3,000 years ago, the Greeks inscribed some simple rules for living on the columns at Apollo's Temple at Delphi. The most famous of these is "Know Thyself." But in all, there were 147 maxims. I think all but about eight or ten (which are gendered or too religious for my taste) make a lot of sense today. You can't find much wrong with most of them.
What's more, as complete and intelligent as they are, they're clear, too. Like I said, simple.
As far as I'm concerned, the same can be said for most of the maxims coined by David Ogilvy through the years. Of course, some have grown dated, or aged badly. But most of them have a blunt and uncommon sense that informs and illuminates. I've selected a few dozen here.
ORACLE AT DELPHI OGILVYISMS
2. Obey the law.
5. Be overcome by justice.
6. Base your knowledge on learning.
7. Understand after you have heard what has occurred.
8. Know yourself.
11. Think as a mortal.
12. Act as if you are a stranger.
13. Honor your family.
14. Control yourself.
15. Help your friends.
16. Control your anger.
17. Exercise prudence.
18. Honor divine providence.
19. Do not use an oath.
20. Love friendship.
21. Concentrate on education.
22. Pursue honor.
23. Seek wisdom.
24. Praise the good.
25. Do not accuse anyone.
26. Praise virtue.
27. Practice what is just.
28. Be benevolent to your friends.
29. Guard yourself against your enemies.
30. Exercise nobility of character.
31. Shun evil.
32. Be interested in public affairs.
33. Guard what is yours.
34. Shun what belongs to others.
35. Listen to everyone.
36. Be religiously silent.
37. Do favors for your friends.
38. Nothing in excess.
39. Use time in an economical way.
40. Look toward the future.
41. Hate violent and offensive behavior.
42. Respect those who have taken refuge in holy temples.
43. Be accommodated to all.
46. Fear deceit.
47. Praise everyone.
48. Be a seeker of wisdom.
49. Judge according to divine law.
50. Think first, act later.
51. Shun murder.
52. Wish for things possible.
53. Associate with the wise.
54. Test the character of a person.
55. Give back what you have received.
56. Do not suspect anyone.
57. Exercise knowledge and skills in profession, trade or science.
58. Give what you mean to give.
59. Honor good deeds.
60. Be jealous of no one.
61. Be on your guard.
62. Praise hope.
63. Hate a false accusation.
64. Gain possessions justly.
65. Honor good men.
66. Know the person who judges.
69. Do not sign a guarantee when obtaining a loan.
70. Speak plainly.
71. Associate with your peers.
72. Govern your expenses.
73. Be happy with what you have.
74. Revere a sense of shame.
75. Fulfill a favor.
76. Pray for happiness.
77. Be fond of fortune.
78. Observe what you have heard.
79. Work for what you can own.
80. Despise strife.
81. Detest disgrace.
82. Restrain your tongue.
83. Guard against violent and offensive behavior.
84. Judge in a just way.
85. Use what you have.
86. Judge without accepting gifts.
87. Accuse someone (only) when he/she is present.
88. Speak (only) when you know.
89. Do not behave in a violent way.
90. Live without sorrow.
91. Behave with gentleness to others.
92. Complete your activities without fear and without shrinking back.
93. Treat everyone with kindness and friendship.
94. Do not curse your sons.
96. Benefit yourself.
97. Behave with a friendly and courteous manner.
98. Respond in a timely way.
99. Struggle without losing your good reputation.
100. Act without repenting.
101. When you err, repent.
102. Control your eyes.
103. Think without time limits.
104. Act quickly.
105. Guard friendship.
106. Be grateful.
107. Pursue harmonic co-existence.
108. Do not reveal entrusted secrets.
109. Fear rulers (and ruling).
110. Pursue what is profitable.
111. Accept opportunity with pleasure.
112. Do away with enmities.
113. Accept old age.
114. Do not boast about your physical strength.
115. Your words should be words of kindness and respect.
116. Flee enmity.
117. Acquire wealth in a just way.
118. Do not abandon what you have decided to do.
119. Despise evil.
120. Venture into danger with prudence.
121. Do not get tired of learning.
122. Do not leave things undone due to thrift.
124. Love the people you feed.
125. Do not oppose somebody absent.
126. Respect the elders.
127. Teach the young.
128. Do not trust wealth.
129. Respect yourself.
130. Do not use insolence to govern.
131. Honor your ancestors by placing flower wreaths on their tombs.
132. Die for your country.
133. Do not be discontented by life.
134. Do not make fun of the dead.
135. Sympathize with the unlucky.
136. Gratify without harming.
137. Grieve for nobody.
140. Do not wrong the dead.
141. Be well off as a mortal.
142. Do not trust fortune.
143. As a child, be well behaved.
144. As a teenager, control yourself.
145. As middle-age, be just.
146. As an old man, be sensible.
147. On reaching the end, be without sorrow.
1. The consumer is not a moron; she is your wife.
2. Never write an advertisement you wouldn’t want your own family to read
3. Advertise what is unique.
4. We sell or else.
5. Big ideas are usually simple ideas.
6. Every word in the copy must count.
7. A tight ship is a happy ship, provided it is an informal ship.
8. If you resign accounts every time you feel like doing so, you will empty your portfolio every year.
9. Tolerate genius.
10. I always use my clients’ products. This is not toadyism but elementary good manners.
11. Some of the best ideas come from account executives and researchers and others.
12. Encourage this, you need all the ideas you can get.
13. We look after clients and we teach young advertising people.
14. Get rid of sad dogs who spread gloom.
15. I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support, rather than for illumination.
16. A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.
17. Advertising is only evil when it advertises evil things.
18. What really decides consumers to buy or not to buy is the content of your advertising, not its form.
19. What you say in advertising is more important than how you say it.
20. There is no need for advertisements to look like advertisements. If you make them look like editorial pages, you will attract about 50 per cent more readers.
21. The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.
22. 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.
23. In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.
24. I don't know the rules of grammar... If you're trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.
25. I have a theory that the best ads come from personal experience. Some of the good ones I have done have really come out of the real experience of my life, and somehow this has come over as true and valid and persuasive.
26. Committees can criticize advertisements, but they should never be allowed to create them.
27. The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.
28. Hard work never killed a [person.] [People] die of boredom, psychological conflict, and disease. They do not die of hard work.
29. Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.
30. If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.
31. Don't bunt. Aim out of the ballpark. Aim for the company of immortals.
32. I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.
33. The headlines which work best are those which promise the reader a benefit.
34. Only amateurs use short copy.
35. Sound an alarm! Advertising, not deals, builds brands.
36. Some copywriters write tricky headlines – double meanings, puns and other obscurities. This is counter-productive. In the average newspaper your headline has to compete with 350 others. Readers travel fast through this jungle. Your headline should telegraph what you want to say.
37. Consumers still buy products whose advertising promises them value for money, beauty, nutrition, relief from suffering, social status and so on.
38. The hallmarks of a potentially successful copywriter include: Obsessive curiosity about products, people and advertising. A sense of humor. A habit of hard work. The ability to write interesting prose for printed media, and natural dialogue for television. The ability to think visually.
39. Any fool can write a bad advertisement, but it takes a genius to keep his hands off a good one.
40. Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process.
41. Most campaigns are too complicated. They reflect a long list of objectives, and try to reconcile the divergent views of too many executives. By attempting to cover too many things, they achieve nothing.
42. Set yourself to becoming the best-informed person in the agency on the account to which you are assigned.
43. The best leaders are apt to be found among those executives who have a strong component of unorthodoxy in their characters. Instead of resisting innovation, they symbolize it – and companies cannot grow without innovation. Great leaders almost always exude self-confidence.
44. It will help you recognize a big idea if you ask yourself five questions: 1 Did it make me gasp when I first saw it? 2 Do I wish I had thought of it myself? 3 Is it unique? 4 Does it fit the strategy to perfection? 5 Could it be used for 30 years?
45. Advertisements with long copy convey the impression that you have something important to say, whether people read the copy or not.
46. Agencies add new services the way universities add new courses. Nothing wrong with that if you also discontinue services which have outlived their relevance. To keep your boat moving through the water, keep scraping the barnacles off its bottom.
47. The day after a new business presentation, send the prospect a three-page letter summarizing the reasons why he should pick your agency. This will help him make the right decision.
49. You cannot bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them in buying it.
50. First, study the product you are going to advertise. The more you know about it, the more likely you are to come up with a big idea for selling it.
51. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret.
52. Whenever you can, make the product itself the hero of your advertising. If you think the product too dull, I have news for you: there are no dull products, only dull writers.
53. I asked an indifferent copywriter what books he had read about advertising. He told me that he had not read any; he preferred to rely on his own intuition. ‘Suppose,’ I asked, ‘your gall-bladder has to be removed this evening. Will you choose a surgeon who has read some books on anatomy and knows where to find your gall-bladder, or a surgeon who relies on his intuition?
54. If it doesn't sell, it isn't creative.
55. All my experience says that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short.
56. It follows that your advertising should consistently project the same image, year after year. This is difficult to achieve, because there are always forces at work to change the advertising.
57. You can do homework from now until doomsday, but you will never win fame and fortune unless you also invent big ideas.
58. Do you think it childish to use a set of written principles to guide the management of an advertising agency? I can only tell you that mine have proved invaluable in keeping a complicated enterprise on course.
Since the Maxims at Delphi were inscribed, and since David Ogilvy roamed the earth, we have spent countless hours ignoring what's worked, ignoring common sense, seeking some new paradigm that only we understand. In short, we spend our days making things confusing, baffling, inscrutable. Doing the opposite of what we should.
I suppose Shingy is an easy mark as an example. So forgive me for the cheap-shot.
Back to when things made sense?