Tieryas Reviews David Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man

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If you were to take a snapshot of advertising and marketing in the 50s and 60s, this would be a fascinating glimpse. I kept on thinking about the show, Mad Men, and the philosophy Draper and his fellow cohorts strive for. While there is an ideal, Ogilvy is honest enough to know marketing is an unruly beast that requires adaptation. Also, technology wasn’t quite what it is now. Does that make this book outdated right out of the hat? While technologies change, many of the ideas make sense if you are able to adapt them to the times. The book is autobiographical in some sense, though it’s split up into multiple sections. It’s almost like a listing of aphorisms and if you’re expecting a life expose, you will be disappointed. This is more like an Art of War of marketing which you read in segments. Only, the philosophy is more genteel and pacific than Sun Tzu’s epic. I took it in small doses, like a thousand commercials compacted into one book. There are some guiding themes, though my favorite parts are the pithy observations and the frank statements that show Ogilvy is not just a talented marketing man, but a great story teller. I found much to appreciate within its pages and if you like pointing the camera into the past, you’ll be surprised at how good some of those old jingles could be.

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Some favorite quotes to follow up my previous set of quotes I enjoyed:

“…I  go on to preach the importance of discipline in art. Shakespeare wrote his sonnets within a strict discipline, fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, rhyming in three quatrains and a couplet. Were his sonnets dull? Mozart wrote his sonatas within an equally rigid discipline. Were they dull?”

“You can’t save souls in an empty church.”

“Why keep a dog and bark yourself?”

“Resist the temptation to write the kind of copy which wins awards. I am always gratified when I win an award, but most of the campaigns which produce results never win awards, because they don’t draw attention to themselves.”

“CAPITAL LETTERS ARE MUCH HARDER TO READ, PROBABLY BECAUSE WE LEARN TO READ in lower case.”

“I am less offended by obscenity than by tasteless typography, banal photographs, clumsy copy, and cheap jingles.”

“Get rid of sad dogs who spread doom.”

“Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating.”

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