10 Copywriting Tips from the “Godfather of Advertising”

Many consider David Ogilvy to be the “godfather of advertising.” His famous Rolls-Royce ad is recognied by most professional marketers:

“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”

In this article we’re sharing 10 tips about copywriting, coming from an internal memo that David Ogilvy gave to the employees of his advertising agency. It was simply titled “How to write.”

Ogilvy put together a masterclass in good writing with just 10 bullets.

Here are some of Ogilvy’s tips, plus our own commentary:

1) Read the Roman-Raphelson book on writing

It’s a bible of sorts for effective writing.

2) Writing should sound natural

If your writing doesn’t sound natural to read, it’s probably not good for ad copy.

3) Use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs

Walls of text aren’t fun to read. Outside academic contexts, they should be used rarely. And practically never when it comes to copywriting.

And what about those sentences that are so long that they become difficult to read. The easiest way to do something is to read your text out of loud. If you get caught up, you must simplify something. Sometimes 30-word sentences are fine. But a lot of the time they can be cut to something more simple.

Always remember that people want to read as little as possible to get the value out of something.

4) Avoid complex jargon

“Complexification, demassification,” and other terms probably aren’t necessary.

5) Never write more than two pages on a subject

In modern days, this often means never publish more than two pages on any subject. Amazon has what’s called a 6-pager that describes the purpose of a meeting.

99% of books could be blog posts. At the least, you can get 95%+ of the information from a topic boiled down into 5,000 words (at most) rather than 100,000-200,000+ words.

And 99% of blog posts can be summed up in tweets or short Twitter threads.

6) Check your quotations

Ensure all quotes are accurate. Quotes are great to backup what you’re saying

7) Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it

Today, this means never publish a blog, a sales page, or an important email the day you write it. Read it aloud the day after with fresh eyes and a different perspective. Also resist the urge to expand on what you’ve already written unless necessary.

8) Get other people to review your piece before publishing it

Four eyes are better than two. It can also help to print something out before publishing. Sometimes mistakes automatically easier to catch when seen on paper.

9) Before you send your letter, make sure it’s crystal clear what you want the recipient to do

If it’s a blog post, you want them to click. Having 2-3 hyperlinks with a CTA will help. If you want them buy, make that clear as well by showing them value in whatever way possible – e.g., discounts, new product, clearance, limited time, and so on.

10) If you want action, don’t write; go and talk in person

This isn’t always possible if you’re an online marketer. But as a general rule of thumb, anything with a price point above a few thousand dollars will require a sales team that customers can contact by phone. Calling prospects can close sales that wouldn’t otherwise happen.

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