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Ogilvy: “Direct Response Is my First Love. Later it Became my Secret Weapon”

By in ACT! e-Marketing Copywriting Tips, Money Making Tips with Your ACT! Database | 6 comments

I love the TV series Mad Men. I’ve always been a fan and a student of the post-WWII, baby-boomer advertising industry which started on Madison Avenue and invented consumerism worldwide. While the show’s writers spin award-winning weekly dramatic tales, the “advertising accounts” strategized about in Don Draper’s office and during 3-martini lunches are grounded in fact from the era.

Amazingly, some of the show’s sponsors, like BMW and Clorox, have TV commercial pedigrees dating back to the early days of TV sponsorships. The show launches their commercials with a short backgrounder slide on the history of the advertiser’s TV spots. Mad Men should be required viewing for all advertising journalism students–and inbound marketers.

David Ogilvy’s path to advertising icon status predated the 1950s, but his reputation was cemented during The Golden Age of Advertising. But unlike some of his peers, David was schooled in the ways of direct response advertising, as he says, having bought his “first direct mail course from Dartnell in Chicago with my own money.”

Direct Response Ads Are Measurable

Why was this so important? Because direct response, unlike general advertising, was measurable–something we take for granted today with our Google AdWords, Google Analytics and email marketing metrics. No matter how cleverly written a pay-per-click ad is, for example, you won’t continue to throw money at it if it doesn’t produce new leads or orders. You pays your money, and within minutes, hours or days, you know if you won, lost or broke even on that investment. That’s direct response. DO (as he was known) said, “Direct response is my first love. Later it became my secret weapon.”

David was such a believer in the principles of direct response that he said, “No copy should ever be presented to a client until it has been vetted by a direct response expert.” He steadfastly believed that when you spent a client’s money, you had to show a return on that investment–not just earn a bunch of creative (“whatever that means”) awards for the agency–a lesson that still holds up today, probably more than ever. Not only is Ogilvy, the man, still revered, but his company is still one of the world’s leading advertising agencies as part of the WPP Group of London.

Homage to the Original Mad Men

In homage to the upcoming season of Mad Men, I’ll be sharing wisdom from other sages of the Golden Age of Advertising. As you look for new ways to market your business, there’s no finer inspiration than the original Mad Men. Take it from Advertising Hall of Fame Honoree David Ogilvy who says in this video, “For 40 years I’ve been a voice crying in the wilderness to get my fellow advertising practitioners to take direct response seriously. Today, my first love has come into its own. You face a golden future.”


  1. Hey Lori,

    I love the blog post! I have recently gotten hooked on Mad Men as well and have been brainstorming ideas for new blog posts incorporating this Golden Age of Advertising. Looks like you beat me to it :)!!

    I especially like your emphasis on return on investment as one of the greatest principles of direct response marketing.

    I look forward to reading more Mad Men wisdom!


    • Annie, great minds! Let’s divide and conquer…there are at least 50 great ones in the Ad Hall of Fame! 🙂

  2. Yes, great minds! Sounds good to me.

    Just took some time to listen to the Olgivy excerpt. Right on target. A little prophetic…

    I’ll let you know when I get a blog post up!

  3. Direct response is all the more “direct” now that people can just click the ad instead of remembering a phone number. I drive down the highway these days and see billboard after billboard that just say “advertise here.” No wonder.

    • Or as I like to say, “All media has its place. But if you want results, go direct.” Thanks for the comment, Nick.

  4. Direct response marketing is a great tactic to measure the success of your campaign, good post.

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