David Ogilvy’s 10 Tips to Write Well

David Ogilvy’s 10 Tips to Write Well

David Mackenzie Ogilvy, born in West Horsley, England, on June 23, 1911, is considered by many as “The Father of Advertising”. His three books, Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963), Blood, Brains and Beer: An Autobiography (1978) and Ogilvy on Advertising (1983), provide the basic principles of modern advertising. In 1962, Time magazine called him “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry.”

Ogilvy created some of the world’s most iconic and successful marketing campaigns during his illustrious career as advertising executive and copywriter, including the legendary Man in the Hathaway Shirt plus notable efforts for Rolls Royce, Schwepps and the island of Puerto Rico. If there is anything we can learn from Ogilvy, especially if we are in the copywriting and advertising industry, it is how to use words masterfully to influence readers, persuade prospects and create memorable, evergreen content.

“The Father of Advertising,” legendary copywriter and original “Mad Man” has plenty to say about how to write well. On September 7th, 1982, Ogilvy sent an internal memo to all employees of his advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather, titled “How to Write.” In the memo he told his employees that the better they write, the higher they go in his ad agency. According to him, people who think well, write well. Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.

Ogilvy points out that good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. He offers the following 10 snippets of advice on how to write well, which we draw from the marketing and advertising classic: The Unpublished David Ogilvy: A Selection of His Writings from the Files of His Partners.


1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.


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2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6. Check your quotations.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.