6 Evergreen Branding Lessons From Marketing Master David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy isn’t referred to as the ‘Father of Advertising’ for nothing. His advertising philosophy stemmed from the four principles of:

  1. Creative Brilliance
  2. Research
  3. Actual Results (for Clients)
  4. Professional Discipline

Based on these principles, Ogilvy created a rich body of work and left a legacy for  generations to come. In fact, some of the lessons taught by the Advertising wiz still hold relevance in the digital age, where branding has taken new twists and turns.

Here are some of the timeless business lessons from Ogilvy, which will help you cement your brand’s success.

1. “Clearly define your positioning: What and for Who?”

According to Al Reis and Jack Trout’s bestseller, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, brand positioning identifies and attempt to ‘own’ a marketing niche for a brand, service or product using strategies that include pricing, promotions, distribution, packaging and competition.”

It creates unparalleled impression on the potential customer’s mind and this is why, when done correctly, brand positioning can influence customer decisions in the favor of the brand.

Here is how you can create a strong brand positioning:

  • What is the key value proposition of your brand or business?

  • Identify the factors that make your brand unique. The best way to do this? Ask yourself – what is the difference that your brand makes as opposed to your competition? What makes your brand unique?

  • How do you want your target audience or potential customers to perceive your brand?

  • What is your market niche? Does it have a name? Work towards establishing your brand or business as leaders in the market niche. If there is no niche yet, create one.

  • How remarkable is your product and service?

  • What are the benefits that are brought to the table by your brand? How will the customers benefit from the product or service offered?

  • What emotions are consistently evoked by your brand? This includes the brand name, slogan, logo or mascot to name a few. These emotions should reflect across all your marketing collateral and promotional materials in both electronic and non-electronic media.

  • What are you doing to help your customers come to a conclusion regarding your product or service?

So, irrespective of the channel you choose to market your brand, make it a point to know your target audience and back your research with all the points we covered. This should clearly define your brand’s positioning.

The best example is Apple. Nuff said.

2. “Do your homework. Study your consumer in detail.”

Time and again, marketers have stressed on the importance of performing thorough research on your market and target audience.

Easier said than done, as there are millions of people who comprise your target audience. To know who they are and gain their attention, Ogilvy recommends you perform extensive R&D.

The mere sound of it is exhausting, but it’s much simpler if you formulate a plan and follow it step-by-step.


Start by getting answers to some basic questions, which include but are not limited to:

  • What is the demographic of your target audience?

  • What are their major needs and concerns?

  • What are their likes and dislikes?

  • What factors influence their buying decisions?

  • What are their sweet spots?

  • What are their pain points?

  • What do they expect from a brand?

  • How can they differentiate you from your competition? (USP)

  • Do they have an online presence? When and where are they most likely to be found?

  • How do they make a purchase?

These are some of the basics that will help you filter out your target audience while building a profile on them.

But your work doesn’t end here. You have to refine the research for more accurate insights. The findings from the research will help you keep a track of your target audience such as — How they interact with other brands? What drives their loyalty? Ways to reach out to them.

3. “Your role is to sell, don’t distract yourself from the sole purpose of advertising.”

We live in an era where businesses are driven by aggressive marketing. Competition is tough and it’s survival of the fittest.

What they don’t realize is that by focusing all their energies into being creative and one-upping their competition, they are letting go of the sole purpose of advertising — Selling their product/service.

This doesn’t mean that you have to take a step back the creativity.


Be creative. But  embrace brevity and be succinct when telling your target audience how your brand will make a positive impact on their life.

The Got Milk campaign is one of the finest examples of marketing done right. Launched way back in 1995 by the California Milk Processor Boardand then adopted by the Milk Processor Education Program. It had a simple slogan, Got milk?, and the print-ads in the campaign featured a celebrity line-up. Was the focus on Milk or David Beckham?

The group also ran a spin-off called, Body By Milk.

You see what they did there? They sold the product without disrupting the audience’s normal stimuli.

4.”The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.”

Value your customers and don’t take them for granted.

Audiences these days are more informed than ever (all hail the internet) and so, the shortcuts taken by you to lure them into buying your product or service will in time, backfire.

Treat your target audience as equals — educate and inform them.

This doesn’t mean you need to post a flurry of words in your ad, but rather information that provides substantial evidence about why the product does what you say it does. It need not necessarily be product details, but features that provide more meaningful insights into consumer problems.

In a nutshell, answer the – Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

5.”Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.”

Talk to your audience using everyday phrases — conversational language that you would use with a friend, a family member, a relative, a co-worker or an acquaintance. In the appropriate context of course.

Ogilvy suggests communicating with them effectively by following the KISS (Keep It Simple Silly) principle. Avoid pretentious buzzwords, inflated jargon, and all phrases that beat around the bush.

It is one thing to be creative and play with words and another to use lofty language. The former can make your target audience curious, the latter may annoy them to no end.

Take a cue from this print ad by Fanta, which is both educative and informative and gets the point across.

P.S. It is also interesting to note the remarkable use of typography.

6.“Write great headlines and you’ll have successfully invested 80% of your money.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you must have come across the much-used phrase, ‘content is king’. But I kid you not, there are over 2 million blog posts, 294 billion emails and 864 hours of video content created on a daily basis.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are types of other content including micro-blog posts, images, video, and long-form. This over-abundance of content inevitably leads to saturation.


#Fail anyone?

Perhaps not.

Your salvation lies in crafting a solid headline and draw the attention of your target audience. Up to 80% of people will read your headline –Additionally,  tests are used to demonstrate traffic can vary as much as a whopping 500% depending upon the headline.

Some quick tips from Ogilvy on creating headlines that impress:

  • Use as few words as possible — Less is more.

  • Don’t be ambiguous, and tell it like it is. No beating round the bush.

  • Make it compelling and share-worthy.

  • Keep it simple and to the point.

  • Be inspired — Read as many headlines in a day as you can.

Stepping into the shoes of one of marketing master David Ogilvy is no easy feat. It takes time to acclimate these new practices, however, there is no harm in trying.  Try implement these timeless words of wisdom from the original ‘mad man’ of the advertising world, and witness your business flourish.