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David Ogilvy

For over a half century, David Ogilvy was the dapper executive behind New York’s powerhouse marketing firm Ogilvy & Mather. He was also the original “Mad Man,” a martini-slugging, pipe-puffing male now personified by Don Draper and idealized by a generation of guys who, like myself, have gone on one too many outings to Pottery Barn.

But Ogilvy’s brilliance must not be lost in this romanticization. He is also considered by many to be “The Father of Advertising,” a creative wit who coined such memorable quips as, “the consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife — don’t insult her intelligence.”

On September 7th, 1982, Ogilvy distilled four decades of this insight and experience into a memo he sent to all agency employees. It was called, simply, “How to Write,” and it is reproduced below as it originally appeared.

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.

Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.

Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.

2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6. Check your quotations.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.



This memo, along with other gems, may be found in The Unpublished David Ogilvy. If you’d like to start with Rule #1, you can pick up a paperback copy of Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson’s Writing that Works: How to Communicate Effectively in Business.

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