Comment & Opinion

8 pieces of advice advertising genius David Ogilvy would give F2P marketeers

From UA and testing to honesty and brand

8 pieces of advice advertising genius David Ogilvy would give F2P marketeers

If you haven’t read David Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man, I suggest you stop reading right now and order a copy.

Although first published in 1963, and only properly covering print advertising (TV adverts are mentioned almost in passing), it’s a tour de force, whether laying out the tenets of how the advertising industry should work or just how to practise good business when you’re running a company housing creatives and administrators.

So, in the context of the role of advertising in the mobile games industry - which is currently concentrated on User Acquisition (UA) for free-to-play games - I wondered whether there was any advice to be gleaned from the “Father of Advertising” (aka the original Mad Man) - and found eight points, which you can browse by clicking the button below.


Click here to view the list »
  • 1 On the failure of companies to advertise, and build brands

    The first part of this statement is perhaps not something that many F2P companies feel they struggle with, given the importance currently placed on UA, but dig down into Ogilvy's philosophy of advertising and he's all about building the brand.

    From that point of view, when it comes to F2P games, we could expect him to take UA campaigns seriously - more seriously than most developers seem to take them, certainly in creative terms - but he'd also warn companies that as with retail price cutting, UA campaigns donâ't build a brand. They just get users.

    And a brand is the only thing that will give you differentiation from your competitors and hence long term success.

    Equally, for paid games, Ogilvy would argue that releasing a paid game and hoping Apple features you on the App Store is not a marketing campaign.

    "If they [clients] would invest half as much in the creative work of launching new products as they invest in the technical work of developing them, they would see fewer of their conceptions abort," he notes.

    A Ogilvy branding masterpiece - Schwepps' Commander Whitehead

    Neatly, for the purposes of this article, the verb which we use for making game is also develop, making this quotation obviously applicable.

  • 2 The value of advertising is only measured in terms of return on investment

    Surprisingly for someone praised as the Father of Advertising, Ogilvy was notoriously hardheaded about the ultimate role of advertising.

    It wasn't about making art. It wasn't about being clever for its own sake. It wasn't about getting people to notice the advert. It was about spending money to sell more products and ultimately to make more money for the advertiser/client.

    The fact many companies don't experience this virtuous cycle, was according to Ogilvy, either because the product or the advertising (or both) was sub-standard.

    Famously, he turned down clients whose products he didn't think were good enough, and always used the products he advertised - ranging from Rolls Royce cars to Maxwell House coffee, and Hathaway shirts - in his everyday life.

    Of course, the amount of information now available as part of user acquisition campaigns would make anyone's eyes water, let alone a print ad man from the 1960s. It should be clear very quickly to any gamer developer whether a campaign is ROI-positive.

    Indeed, such is the scale of investment that large-scale UA requires, it would be surprising if any companies run UA campaigns that they can't track properly in terms of overall ROI, and that don't make them money. And those that can't or don't quickly go bust.

    However, citing point 1, building a successful brand is not just about ROI-positive UA campaigns. That may be the fuel to accelerate your growth engine, but don't confuse successful UA with building a game people want to play for months and years - whether they pay or not.


  • 3 Don't let men write adverts for products that target women

    Self-explanatory, but even in the general absence of games that target women - we can extend this statement in a number of ways.

    If the target audience for your game is teenaged boys, then you need to focus test every part of your product, including advertising, including UA campaigns, with teenaged boys.

    Conversely, if you don't know who your game is aimed at, you've probably failed. 'People who like good games' is not a target audience, although people who like Clash of Clans is.

    Finally, if you are making games where you expect the audience split to be as female as male, and your entire development team and marketing department is made up of men, you've probably already failed.


  • 4 Test everything

    Surprisingly, David Ogilvy knew a lot about research having worked at Gallup's Audience Research Institute before becoming an advertising man. This lead to him to be evangelical about quantifiable actions.

    "Test everything," he would say.

    "If you pretest your product with consumers, and pretest your advertising, you will do well in the marketplace."

    "Test your promise. Test your media. Test your headlines and your illustrations. Test the size of your advertisements. Test your frequency. Test your level of expenditure. Test your commercials. Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving."

    Replace the final "advertising" with "game" and you get the picture.

    Hathaway's eye-patch campaign - another Ogilvy branding masterstroke

    Of course, given the widespread use of A/B testing these days, this sort of exaltation should be game development 101, but Ogilvy's point is that testing product and marketing is a combined action and occurs as early as possible in the launch cycle; a lesson that many developers apparently still need to learn.

    Ahead of his time in other areas, Ogilvy also told clients to test in a small market first, something which would allow the 24 of 25 new products that fail to die "inconspicuously and economically in test markets".

    That means you test them and then kill them. Not test them, find them to be failing in test markets, and then release them globally anyway.

  • 5 Don't waste time on problem babies

    A byproduct of the "always testing everything process" is to focus on your successes.

    There are a lot of mobile games currently live on app stores and the vast majority of them should be removed. They are problem babies.

    Like few other business sectors before it, the app ecosystem is a winner takes all environment. You might not be a Supercell with only three games, but you should not be operating a portfolio business.

    Kill your underperforming games. Invest all your love, time and resources into your successful games, even if that is only your 'relatively more successful' games.


  • 6 The consumer isn't a moron. She's your wife.

    One of my favourite Ogilvy quotes, the moron-wife combo may not be as applicable to mobile games as to selling Dove face cream - something Ogilvy proved to be very successful at - but it can clearly be re-positioned with respect to say, your son or daughter.

    If they are morons, you have no one to blame but yourself.


  • 7 Be honest about your product

    When spending millions of dollars in the 1960s on US print advertising, you would have thought that companies would have had confidence in their products.

    That said, Ogilvy was lucky to avoid taking Ford as a client back in the days of its failed Edsel launch. Although he doesn't pass comment on the car, he does, unsurprisingly, place the honesty of advertising at the heart whether a company honesty thinks their products are good, and worth advertising honestly (c.f. point 6).

    How to sell a Rolls Royce - the Ogilvy way

    "Good products can be sold with honest advertising. If you don't think your product is good, you have no business to be advertising it," he writes.

    Replace "product" with "game" and you have an assertion no amount of positive-ROI UA can trump.

    Indeed, Ogilvy is of the opinion that the fastest way to kill an inferior product is to too aggressive advertise it.

  • 8 And remember, build a brand

    But to end at the beginning, when all else is said, for David Ogilvy, the point of advertising is to build a profitable brand; that is a coherent image for your product that is maintained in all your communications for a long period of time - years, if not decades.

    And this is an area - the decision about what your brand is and stands for - in which testing and research cannot help.

    "You have actually got to use judgement," he says.

    "(I notice reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgement; 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.)"

    Replace "research" with "user acquisition" and you get the picture.


Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

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Brian Baglow
Couldn't agree more. However, the lack of business knowledge in the games sector means that our ideas of creativity and innovation begin and end with the game experience itself. We can't or won't innovate when it comes to business models, revenue streams or marketing, because it's all quite... distasteful. It would imply we're doing this for filthy money.
Tobias Piwek
Nice article, Jon. It's amazing to see how so many of these principles from half a century ago do still ring true in this day and age.