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How to Advertise: For Facts Sake

Greeting the town for years, the Cirencester Scene
can deliver your ad to 12,000 homes.

Evan Burgess of the Cirencester Scene is a keen fan of David Ogilvy. With evidence for everything Ogilvy did, these are the core lessons Evan learned from Confessions of an Advertising Man, Ogilvy’s excellent book on the subject. If you are thinking of advertising, or want to increase the yield of your advertising, check if there are any missing pieces in your strategy.

In a very basic sense, with advertising there are two ways of seeing things. One is you let people know what you do. Another is by making yourself look better when people already know what you do. Advertising is paid for, either by service or money. Publicity on the other hand is free. It is another subject that I will cover in further blogs. Do not confuse the two!

There is a famous saying about advertising, only half of it works, but no one knows which half. To put this into perspective, in the days where people bought CDs, how many listens did it take you to like a song on the radio, work out who the artist was, and then actually buy it? There is a lot of mañana associated with buying after seeing an advert. You like something, but you’ll do it tomorrow. Sometimes it can be a very long road from introduction to purchase. Some purchases are on impulse, and these are often regretted or forgotten. But if you have a quality product, you need to advertise solidly.

So if you have a good product, how do you advertise it in such a way it triggers a response?

David Olgilvy was a master in persuasion and advertising. He was a self publicist, and he had many tales that sounded good, though perhaps not the whole truth. They were however true! He had a famous story about how his huge business, Ogilvy and Mather started. He claimed it began with only $600 and a dream. This was the most amusing aspect of the truth, and a good focus for conversation. This is a good lead in to the way you should think about advertising. In reality a few details were omitted. Ogilvy was trained as a spy at Camp X in Canada during the Second World War. He had extensive work with Gallup in research, and worked in propaganda. Having been a diplomat stationed in Washington during the war, he knew how to communicate, and who to communicate to.

Ogilvy could back up everything he said. In fact, in one of his books to make the point he was good at business, he published a picture of his French mansion. That he omitted so many great facts about himself should be noted. You want your product to continually surprise people, not disappoint!

He was highly resourceful and based his strategy on researching proven facts, rather than guessing. This led to a potent and yet simple policy of never confabulating in an advert. The truth may be rather spectacular, but never, ever lie!

What he found worked best was facts. Simple, undeniable facts. This meant that readers would never see anchorless claims from advertisers like “This is the best car on the market” or “We are going to change your life” (if your claim can be tested or anchored with a fact, it is different). Instead, quotes like “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock” dominated his ads. If you are at the stage where you can’t come up with honest facts, you must consider whether or not your product is any good. If it isn’t, you will save a lot of time and effort in the future by making the product good before you start trying to advertise. Remember this, it is far better to offer more than an advert states, than to deliver less. This cannot be illustrated better than the following example.

Selling Olympic coins, it was discovered an advert that only advertised the silver coins brought in more sales of gold and bronze coins. This is a clear indicator if you deliver more than you advertise, the public respond better! Many products go hand in hand. The pub that sells the most nuts probably sells the most beer, because people already have their foot in the door for another product.

If you are a buyer, beware if the seller can’t explain their product with facts. If you purchase and it isn’t a good product, it’s your fault!

In Ogilvy’s experience, facts and statistics as headers helped gain interest in long text ads. They sold quality products that were held in high opinion by the target market. Very little was left to the imagination. The research was based upon what the target market did, what it wanted to do and its habits. It was not based on the seller’s expectations or hopes. Many people believe they have the best product on the market, but in reality, this is impossible to test. Make sure that any claims in your advert can be tested!

Sometimes ads did just need to be awareness raising. An example of this was when the executive of a huge business to business company went to a shop. He hadn’t brought money with him. “Put it on the account of my business.” The shop assistant had never heard of the man’s business and wouldn’t let him take the goods. This caused the business to advertise to the general public for reasons of prestige. The advert didn’t need to do much but say who the company were.


In summary: If you want to advertise, make sure your money is well spent by an ad dominated by facts that are relevant and testable by the consumer. Confabulation, opinions or generalisations will consign your ad to the scrap heap. If you advertise without any facts, and you don’t know what to say, think of one solid truth that no one can deny about your product or service. It doesn’t have to be glamorous, but it has to be true and relevant.

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