David Ogilvy, the original fact-based marketer

Principal Consultant , David Allison Inc.
  • Dec. 7, 2009

In the social media – and online marketing – based consumer economy that we are all working in, a lot of people are prattling on about how important it is to be straightforward and honest and transparent, and how vital it is to tell a great story. This is not a new idea. In the 1950s, David Ogilvy was a proponent of what we at our company call Marketing Journalism. Marketing Journalism is messaging based on facts and news. It’s what works today.

Let’s see what we can learn from the master.

I wrote a book for real estate developers about a year ago called Sell The Truth (download a free copy here braunallison.com) and at the time felt very smug about having pointed to this new filter for communications that would become de rigeur for our industry. It doesn’t seem like such a big crazy idea now, as I think most developers have realized that yesterday’s hype-and-jive mode of creating messages is no longer valid. Ogilvy was even more prescient, with his emphasis on using straightforward words to tell people stories that illustrate what makes a product better than the other products you could choose instead.

Here’s a very famous headline by Ogilvy, for Rolls Royce:

At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock.

Notice how simple it is. There’s no pun with double meanings or outrageous hyperbole. It’s a simple statement, that tells you what the ad is about and what the benefit is. And of all the benefits that could have formed the central premise for this headline, this one (luxurious silence) reinforces the brand position of class and refinement.

Now compare headlines I’ve plucked from Canadian residential real estate developments currently in the market:

Enlightened Living.
Live the Life.
Art and Nature in Perfect Harmony.

Please. Can we all stop using these say-nothing lines? These headlines fail to inform, educate or even inspire. And, as Ogilvy points out, 5 times more people read the headline than any other part of an advertisement. Similar stats would be true for blog posts, Facebook entries or Twitter feeds. But the real lesson here isn’t just about headlines. It’s about overall intent.

People who create advertising and marketing for real estate developments need to remember that the headlines, the pictures, the text, and the overall approach that is most effective today, regardless of what medium is selected, is more like journalism. Consumers are looking for credible information to help them make purchase decisions. No matter how cool or sleek or entertaining or kooky a marketing campaign may seem to the agency you hired and your management team, what really matters is truth. And plenty of it.

Your campaigns could share some research findings. Illuminate a little known fact about your product. Tell the reader why it is better, faster, stronger than competitive offerings. Give a real-life testimonial. (Please don’t fake a testimonial. Nothing is worse or more annoying). Whatever story you decide to tell, make sure it really matters to the consumers you are trying to reach. Don’t waste your time, money or credibility being clever. Be smart instead.

We are not all legendary writers like David Ogilvy. But it would be a great idea for anyone trying to survive in this economy to re-visit his seminal book Ogilvy on Advertising (buy it on Amazon here)

One of my favourite quotes from Ogilvy is “I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information.” I couldn’t agree more.

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David Allison, Author and Partner at Braun/Allison Inc.

David Allison is a partner at Braun/Allison Inc.; a Vancouver-based company that provides creative services for residential and resort real estate developers. His book, Sell The Truth, is available for free here. You can connect to him on LinkedIn , follow him on Twitter @BAdavid and read his blog, One Brand Clapping here.



David Allison works with executive teams in real estate development and other industries to craft the early-stage vision and brand for projects of all kinds. He crystallizes the most interesting…

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David Allison works with executive teams in real estate development and other industries to craft the early-stage vision and brand for projects of all kinds. He crystallizes the most interesting…

Read more




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