What would Ogilvy, Burnett, and Bernbach Say Now? Exactly What They Said Then.

Every fan of Mad Men knows that the ’60s brought unprecedented transformation to the marketing world.

Consumers had more media channels than ever before—newspapers, glossy magazines, radio, direct mail and TV—giving marketers vast new opportunities and competition for attention. Amidst the drinks, suits, skirts, and corner offices, principles founded decades earlier in print, direct mail, and radio were applied across all of them.

Today, we’re experiencing a nearly identical marketing revolution driven by a plethora of maturing digital and social platforms, mobile, and changing habits.

The one thing that hasn’t changed for marketers is the need to grab the attention of the audience at the right time and place.

Marketing and Communication All-Stars

In 1965, Dennis Higgins interviewed five stalwarts of the marketing industry and compiled his findings in, The Art of Writing Advertising. While the office culture may have changed (you won’t find anyone smoking inside an office building today), the basic needs that humans share, and how we communicate with one another based on those needs, are timeless.

Here are some excerpts that are relevant to the challenges marketers face today, with emphasis added by this author.

About Working with Data

William Bernbach, Doyle Dane Bernbach

“One of the disadvantages of doing everything mathematically, by research, is that after a while, everybody does it the same way … If you take the attitude that once you have found out what to say, your job is done, then what you’re doing is saying it the same way as everybody is saying it and you’ve lost your impact completely. We’re all concerned about the facts we get, and not enough concerned about how provocative we make them to consumers.”


About Visibility

Leo Burnett, Leo Burnett Worldwide

“I believe that today visibility, sheer visibility, is more important than it’s been, speaking of printed advertising—and that applies to television, of course, too. Sheer visibility is important with today’s rising advertising costs; if you don’t get noticed, you don’t have anything. You just have to be noticed, but the art is in getting noticed naturally without screaming or without tricks. Something about it that makes people continue to buy it … capturing that, and then taking that thing—whatever it is—and making the thing itself arresting rather than through relying on tricks to do it.”


About Connecting with the Audience

– George Gribbin, Young & Rubicam

“Now here we are running an ad that tells people how much newspapers mean to their daily lives. But it isn’t the ordinary reader of this paper that we’ve got to think of. We’ve got to think, what is the reaction of the reporter on the newspaper who read this. Let’s go through and look at it from the reporter’s view. We then went through it from the publisher’s point of view. We went through it from the standpoint of someone who was on a competitive medium. What would the radio people, what would the magazine people think—how would they react to this? What would a stockholder in a newspaper think about it? You went through this from the reaction of a linotype operator, a man who delivered the newspapers on the trucks, the reporter, the editorial writers, the competitors—you name it, and when you went at advertising this way, you were thorough and you did a lot better advertising.”


About Change

– David Ogilvy, Ogilvy & Mather

“My ideas have changed, but not as much as they ought to have done. My ideas about what constitutes good copy, almost all of them derive from research, not personal opinion. And down through the years, I try to keep up to date with research because from time to time it does throw new light on things. For example, Gallup & Robinson ten years ago told us not to start off a TV commercial with an interrupting device, but to start selling in the first frame.
Well I believed this—their evidence seemed to be pretty good—and I practiced it. But some recent research shows that this is no longer true, if it ever was. That it does, in fact, pay to start commercials with an interrupting device. To grab people’s attention in the beginning.”


About the Idea

Rosser Reeves, The Ted Bates Agency

“It’s either one of the most difficult things in the business to do, or it’s one of the easiest things in the business to do, and it depends on your product. For example, in 1954 two men named Charles White and John MacNamara walked into my office. John was president of M&M Candies. He said their advertising wasn’t succeeding and they needed an idea that would sell. Actually, as I found out after ten minutes of conversation, the advertising idea was inherent in the product. It was the only candy in America that had chocolate surrounded by a sugar shell. At this point the idea lies on the table right in front of you. There’s no searching for an idea at all. At this point the only problem is how do you take that idea and put it into an ad.”


Rushing Forward

While the technology that delivers the message might change, the principles behind what makes it work have not. These individuals were masters of their craft, but more importantly, students of human nature. That’s what made them successful then, and will certainly make you successful today.


Five Gates of Branding

Audience is one of the Five Gates of Branding. Learn more about audience and the steps to renewed brand growth in our ebook:

Five Gates of Branding

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Brand Audience