career by spending two years in direct response. One glance at any campaign tells me whether this author has ever had that experience.”
David Ogilvy’s first job was as an apprentice chef in Paris. (“Cooks, like copywriters, work under ferocious pressures, and are apt to be quarrelsome.”) He then sold Aga stoves as a door to door salesman. During World War II, he worked in research for the Gallup organization. This experience with research led to immortal ads for Rolls Royce (“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”) and Dove soap (“Only Dove is one-quarter moisturizing cream”), two examples of delving into product features and staging them as benefits. His very first ad, for Guinness, was what we would call today an “advertorial”. It was a guide to all the oysters one could enjoy and wash down with a pint of his client’s product.
My friend and mentor, the late Andy Byrne, was prone to quote Ogilvy in articles and one day sent him a collection of reprints in which he’d done just that. Ogilvy replied with a handwritten thank you on the stationery of his castle. Also, I once interviewed for a job at Ogilvy’s agency. The job wasn’t for me, but I walked away with a copy of the manual for new eployees which had his imprimatur all over it. (This treasure has since been misplaced by me. If you have a copy and would send me a Xerox, great riches will be your reward.)
Every copywriter should own and read Ogilvy on Advertising and Confessions of an Advertising Man. If you don’t have these books, please go out and get them immediately. Better yet, click the above links and I will earn a small affiliate commission for your good judgment when you order on Amazon.com.