Five Books to Improve Your Advertising Skills

“Advertising is a business of words, but advertising agencies are infested with men and women who cannot write … They are helpless as deaf mutes on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.” This was the bleak verdict delivered by ‘Father of Advertising’ David Ogilvy in 1963. Since then, the problem has only worsened. These five books could help to solve it.

  1. Confessions of an Advertising Man, David Ogilvy (1963)

It has sold over one million copies to date—and with good reason. Even today, the bestseller by British advertising legend David Ogilvy is remarkably relevant. His clear, narrative style of writing draws the reader in. Ogilvy’s credo is that writing is all about the content, not the form. Copy needs to be specific rather than clever or witty. People don’t buy from clowns. Most successful campaigns will never win awards, and that still holds true to this day. It is fair to say that Ogilvy was one of the most influential (m)ad men of all time. Even 50 years after it was published, this influential book is still a joy to read.

  1. The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells, Robert W. Bly (1985)

Back to basics. With the help of concise checklists and useful how-tos, Bly provides his readers with the fundamental skills needed to become a successful copywriter. The Copywriter’s Handbook not only makes your copy more readable and persuasive, but also includes tips on finding your way into the industry. Even Ogilvy himself sung the book’s praises: “I don’t know a single copywriter whose work would not be improved by reading this book. And that includes me.” Bly’s guide belongs on the bookshelf of any aspiring copywriter.

  1. Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, Luke Sullivan (1998)

This book’s unusual title is a play on an infamous, but highly successful, series of toilet paper ads that ran from 1964 to 1985 in North America. And the same humorous tone can be found throughout Sullivan’s comprehensive guide. The book covers everything from TV, print, and radio commercials to a brief history of the industry—with examples of the best ads and why they worked. Newer editions also include chapters on digital and social media advertising. Smart, cynical, and most of all witty, this book is guaranteed to make you laugh. It is no wonder it has cemented itself as essential reading for anyone interested in advertising.

  1. Scientific Advertising, Claude C. Hopkins (1923)

This little book was written way back in the days before films had sound. But it is packed full of seemingly timeless wisdom, such as, “The best ads ask no one to buy,” “Don’t think of people in the mass,” and “Headlines on ads are like headlines on news items”. Hopkins also invented A/B testing: “The identical ad run with various headlines differs tremendously in its returns.” This is the reason that Hopkins spent hours and hours writing headlines. The timeless classic will probably outlive even the internet. As its copyright has expired, you can now download the book for free.

  1. Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, Ryan Holiday (2012)

holidayAlthough the title makes a reference to Ogilvy, the book is completely different. Marketing specialist Ryan Holiday demonstrates how easy it is to manipulate the truth in the age of online blogs and warns of the consequences. Fake news can quickly spread around the world. Bloggers cleverly fool their readers and headlines are a decisive factor. The book is both forward-looking and highly controversial. Wonder if Trump owns a copy? It is a must-read for advertisers and consumers alike in today’s media landscape.

To be continued…

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