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David Ogilvy on how to write

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I’ve been a student of marketing since before I can remember, not a full time student you understand. But I remember as a child looking at advertising and wondering why certain things worked while others failed.

Later in life when I made marketing my career, I was pointed in the direction of David Ogilvy, by my first Marketing Director, and I’ve never looked back.

David has been described at the template for the characters in Mad Men, but that does him a disservice. David Ogilvy was a plain talking no nonsense genius at advertising and the art of persuasion. His book Ogilvy on Advertising, while now very dated (no web when it was written), still sits on my shelf and the ideas are still relevant to today’s marketing and advertising.

Some of the best advice he gives is on writing, something everyone assumes they can do. But it’s not as easy as it seems. I’m still learning and will continue to learn ‘til the end.

David Ogilvy on how to write

On September 7th, 1982, Ogilvy sent the following internal memo to all agency employees, titled “How to Write”:

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.

Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.

Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well.

Here are 10 hints:

  1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
  2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
  3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
  6. Check your quotations.
  7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
  8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
  9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
  10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

Thanks to Brain Pickings for highlighting this memo.

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