david ogilvy

7 Timeless Copywriting Lessons from the Legend David Ogilvy

If you’re in the market to improve your copy and make your digital advertising more effective than it’s ever been, there’s one man who can offer some serious inspiration.

David Ogilvy.

One of the most successful advertisers of all time, Ogilvy is considered the father of information-dense advertising.

First, let’s look at his life story–how he started one of the most famous, industry-shaping agencies of all time without prior experience writing a single line of ad copy, and one of his most famous high-ROI ads. Then, we’ll delve into 7 key lessons Ogilvy has left with us.

Sit back and enjoy! 

lessons from david ogilvy

A Nutshell Life Story of the Inspirational Copywriting Hero, David Ogilvy

Born in 1911, the man was a literal genius, despite being a “college dropout” at England’s Christ Church, Oxford.

He could sell anything, to anyone–a skill he learned at 24 years old when he decided to quit working at his “slavish” job in a hotel kitchen. Ogilvy started selling stoves, and got everyone to buy — from nuns and drunkards. In 1935, he wrote a guide that’s been named “the best sales manual ever written,” by Fortune. One of the best quotes from the guide:

“The more prospects you talk to, the more sales you expose yourself to, the more orders you will get. But never mistake quantity of calls for quality of salesmanship.”

In 1938, he emigrated to the US from England, and worked for George Gallup’s Audience Research Institute in New Jersey. This is where he learned meticulous research methods and unique copywriting techniques. In WWII, he worked with the Intelligence Service in Washington, where he wrote a ton of high-level content, making recommendations on matters of diplomacy and security.

He applied techniques he learned at Gallup into a report for the fields of secret intelligence, which was picked up by Eisenhower’s Psychological Warfare Board and successfully put to work at Europe during the final year of WWII.

Without a single ad penned in his lifetime, but simply a natural talent in sales, he came on and dominated the ad copywriting scene in the early 50s. After a quiet few years living with the Amish in Pennsylvania, Ogilvy founded the New York-based ad agency Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather in 1948 (which later evolved into Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide). He launched with financial aid from London-based Mather & Crowther. He had never written an advertisement in his life, and in their first twenty years, Shell gave him their entire business; Sears hired him for their first national ad campaign; and other clients included Lever Brothers, General Foods and American Express. It became to a point where Ogilvy said:

“Getting clients was like shooting fish in a barrel.”

One of his most famous ads was also one of his most unorthodox ones. He believed in spur-of-the-moment inspiration, and on a whim decided to take on a small-budget client, a shirtmaker from Maine, in 1951. Within a week after the following ad went live, featuring Ogilvy’s “whim” of using an eyepatch on the model, every Hathaway shirt was sold out.


He passed away in 1999, at 88 years old. Sadly, his two greatest dreams never came true: he wanted ten children (he only had one), and he wanted knighthood (he was made commander of the British empire, close enough, in 1967). He was also inducted in the US Advertising Hall of Fame in 1977.

The copywriting lessons he’s left with us have stood the tests of time and apply just as much today as they did in Ogilvy’s lifetime.

Let’s dissect a few.

7 Mantras for Better Copywriting, Courtesy of David Ogilvy

Prepare to be inspired by some of Ogilvy’s finest statements.

1. Invest the time in continually learning how to write well

 good writing is not a natural gift

If there’s one quote he’s said that rings 100% true with the process of my writing career, it’s this one.

Most people who are attracted to copywriting have at least some experience with writing.

Whether that’s an English degree or a past as a high school journalist, writing experience comes in all shapes and sizes.

However, even the best writers need continual practice in order to hone their craft and excel at writing.

With this in mind, never stop working to improve your craft. Read books, take seminars, and study the masters. Not only will your writing improve, but your scope of knowledge will, as well.

2. Learn who you are writing for


According to Ogilvy, researching the competition, product, and customer is critical for long-term copywriting success.

While virtually anyone can create copy, only truly skilled copywriters who have invested the effort into learning their market can create targeted, highly effective content that influences audiences and sells things.

3. Do your homework and know what you’re writing about, but don’t be afraid to break the rules


Good writing is harder without a great plan and the right research, which Ogilvy says so well.

Yet, as Ogilvy puts it (and as he put to real life use in his work), don’t be afraid to break the rules–never abide by one set of rules:


For best results, ensure your outline has the following components:

1. A headline. Your headline should capture your reader’s attention and make them want to click into your content. Boring, dry headlines need not apply here.


2. A sub-headline. This sub-headline is designed to offer a simple explanation of what you (or your content) does and for whom it does it. Perfect for converting the on-the-fence reader, this can help boost your conversions hugely.

3. Plenty of quality visuals. Use your outline to determine where you’ll place visuals and what the visuals will support. In addition to boosting your audience’s understanding of a topic, visuals also make content more compelling and can serve to improve its shares on social media.

4. A bulleted list of key points. To make your content outline as effective as possible, include a bulleted list of key points. (You can focus on creating a listicle or how-to, two hot forms of content, this way.) This helps you ensure you’re not leaving anything out while also serving to organize your content.

5. An outline of your call to action. To cap your outline off, include a sketch of your call to action. Remember that each call to action you write should be unique to your content and relevant to the specific piece you’re publishing.

4. Avoid being a bore in your writing

In the words of Ogilvy himself, “the worst fault a salesman can commit is to be a bore.”

david ogilvy worst fault a salesman

With this in mind, take pains to ensure that your content is interesting and engaging rather than uninspired and boring.

While this makes your content more fun for your readers to interact with, it can also serve to strengthen your brand voice and help you define your tone, approach, and audience.

Keep in mind that peoples’ attention spans are limited, as is their time, so they don’t have the resources or energy to wade through dense, dry content. As such, it’s your job as a copywriter to create unique, meaningful content they want to interact with.

5. Make your content as specific as possible


Specific content performs better, and Ogilvy learned throughout his career that being more specific provides more value for the reader and more relevance for the audience.

With this in mind, bring specificity into every facet of your content creation – from your headline to your body copy.

This will boost your authority and help you stand out as a leader in your industry. In the words of the master himself, “The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.”

6. Write to one person and one person only


Possibly the most valuable lesson Ogilvy has to teach is to write your content as if you were writing to one person.

Here are his words on the matter: “When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client.”

By breaking your target audience down into individuals rather than one massive group, you can create more personalized content that serves your readers more effectively.

7. Write to your readers’ level


I don’t think this could have been said any better.

Seriously: the best advice any content creator starting out could get is the tip where they should create to their audience’s level. Speak in their words.

Not speak down, or up, or some other descriptive nonsense—but in their language.

Improved Copywriting: Be Inspired, Have Fun, & Break Traditional Rules Starting Now

There you have it!

Seven amazing tips from the living, breathing legend that is David Ogilvy.


Being a copywriter means being a lifelong student.

Improve your online content and your skills as a writer all at once by taking inspiration from the greats.

In need of expert copywriters to improve your online content? Contact Express Writers today!


TL;DR: What It Really Means & How To Use This Concept For Better Marketing

If you’ve spent much time on Reddit, aka “The Front Page of the Internet,” it’s likely you’ve run across the term “TL;DR.

But, do you know what it really means? If the answer is “no,” you’re not alone.

TL;DR is a widely used slang that means “Too long; didn’t read.” While the term itself a bit vague, what you might not know is that there’s an entire concept behind TL;DR to take away and use as inspiration for better marketing in an age where everything (technology, people, time) seems to go at a supercharged fast pace.

We recently delved into researching what’s behind this term and how to take away the concept of too long, didn’t read as a marketing lesson. Keep reading to learn more.

Clueless on what TL;DR really is? @JuliaEMcCoy explains what it really means and how you can use it for better content marketing. Click To Tweet

TL;DR: What It Really Means & How To Use This Concept For Better Marketing

The Concept of TL;DR: A Reddit Phenomenon

In a way, TL;DR describes our online lifestyles right now. Since people today have shorter attention spans than goldfish, fewer and fewer of us are bellying up to long-form content that takes a dictionary and a few advanced degrees to slog through.

Use Reddit and you’ll come across TL;DR sooner rather than later. Many other similar platforms have taken inspiration from this online short-style giant.

Why does Reddit love TL;DR?

Well, since online forums can give way to lengthy debates and complex arguments, the TL;DR tag is used to help people locate summaries. For example, if there’s a long thread that you’re interested in, but you don’t feel like combing through it to pick out the useful bits, you can scroll to the end of the page where you’ll typically see a bolded TL;DR section. This section offers a pared-down version of the page, which helps users navigate relevant content quickly and easily.

Here’s how that works on Reddit.

Because so few people are reading long-form content or, worse yet, digging through pages and pages of irrelevant results to find the content they want, Reddit has capitalized on the TL;DR phenomenon and created an entire TLDR section on their platform.

In this section, the curators behind Reddit have “condensed the best of Reddit” to make it easier for users to get easy access to quick, daily recaps.

Reddit tldr

If you’re having any doubts about the awesomeness of this, let me tell you that the headlines alone are enough to win you over. Example? “Germany recognizes the Armenian Genocide, Elon Must wants to launch people to Mars in 2024, and King Tut’s dagger was made from a meteorite.

How’s that for scope?

Click on the TL;DR Reddit and you’re greeted by a handy page that breaks the topics down into subreddits like world news, science, technology, politics, and even astronomy. From there, you can navigate to the bit that you’re interested in and interact with all of the comments and shared links on that page.

sub-reddit screenshot

By condensing information into simple TL;DR pages, Reddit and other online messaging platforms provide better service for their readers and help organize information in an intuitive and straightforward way.

Reddit is the birthplace of TL;DR. Know how this concept can help you create better content marketing in this post by @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

masterclass cta

Why TL;DR Matters Today Now More Than Ever

In the last 16 years, the human attention span has taken a dive from 12 seconds to approximately 8 seconds, where it’s currently stalled out. The resulting forgetfulness and distractibility are evident in virtually everything we do. In fact, a whopping 39% of Americans have lost an important item or forgotten a critical piece of information at least once in the past week, and people working in office settings check their email approximately 30 times each hour. As it stands right now, the average American checks his or her phone about 1,500 times each week. Whew.

When you take all of this distractibility and partner it with online marketing, things get even more startling. Despite the time, energy, and attention most marketers put into their content, most users only read 20% of the words on a page and leave web pages within 20 seconds. Because of this, developments like Reddit’s TL;DR sections are critical to keep people interested and engaged with content.

'In the last 16 years, the human attention span has taken a dive from 12 seconds to approximately 8 seconds... developments like Reddit’s TL;DR sections are critical to keep people interested and engaged with content.' - @JuliaEMcCoy on… Click To Tweet

Using the Concept of TL;DR to Improve Your Marketing: 5 Tips

If Reddit can do it, so can you! (Scroll down to see exactly how Reddit does it.)

While you don’t necessarily need to pare all your content down to bare bones (long-form content still converts better, after all), it is wise to organize your content in such a way that it’s easier for readers to pull what they want from it. Here are a few tips to do just that:

1. Focus on clarity

Making your marketing messages and content more clear is the first step to making it easier for your users to interact with. Do away with flowery language and unneeded words for simple, succinct writing that gets to the point. Break up long sentences, divide long paragraphs into smaller ones, and make use of headers, subheaders, lists, and bolded bits to help your readers find their way through your text. These are simple tips, but they’re important for people who want TL;DR-focused content.

2. Make it easy to navigate

When it comes to websites, blogs, advertisements, and social media platforms, navigability is essential. If users have to call in a Ph.D. to figure out how to get back to your home page, they’re going to leave your site and never come back. Because of this, ensure that every piece of your site is simple to navigate for all readers, including the newest ones.

3. Make it shorter

If you can cut your content down a bit, do it. While this doesn’t mean that you can’t write long-form content, it does mean that you should focus on keeping your marketing messaging short and sweet so that readers can understand and interact with it more easily.

4. Tell stories

Remember that Reddit headline? If you didn’t find the fact that King Tut’s dagger was made from a meteorite intriguing, I’m concerned about you. Humans want to read fascinating stories, and appealing to a person’s sense of wonder, curiosity, or humor in marketing is an excellent way to get them to click your content.

5. Use video

54% of people want to see more video content from marketers. In light of this, mix your content up by including video whenever possible.

Read five ways you can use the concept of TL;DR in your own content marketing strategy in this post by @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

TL;DR : A Powerful Tool for Your Marketing

While it may seem like a minor bit of Reddit slang, TL;DR is a tiny yet important phrase with a great deal to teach us about how to market to the modern population. 

To learn more about crafting effective content, contact us about our content marketing services today!