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5 Advertising Ideas That Haven’t Changed Much Since the 1980s

Inbound Marketing


Known as “The Father of Advertising,” David Ogilvy is the founder of Ogilvy & Mather, one of the largest and best-known advertising agencies in the world. He was an ad man from the 1940s to 1980s. Born in England, he later started his agency in the United States in 1948. The agency’s client list included huge names, such as Sears, Shell, General Foods, American Express and Lever Brothers.

He was a copywriter by trade, but also led as a creative director and researcher. In addition to his other accomplishments, he is an author of a handful of amazing books. I just recently finished reading his 1983 work, “Ogilvy on Advertising,” and found it amazing that in a time where print ads, radio and TV were the main advertising outlets available, many of his basic ideas have stayed the same all these decades later via inbound marketing.

Just to reiterate – advertising is just a section of marketing. People usually have a hard time discerning the difference. But in a simple sense, marketing is kind of the whole package: promotion, price, package, placement and even the product itself. Advertising, on the other hand, is the process of making your product and service known to the market place.

Here were a few of Ogilvy’s topics that I thought have really remained true in today’s inbound marketing world:

1. Headlines Matter

On page 139, Ogilvy said, “Headlines get fives times the readership of the body copy. If your headline doesn’t sell, you have wasted your money.” He was referring to print advertising, but the same remains true in inbound marketing. Whether it’s a blog, eBook or a paid search ad, headlines will either get a reader’s attention or they won’t. And what’s the point in doing all that work if you can’t get anyone to read it?

(For tips on creating catchy headlines, check out this blog by HubSpot.)

 2. Know Your Customer

One of his well known quotes was this: “The consumer isn’t a moron, she’s your wife.” The way I took this was to know you who your customer is and realize they are a real person. Show the value of your product or service and remember: the person on the other end of your advertising is another human. You aren’t selling to a machine.

 3. There are “18 Miracles of Research”

On page 158, Ogilvy said, “Advertisers who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.” Chapter 15 of the book is all about research. It was done very differently back then, but the importance hasn’t changed. Throughout the 18 miracles, Ogilvy basically walks you through each step of a product’s life. From development on how your product should look and smell to what factors are most important to the consumer all the way through which TV commercial was seen and remembered the best — do your research. In today’s inbound methodology, research rules.

Every inbound strategy starts with research on the buyer persona, which includes knowing all you can about them, such as:

  • Demographics
  • Job titles
  • Education levels
  • How they search for solutions to their problems
  • How they tend to use content
  • How they eventually enter into the sales process

As inbound marketers, we research on keywords and website optimization. We also research the best ways to get in front of those buyers (e.g. would Facebook paid ads or would Google AdWords work better?) All kinds of data are available to the inbound marketer and it should be a vital part of each inbound campaign.

4. Advertise to Top Management

“It sometimes pays to run separate campaigns, one addressed to top management, the other to the specialists who read trade publications.” Ogilvy explains on page 142 that many top managers aren’t interested in the details. They’re interested in broad benefits like cost savings, but other members of the organization are interested in more tactical ideas. In today’s terms, entire inbound strategies revolve around the buyer persona and creating content for each specific target.

 5. Know Where to Advertise

Finally, Ogilvy said, “Test different units of space, like a page and a business reply card versus a page alone.” We aren’t so much focused on business reply cards these days, but inbound is all about testing, reporting and making changes in real time. Test, test, test! See a call to action that is converting well? Put more steam behind it. See another that isn’t working so well? Take a step back and see what could use some TLC. Maybe a new header? Another graphic? In the end, inbound gives you the chance to optimize things in real time.

All in all, advertising is an amazing thing and has changed so much from the time of David Ogilvy. But a lot of the principles have stayed constant — even if they have changed a little.

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