Creativity: Can It Be a BAD Thing?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first publication of David Ogilvy’s wonderful book Confessions of an Advertising Man. The book offers guidance directed to those in advertising, but it can also be useful to anyone involved in any form of marketing communication, including PR.

Ogilvy writes in the book that when he hired copywriters he shared this directive:  “I will not allow them to use the word creative to describe the functions they are to perform in our agency.” He goes on to quote competitor Ed Cox as saying, “there are no creative or non-creative copywriters, only good ad-makers and bad.”

Ogilvy holds that “a good advertisement is one which sells its product without calling attention to itself. Instead of saying, ‘what a clever advertisement,’ the reader [should say], ‘I never knew that before. I must try this product.’”

On writing copy, Ogilvy says, “Don’t beat around the bush—go straight to the point. Be specific and factual. Don’t be a bore. Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating.”

In reality, Ogilvy was a creative genius. His agency Ogilvy and Mather turned out many successful classic campaigns during the last half of the 20th century. And he wrote much of the copy himself.

We’ve all seen and heard advertising and PR campaigns that were hilarious, entertaining, memorable and, yes, creative but, ultimately, ineffective. They stand out, they make us laugh maybe, but they don’t make us buy.

We’ve also seen and heard ads and pitches that were simple and direct that caused us to respond with action.

Ogilvy’s point is that messaging can be too cute for its own good. Imparting your basic message in a “fascinating” way (to use Mr. Ogilvy’s word) compels your target reader, listener or viewer to pay attention. And it may be more likely to produce results.

Side note: I purchased my copy of this book a few years ago at the annual Greater St. Louis Book Fair. The 2013 edition of the event is just a few days away. If you still read actual books, I encourage you to check it out! Here’s where you can get more info: stlouisbookfair.org

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