A Harvard professor used to begin his series of lectures with a sentence that took his students by the throat: “Caesar Borgia murdered his brother in-law for the love of his sister, who was the mistress of their father, the Pope.”
How to grab a reader’s attention was one of the lessons I’ve learned by reading one of the original Mad Men of adversting, David Ogilvy, who Time magazine called “the most sought-after wizard in the advertising business.” Ogilvy, who lived from 1911 to 1999, made it a mission to codify what works in persuasive communications.
Without the reader’s attention, all is lost. “You can’t save souls in an empty church,” is another piece of wisdom from Ogilvy, who many call “The Father of Modern Advertising.”
In his books Confessions of An Advertising Man and Ogilvy on Advertising, he demonstrated his expertise by giving away valuable information. Oglivy told readers how to solve their communications problems in general; many became clients and hired him for his specific advice.
For the past two seasons the Emmy award for best dramatic series has gone to a show called “Mad Men,” about theMadison Avenue world of advertising in the 1960s. Oglivy is often given a shout out in the show.
I don’t know if the show “MadMen” will inspire young people to choose advertising as a career. But in early 2004, Adweek magazine asked people in the business, “Which individuals—alive or dead—made you consider pursuing a career in advertising?” Ogilvy topped the list. And the same result came when students of advertising were surveyed.
Ogilvy credited Claude Hopkins Scientific Advertising as the book that changed his life. Ogilvy was a scientist of persuasion, and all of us who seek new clients can learn a thing or two from his experiments.
As you write invitations for your briefings, speeches and seminars, here are ten lessons from Ogilvy to keep in mind:
- On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the rest of the copy.
- The headlines which work best are those which promise the reader a benefit. Make your promise specific.
- Headlines can also deliver news, or offer a service, or tell a significant story, or recognize a problem, or quote a satisfied customer.
- If your service is the kind which is only bought by a small group of people, put a word in your headline which will flag them down, like CEOs, health care, or women over thirty-five.
- Specifics work better than generalities. If you can say increase profits by 37% or can save executives a day a week, by all means do it. Use percentages, time elapsed, dollars saved.
- Body copy is seldom read by more than 10 percent of the readers. But that 10 percent consists of prospects who are interested enough in what you do to take the trouble to read about it.
- Winston Churchill said, “Short words are best, and the old words when short are best of all.”
- If you don’t have one, get a toll free number and always include it for people to respond.
- Close your body copy with your offer, your Web address and phone number.
- Captions should appear under all your photographs. Twice as many people read them as read body copy. And use captions to sell. The best captions are mini-advertisements in themselves.