David Ogilvy on “Good” Marketing

What makes an advertisement good?

Should it be original and edgy or comfortable and safe? Should it make us laugh? Or should should marketers channel their inner Don Draper to produce advertisements dripping with sentimentality that reduce stodgy businessmen to tears?

I’ve recently re-read David Ogilvy’s classics Confessions of an Ad Man and Ogilvy on Advertising, and his definition of a good ad is the best I’ve seen:

A good ad is an ad that sells.

While branding is unquestionably an important piece of the marketing mix, this results-based rubric for judging advertisements gave Ogilvy a profound respect for direct response marketing. Because direct response marketing aims to inspire immediate (or near-immediate) actions from customers, it can be measured far more precisely than branding campaigns. This results in a level of accountability and data-driven decision making that has not always been commonplace across marketing departments more broadly (though modern tools have helped immensely through enhanced attribution and analytics).

We assess the technology we build, the software we integrate and the campaigns we manage the same way: is this resulting in more sales for our clients? Is it reducing cost and wasted time? Is it making sales teams more productive and ad spend more profitable?

Though many of the tools and specifics of our day-to-day would be completely foreign to Ogilvy, I suspect–and hope–the underlying attitude would ring familiar.