12 December 2015 14:11:26 IST

If there is one book you must read...

'Ogilvy on Advertising' is a must for those considering advertising and marketing

I belong to the generation that read books when it was young, and continues to read (sometimes on the Kindle) as it ages.

I read books lying down, in the loo, standing in queue; even as I watch a cricket match. It is hardly surprising that I wear thick spectacles! All our knowledge came from the printed word as the computer and the Internet were unknown to us. The library was a hallowed place as it housed some of the most exotic and expensive books that people of my age and socio-economic background could not possess.

Madras, where I grew up, was infernally hot (quite unlike these days where it is oppressively wet) and the air-conditioned library offered cool refuge to people like me who had only experienced the AC in places like theatres and libraries!

Generational gap

I suspect it does as it is reared on the Internet and swamped with 400-word ad copies and listicles on “Five things you need to know about Chennai rains” and so on. My generation grew up reading voluminous books and long copies, and always loved it.

In fact, I can categorically say that I entered advertising because I read books on advertising that took me on a magical guided tour. These books made me yearn for the life of a dream merchant. One such book, that also made a big difference to advertising in India at least, was written by David Ogilvy, the founder of the hugely successful agency that is now Ogilvy and Mather.

While I don’t have the numbers to prove it, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that more people came into advertising because of David Ogilvy and his writing than any other advertising personality.

His first book was Confessions of an Advertising Man, which younger readers may or may not have had the chance to read. But one book that most people in advertising must have read, or at least should read, is Ogilvy on Advertising .

Ogilvy’s books on advertising made a profound impression on me in my youth, though today I might have a slightly different view on his writing and, more importantly, his style of advertising that spawned a hugely successful global agency.

Ogilvy came from an interesting background. He started as a chef and did several things before he became (arguably) the most famous copy writer of that time and also launched a hugely successful agency called Ogilvy, Benson and Mather. In those days agencies proudly sported the names of its founders on their walls whether it was J Walter Thompson or Doyle Dale Bernbach.

The business of advertising

Ogilvy had a style of writing that was direct and unequivocal. He was a successful practitioner who had built brands and he told you what worked.

“People don’t buy from a clown,” he had said. But decades later we know that the most watched ads (even if they are difficult to execute) are humorous. These ads — and not the long, boring ones that lecture — are the ones that are shared on social media.

He wrote long body copies like the much celebrated ad for Rolls Royce: “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”. I have never travelled in a Rolls Royce, nor is it likely that I will, but I cannot believe that could be true. But the ad worked. He emphasised the importance of research. And his ad “The Man in the Hathaway shirt” was a landmark in image advertising.

Today, I might differ on some points that Ogilvy makes in his books, but there is no questioning the authenticity or authority of the writer’s convictions. I urge you to read this book if you are considering advertising and marketing.

The world of Internet

Today, the Internet is the source of all information. I often half-humorously say that the Tamil proverb “Matha, Pitha, Guru Deivam” (translated as your mother, father and guru are God) has become “Matha, Pitha, Google Deivam”.

I have a slight problem if the Internet is considered the only or primary source of information as many people think that whatever appears online is gospel truth. This need not be the case, as just about anyone can post anything online. There is no rigour or fact-checking involved when things are posted online, something which is necessary while writing a book. This is why I request today’s youngsters to go the original source, books, and start with Ogilvy on Advertising . And if you want a second suggestion, read mine: One land, one billion minds !

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