Intent Marketing

10 David Ogilvy Quotes That Will Transform Your Marketing Strategy

By Nadav Shemer
Tuesday, November 19, 2019

You have to really stamp your influence on something to earn the label “father” or “mother” of that thing.

The ‘father of marketing’ (or variously, of ‘advertising’) is, without a doubt, David Ogilvy, the British man who created one of the biggest ad agencies in the world and helped alter the landscape of American advertising, according to the obituary the New York Times ran on him in 1999.

David Mackenzie Ogilvy – “The original Don Draper”

The creator of advertising pillar ads such as “Lemon(Volkswagen) and “The Man in the Hathaway Shirt,” was the indisputable guru for Mad Men and marketing directors for decades, and even served as an inspiration for the iconic Don Draper.

I see your Volkswagen ad and raise you…
Hathaway Man

But what can this marketing tycoon who was born before World War I and died before the Y2K hysteria possibly teach us about online marketing strategy in the 2020s? 

Plenty, as it turns out. 

David Ogilvy dispensed countless pearls of wisdom throughout his life, many of them in his 1985 bible for advertising & branding, Ogilvy on Advertising.

So if you haven’t got the time to pick up a copy and read it, here is our pick of the top 10 quotes that will transform your marketing strategy:

“I don’t believe in tricky advertising. I don’t believe in cute advertising. I don’t believe in comic advertising. The people who perpetrate that kind of advertising never had to sell anything in their lives.”

In other words: be transparent. 

We recently conducted research at Natural Intelligence, looking into intent marketing in car insurance. We found that businesses that display clear, transparent information about rates and features stand the best chance of converting site visitors into paying customers.

In today’s oversaturated online world, the way to differentiate yourself from the competition is by running a clean ship and being true to your values.

“Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating. You know you can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them into buying it.”

Isn’t Google’s business model modern proof that these words of wisdom are an actionable rule?

That’s why it is constantly updating its ranking algorithm to promote websites that produce high-quality content. Content that is both true, educational, and entertaining.

Or, in other words, of real value to the user. 

The recent BERT update is another important step in Google’s notion that content should be at the forefront of your marketing strategy.

“Research has found that people who know a company well are 5 times more likely to have a favorable opinion of it.”


There’s nothing you can do: most customers won’t buy the first time they visit your website. 

But if you get them familiar with your brand—through interesting blog posts, informative infographics, catchy social media posts, etc.—your chances of an eventual conversion increase.

Delight them, educate them, gently push them in the direction of your product/service. This way, you’ll acquire not only a deal but also a loyal recurring customer.

“Be more ambitious. Don’t bunt. When you get a job to do a story or an ad, try and hit the ball out of the park every time.”

Don’t we all know it…

A CMO’s role is 10 times harder than any other C-level executive’s job. 

According to research by Kimberly A. Whitler and Neil Morgan, more than 40% of CMOs have been in their roles 2 years or less, and 57% didn’t pass the 3-year benchmark.

Be focused, A/B test everything, align metrics with expectations, and don’t be afraid to dream big. Leave hesitance to Finance.

Marketing lessons aside, we found it interesting that David Ogilvy used a baseball analogy rather than a cricket one. This shows Ogilvy didn’t only influence America; America influenced him.

“The more you tell, the more you sell.”


That’s why we’re all about content marketing.

But let’s tweak this quote a bit: immerse your prospect with stories, but make sure you detect the stage they are in, and adapt the form and tone to that stage:

  • Informational stage: Offer insightful articles filled with explanations and facts.
  • Navigational stage: Prepare a welcoming homepage that is as beautifully branded as it is benefits-oriented.
  • Transactional stage: Tell it like it is; show prices, features, specifications, comparisons, reviews, etc. Help them make the best choice.
12 copywriting gewoontes van David Ogilvy

“Every 4 weeks I’d send personalized mailings to our new business prospects. And I was always amazed to discover how many of our clients had been attracted to Ogilvy & Mather by those mailings. That is how we grew.”

This doesn’t only apply to B2B marketing, but can also be used in a B2C strategy.

The lesson is simple: be personal, be direct.

Your potential customer is bombarded with generic advertising every single day. Don’t be part of this annoying statistic.

Today, we have a variety of advanced methodologies to personalize our shout outs:

  • Segment your pool of leads and existing clients strategically
  • Create several content options
  • Utilize smart algorithms
  • Make sure you send the right email/SMS/message at the exact right touchpoint.

“Consumers still buy products whose advertising promises them value for money, beauty, nutrition, relief from suffering, social status, and so on.”

Virtually all of this still rings true today. 

And unless human nature changes anytime soon, it will stay true forever.

If your product or service can bring the customer one or more of these things—don’t let them find it out after they purchase it. Highlight this point as a key part of your marketing strategy.

I’ll just add 1 point to this list of benefits: Sustainability and social responsibility. These 2 are super important to millennials and Gen Zers.

Ok, boomer?

“I’d like to be remembered as a copywriter who had some big ideas. That’s what the advertising business is all about. Big ideas.”

What’s your big idea? 

If you do something unique or innovative or even if it’s just something that’s a little different from your competitors—let the customer know. They’ll appreciate you for your innovation and creativity, and it’s a great story to tell.

“Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science, and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant.”

Interestingly, this Ogilvy quote came years before Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s ground-breaking work on behavioral psychology became known to the wider public. 

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, 2011 Nobel Prize winner Kahneman explains how the human brain has 2 systems: 

  • Systems 1 is fast, automatic, emotional, and unconscious
  • System 2 is slow, calculating, and conscious.

In How to Have a Good Day, business consultant Caroline Webb expands on this method. She teaches how to do deep, conscious research. This research is punctuated by frequent breaks in which you allow your unconscious mind to work in the background. 

Ever had a bright idea while you’re not at your desk? If so, you’ve experienced what David Ogilvy and Webb were talking about.

Some say that research is 80% of a marketer’s job.

Immerse yourself with market research, competitors’ analysis, and client surveys. And when the time comes to sit at the table and draw a strategy, relax your mind and let the ideas come to you.

“I have noticed that agencies which are full of fun and ferment seem to create the best advertising. If you are not happy in advertising, for goodness sake find a job in which you would be happy. For, as far as I know, we pass this way only once.”

This could really apply to people in all industries, not only marketing. 

But because our job relies so much on creativity, love is an essential ingredient.

Love what you do and you’ll do good at it.

David Ogilvy’s Legacy Lives on in Your Marketing Strategy

David Ogilvy had an enormous influence on the 20th century’s marketing and advertising spaces. The principles he laid down are extremely relevant to this day. 

True, the technologies we employ in our online marketing activities today are beyond David Ogilvy’s wildest imagination. But the fundamentals remain the same.

We don’t walk around in life looking to buy. We seek experiences, entertainment, and value. That’s why marketing is a give-and-take relationship: you give a delightful experience and—in return—earn their attention and hopefully their business.

Or, in David Ogilvy’s own words: “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”

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