This famous quote was on the office wall when I worked for OgilvyOne London. I am sure it still is and in fact is probably on the wall in every Ogilvy office around the world. This sentiment is as true today as it was when it was first used over forty years ago; a reaction to the various “short forms” of advertising that were prevalent at the time. Ogilvy’s point was that too much of the copy of the day was not driving the consumer to respond but rather was built around brand awareness using short copy/scripts that did not inform the reader. Most people in the industry had never “tasted blood” and actually sold anything.
I have come across this theme a couple of times in the past couple of weeks. First was this post by Bob Garfield who is a long time commentator on advertising and marketing. Then there was ‘email design change driving a 61% click increase‘ – a post by my friend and colleague Tim Watson. It was not so so much Tim’s post but rather the reaction I got to a Tweet sharing it. All I did was share the post without comment but what ensued was a two hour conversation about the merits of design over functionality.
“We sell or else”. It is a simple enough sentiment; very short, very abrupt, very Ogilvy. It is amazing however, how often what we think we are selling the reader is not buying. In this video Ogilvy rails against any form of marketing that does not generate a direct response – what he calls general advertising. He talks about how longer ad formats sell more, longer copy sells more, copy about the products benefits sell more than the witty pun. He knew these things to be true because David Ogilvy believed in knowledge and knowledge as he defined it was based on research and real measurable results.
Were he alive today, I believe David Ogilvy would love email marketing. He would love that a consumer could be tracked from the send of the email through to the eventual purchase, he would love that the ROI of email is measurable not guesswork, and he would love that research can be done with real customers in real time (as opposed to focus groups) using what we call split-testing.
Another of Ogilvy’s pillars was quality and that Ogilvy and Mather’s output gave their clients brands a “first class ticket”, which brings up an interesting thought puzzle. How would David Ogilvy react to ‘poor’ creative or ‘poor’ copy that worked better than ‘good’ creative and ‘good’ copy? In his day, ads would be tested in front of a focus group and tweaked until they worked. It was not possible to test these ads in the field as the cost of testing and potential rework would have been prohibitive, not to mention the damage that a half-baked campaign could do to a brand.
Email marketers do not face this challenge. Developing multiple versions of an email does not drastically increase the budget and testing these in the field is easy and incurs no additional cost. Too often however, we don’t test the emails and we don’t review the actual performance data to know if changes we make to the email template, the copy or the segmentation have actually improved performance. Too often we see something that we think works better and are happy proceeding in what David Ogilvy would have described as the anarchy of ignorance.
It does not matter if you think the email looks better, or reads better, or includes better offers. What matters is that it gets more people to click on your email, go to your website and buy your product because if your email doesn’t sell well… I will borrow another of Ogilvy’s quotes: “No sale, no commission. No commission, no eat.”