Today’s print ads would have Ogilvy spinning

Nearly 20 years ago, David Ogilvy wrote his last major book on advertising. It was called, appropriately, Ogilvy on Advertising. One chapter is called Wanted: a renaissance in print advertising. The subhead is God is in the details. Actually, it turns out to be George Gallup in the details, but for Ogilvy, there is clearly little difference.

Nearly 20 years ago, David Ogilvy wrote his last major book on advertising. It was called, appropriately, Ogilvy on Advertising. One chapter is called Wanted: a renaissance in print advertising. The subhead is God is in the details. Actually, it turns out to be George Gallup in the details, but for Ogilvy, there is clearly little difference.

Ogilvy claimed that creative people performed at different levels depending on what agency they worked at. In other words, creative people who followed his rules wrote and designed better advertising than the same creative people working without his rules. Say, at another ad agency.

Ogilvy’s creative rules (there were hundred and hundreds of rules encompassing every aspect of ad agency operations) were derived from the results of readership, recall and direct response numbers. Probably because he worked with Gallup before he started his agency, it occurred to him that one could both appear to de-mystify the creative process and set oneself apart as a guarantor of advertising success by proclaiming the infallibility of research-supported epithets like:

1. Ads with news are recalled by 22% more people than ads without news.

2. Specifics are more credible and more memorable than generalities.

3. Helpful information is read by 75% more people than copy which only deals with the product.

4. Five times as many people read the headline than read the copy. Put your benefit in the headline.

5. Copy that starts with a drop-initial gets an average of 13% more readership.

6. If you have a lot of unrelated facts to recite, don’t use cumbersome connectives. Simply number them.

He went on and on like this. He was anti-reverse type. Pro black type on white paper. Pro subheads. Pro serif type. Pro long copy ads. But it wasn’t just his opinion or his preference. It was God-given research-proven fact, and if your agency didn’t know this they were negligent bunglers and budget-squandering bird-brains.

Last issue, I bitched about the proliferation of what I take to be dumb print ads in just one issue of Toronto Life magazine. If I’m even half right, poor David Ogilvy is spinning in his grave. I continue.

A full-page for Vistek, if I can read the sans serif gray type on the gray background, wants to sell me cameras, computers, scanners, printers. These appear in six tiny photos three-quarters of an inch wide. No prices, no brand names. Most of the ad is a picture of a weird-looking robot in a Santa hat. The headline is All the jingle bells and whistles. Just what I was looking for.

Beck’s Beer shows us a childish painting of lots of crude, anonymous, brown bottle-shaped thingies in a green field. In the foreground stands a two-inch high illo of a bottle of Beck’s. A little line underneath says A Beer Apart. Is that it? No how come? No where-from? No reason why? Not one single interesting thing about it? No sale, pal.

A new, large Toronto restaurant takes a page four-colour to show us its hand-penned name spread across some hazy blue panels. A tiny line says Illuminate your senses. (Darling, let’s get a sitter and go illuminate our senses tonight!) To our eyes, the scrawled name of the restaurant was alleso. After searching the internet for fifteen minutes and making two phone calls, we found out that it’s really acceso. (Say ah-chay-soh.) Say aw, c’mon guys!

An ad signed with a wine label that says ‘Canyon Road’ is dominated by a life-size shot of Santa’s hands holding a bunch of grapes. Over the grapes, a tiny reverse head says We love them. We respect them. We can’t wait to have our way with them. You want to do WHAT with GRAPES? Turns out they’re just kidding. If you can wade through the teensy, reverse, dark purple script type copy on the black background, you find it’s a top-value brand – in the unlikely chance you make it to the fifth line.

Oddest of all is a spread, at first seeming to be two unrelated full page ads facing off. On the left, a couple pose on a couch. The girl has already poured half a bottle of red wine into the broadloom, missing her boyfriend’s glass entirely. Strangely, neither appear to notice the ugly mess they’re making. They are looking right, into the distance. The advertiser is identified solely by type now one quarter of an inch long! It says Windy Hills. Hills location unknown. Oh yes, there’ a line that says EARTH. WIND. INSPIRE. That’s all, folks.

On the right, a shot of a silver Toyota on a gold-ish background. The reverse headline says So striking, it’s distracting. The set-in-a-boring-block reverse copy goes on about bold new design and spaciousness and heated mirrors and the sound system. Then, you notice phrases like getting double takes and catch people off-guard. This is your clue that the ads are related. These goofs in the wine ad are soiling themselves ’cause they’re lookin’ at the car ad, get it? Then tell me everything you know about the wine. Then tell me everything that interested you about the car. Then tell me what these people were thinking.

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He writes this column to promote the cause of what he calls intelligent advertising, and to attract clients who share the notion that many a truth is said in jest. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.