Go ahead and wrinkle your nose when you see OMG acronyms and emoticons sprinkled in marketing material. Your high school or college English teacher might support your dislike for these linguistic shortcuts, but that’s how people communicate today.

What’s more important to you? Being grammatically correct, or converting prospects into customers? It might be time to re-think the way you connect with consumers using copywriting. There’s a blast from the past who can teach us all a thing or two – in this case, three – basic tenets about copywriting that still stand the test of time. His name is David Ogilvy.

David who?

It’s possible you might not be familiar with David Ogilvy. He’s often referred to as “the father of advertising,” or “the original Don Draper of Mad Men fame.” He died in 1999, but left behind a legacy of advice that refuses to be knocked down by the evolution of contemporary language.

Ogilvy offered four suggestions for copywriting, which even today work for content creation.

1.   Write the way you talk.

Don’t split infinitives (what are those, anyway?). Don’t end a sentence with a preposition. Use exclamation points sparingly, if at all. These were nonnegotiable commandments issued by your English teacher. They were trying to be helpful. The rules of grammar give structure to written communication.

You may not have noticed it at the time, but if you had listened carefully you may have discovered that even your English teacher didn’t speak the way she or he taught you to write. Here’s David Ogilvy’s observation: “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.”

Your target audience has an exclusive collection of words and phrases. If you want to tell them a story about your product or service, you need to tell it to them in their lexicon.

2. Find the story.

David Ogilvy was a master storyteller, but he believed that anybody had that talent. He also believed that the key was to find things that helped to put a product or service into a prospects worldview.

One of his agency’s clients was Rolls-Royce. The headline he created for a full-page newspaper ad was “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”

Then he proceeded to write more than 700 words of copy to offer perspective and help people to understand why noise from an electric clock thing was such a big deal. Those are more words than what you’ll read in this article. Prospects stop reading or listening to what you have to say because the story hasn’t kept their attention.

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

This piece of advice from Ogilvy might be difficult to believe. But go find a copy of the ad. You’ll find one example here. Count the sentences in each paragraph and check out the sentence lengths. We certainly don’t speak the same way now as people did when the ad was created in 1959 – but go ahead and read the copywriting aloud. It’s beautifully conversational.

If you want help getting to the short/short/short state David Ogilvy suggests, try out the Hemingway app. The online tool will help you remove words that get in the way of your storytelling.

Connect with what you share

You have a product or service you want to sell to customers. It’s not what you have in common with them. It’s not what you share. The thing that connects you is the problem.

Lead with that, rather than your solution. Offer perspective and education. Show them you understand the problem. They’ll be more receptive to your solution – especially when you tell them a story about it using their preferred language. Which might include a 😁or two. Learn more about how we can help.