In a letter to a man named Ray Calt in 1955, he described "my work habits as a copywriter" as "appalling" and confessed:
"I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement. This causes me to throw away the first 20 attempts."
Ogilvy's letter to Mr. Calt, from The Unpublished David Ogilvy: A Selection of His Writings from the Files of His Partners, was recently posted in full on the excellent blog Letters of Note.
Here are a few highlights:
- "I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years."
- "Before actually writing the copy, I write down every conceivable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform."
- "If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone [phonograph]. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of ideas."
You might find it odd that: here I am, admiring and paying homage to what seems like the impossibly hard work of writing copy, when I have dedicated most of my career to make writing copy easier for others (and for myself).
That, of course, is what Fast Effective Copy is all about.
But I do see value in the insane overwork Mr. Ogilvy is confessing to.
The most productive sales letter I ever wrote,for Abacus Travel Management, brought in a cool $40 million over the course of eight years.
I only rewrote that letter seven times. I'm sure Mr. Ogilvy would have seen me as a hopeless lightweight.
But one thing I learned was that when you're swinging for the fences, you've got to do everything you can to make it the best it can be.
And Mr. Ogilvy was always swinging for the fences.
Many thanks to blogging expert and World Copywriting Blog Executive Contributor Jim Van Wyck for suggesting this post to me!
Co-founder, Fast Effective Copy