See David Ogilvy’s Top Adverts and What We Can Learn From Them

David Ogilvy contemplating

[I]f you don’t know who David Ogilvy was, you have a lot to learn about advertising.

Time magazine called him “the most sought-after wizard” in advertising. He’s one of the reasons why Dove soap is popular. Also, he increased Mercedes-Benz sales by 4 times — in just one year (that’s an increase from 10,000 to 40,000 cars when Mercedes wasn’t very popular in the U.S.).

Here’s two of his legendary advertisements:

  1. How to Create Advertising That Sells [See PDF] – David Ogilvy writes 38 points that he’s learned about advertising. This was written to persuade people to use his agency, Ogilvy & Mather, but it also teaches advertising at the same time.
  2. The Man in the Hathaway Shirt [See Image] – Use of story appeal to make curious readers.

He understood the two most powerful selling areas in copywriting — story appeal and reason why copy. He also understood eye path and he’s been tracking conversions much before Google Analytics even existed. He died in 1999, and did most of his advertising work prior to 1973, but his copywriting learnings are timeless.

He understood an audience (and how to advertise to them) extremely well. Learning the principles, that he understood, will help you write profitable ads that will bring a lot more sales.

Let’s go through a few of his famous quotes (from his interviews and books) — and figure out how you can use these ideas online.

First quote:

On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.

There’s two things to understand:

1) Headlines are just as important online. When a user clicks onto your site, they are ready to click the back button of their browser. When the user doesn’t see what he/she wants, they’ll click back instantly. You have a couple seconds to persuade your audience to READ THIS now. According to, these are the 3 questions a user has when clicking to any website:

1. Where am I? 2. What can I do here? 3. Why should I do it?

A headline answers question 2 — and persuades the user to keep reading by starting a conversation.

2) If your banner/text ad has a 1% CTR, that means it is potentially seen by 100 TIMES the amount of people than click to your landing page. Your first ad impression is at least as important as your page. If you can get ten times the CTR (by appealing to the right audience and by standing out), you’ve cut your effective cost per visitor by ten. If each visitor originally cost $3, then increasing your CTR by 10 times would only be costing you $0.30 per visitor. That’s huge for improving your ROI.

In summary, your headline and the ad pointing to your site are key areas to successfully getting a positive ROI online.

Second Part: “A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.” – This post discusses: is it really “ugly” landing pages that convert best? And, how your headlines should appeal to your audience.

Third Part: “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.” – Are you forgetting this most important step when you write headlines?

Test yourself: If you know why David Ogilvy’s picture is positioned in this article at its exact spot above, write a reason below. Update: These are 3 reasons why:

  1. David Ogilvy looking at the first paragraph convinces more people to start reading. People look at what other are looking at. [Source #7]
  2. People often look at pictures first and then read its caption or look to the right of it. Eye path flows from left to right, top to bottom.
  3. Decrease in intro margin width persuades readers that content is easy to read and seems short.
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10 responses to “See David Ogilvy’s Top Adverts and What We Can Learn From Them”

  1. Stan Avatar

    1: His eyes are looking at the first sentence which causes the viewer to follow them and begin reading.

    2: The pic gets our attention after reading the headline and helps get the reader into the copy.

    3: Not sure but maybe a pic in that location reminds readers of a newspaper or magazine article. So the reader will trust the copy more and be more likely to read it?

    Good post!

    1. Shock Marketer Avatar
      Shock Marketer

      Stan, great job on getting 1 and 2. The third is tougher though.

  2. Thales Avatar

    People begin to read from top left to the right.

    Excellent post, can’t wait for more! 🙂

  3. still right Avatar
    still right

    3. Authority

    1. Shock Marketer Avatar
      Shock Marketer


  4. JH Avatar

    I don’t mean to be mean but you didn’t learn the most important rule – always out the photo above the headline. Not anywhere else.

    1. JH Avatar

      My above comment should read “always put the photo above the headline.” Sorry for the misspelling.

      1. Shock Marketer Avatar
        Shock Marketer

        JH, Ogilvy didn’t always place the photo above the headline although that works well in many print ads. You need to adapt to the media and audience.

  5. Wayne Beachy Avatar
    Wayne Beachy

    I am a newbie copywriter and I want to glean from the best. So I will devour every newsletter I get

    1. William J. Waldbillig Avatar
      William J. Waldbillig

      Instead f newsletters, go to the public library or on Google and get the titles of each of David Ogilvy’s books (examples: Confessions of Advertising Man, Ogilvy on Advertising). Read, devour. You will soon be the CHAMPION in your shop! I did it and it worked very,very well for my career in the AD Game.

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