Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine.

– David Ogilvy

Ogilvy, once dubbed the ad industry’s ‘most sought-after wizard’, was rarely short of a pithy comment or two, but it is his passionate defence of the truth in advertising that stopped me in my tracks when hunting down my favourite quotes in advertising. And he wasn’t alone. Fellow ad legend William Bernbach was equally emphatic: “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.”

Both of these quotes extol the virtues of the truth in an industry that is rarely praised for its morality. That said, the value of the truth in advertising is arguably even greater now than in Ogilvy’s heyday. There is so much fatigue around being lied to (whether by politicians, big corporations or the media) that clear, simple statements based on the truth are almost disproportionately appealing. A company that uses advertising to impart simple truths hits the emotions in a way that others fail to.

I’m of the view that, for modern marketers, content – be it editorial or branded – needs to come from a place of truth. A story will only resonate with readers if it’s unabashedly honest. Audiences can sniff out a porky pie at 10 paces, and the rising quality of content in the digital space means that consumers have become increasingly adept at spotting a faker.

Advertising has a rich heritage as an industry and Ogilvy and Bernbach, the founders of modern advertising, were among past legends that gave us the kind of food for thought that can – and should – still resonate today.

For example: “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language in which they think.” (David Ogilvy).

This is so relevant in today’s advertising arena, where big, bold awareness campaigns produced by the most impressive creative agencies sit alongside subtle little social media campaigns. In a world where bloggers are often more influential than mainstream editors, it has never been more important to speak to consumers in their vernacular and even more importantly, listen to what they have to say back to you (and how they’re saying it).

Howard Luck Gossage – frequently referred to as ‘The Socrates of San Francisco’ and one of the greats of the ‘Mad Men’ era – once said: “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

In today’s age of content marketing and self-publishing, the fundamentals of knowing how readers and consumers think and to always have their interests at heart – which of course, digital technology now enables us to do at a greater scale – come into play. Only by better understanding how readers think and how they are prepared to react are brands able to connect with them (and persuade them) more effectively.

Craig Davis (one of the global advertising industry’s leading creative talents of the present day) said: “We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.”

This quote feels as though it is actually about two distinct things:

  1. Creating a need where an audience might not even realise there is one (which some brands and products have done gloriously over the years).
  2. Joining the conversation – being a willing participant, who contributes a point of view, as well as listening and learning from other participants (i.e. the audience).

In an industry as fast paced as advertising, it’s important for us to keep writing new chapters, but also make sure we are true to the fundamental values of the discipline for the benefits not only of the brands we work for, but also of the audiences they are looking to engage with. These pearls of wisdom from the past remain a pertinent reminder of the path we should follow in the future.

Carla Faria

Carla Faria


Carla Faria is Director of Solutions at Say Media.