Sell Your Pen

The goal of advertising, simply put, is to sell something. But more broadly, to advertise means to convince – meaning that everyone, regardless of their profession, can benefit from learning how to improve their advertising skills, because who doesn’t rely on persuasion at some point in their lives?

However, if you’ve ever tried your hand at convincing someone (or multiple people), then you know that persuasion is a frustratingly difficult endeavor. It can often feel like trying to find your way blindfolded through a maze, constantly running into dead ends that you didn’t see coming, desperately hoping to find the right way to your end goal. Advertising will always be a maze, there’s no escaping that, but there are ways to remove the blindfold and make navigating this maze much easier.

When trying to understand the best way to advertise, in the broadest sense of the word, it makes sense to turn to the so-called “Father of Advertising,” David Ogilvy. Ogilvy left us no shortage of insightful and succinct quotes, but one in particular especially conveys how to go about advertising:

“What you say in advertising is more important than how you say it.”

Focusing too much on how we should go about persuading instead of what the basis of our persuasion should be to begin with is a pitfall that we far too frequently walk into. Imagine, for example, that you are creating a website for your online business: Where do you start? Do you begin by toiling over the graphic design and website layout? Do you pull your hair out trying to find just the right way to word your messaging? According to Ogilvy, the answer to these questions is an emphatic no.

How you package your product or service visually and stylistically is of course a crucial part of advertising, but it should never be your starting point. You should instead begin by figuring out your what, for it is this what which ultimately attracts the consumer. For example, in the famous “Sell me this pen” scene from The Wolf of Wall Street the ones who fail to successfully convince Leonardo DiCaprio to buy a pen are the ones who focus first on the how instead of the what – they try to come up with persuading selling points, like “this may be the last pen you ever have to buy,” before they ever consider the obvious but crucial question of “what makes someone want to buy a pen?”.

Once you figure out this what – unfortunately, it’s not always as easy as giving a piece of paper to someone without a pen and telling them to write on it – only then should you focus on how to package and deliver it; otherwise, you’re just feeling your way through a maze with no end in sight.