From the mouths of Mad Men

MADMEN-logoI was having lunch with a friend who is well-respected and recognized in the advertising industry (age of “Mad Men”), when we both started reciting well-known marketing/advertising quotes and how there are as relevant today as they were 40 to 60 years ago. Unfortunately, too many marketing director types immediately dismiss these pearls of marketing wisdom because they think “that was then and this is now.” The problem with that type of thinking is that these people are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again because they don’t get one important fact: marketing has the same challenges as it did years ago which, in short, is the need to differentiate your message from competitors so people buy your product or do business with you.  It’s we just have a lot more channels to contend with today.

So, here are five famous marketing/advertising quotes, with a few thoughts on how they relate to your efforts, whether you’re a social media manager, content marketer, or advertiser:

1.  “The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and you won’t be interesting until you do and say things imaginatively, originally, freshly.” – Bill Bernbach

My all-time favorite advertising/marketing quote because it really goes to the heart of getting your product or company’s message recognized and acted upon. If you believe what Mr. Bernbach says, and frankly, how can you not, then the whole idea of developing uninspiring, status-quo, “beige” marketing messaging should never be settled for again…ever. Why put forth the effort of creating something that becomes largely invisible to your audience? This quote goes hand in hand with another Bernbach quote:  “You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You’ve got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen.”

2.  “When you reach for the stars you might not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.” – Leo Burnett

I’ve worked both on the agency side as well as the client side and to this date, I’m still shocked at how often the client thinks so little about the growth opportunities for their product or service, while the agency thinks that the product or service is just the “cat’s meow.”  Don’t be an “Eeyore-type.” Think big! While there’s also something to be said for having realistic expectations about what you can achieve, there’s nothing wrong with having big dreams and aiming to make them a reality.  If you aim a little higher you might just find yourself achieving things that you might not have thought possible.

3.  “Why keep a dog and bark yourself?” – David Ogilvy

If you’ve decided that working with a marketing firm is going to help you communicate your value proposition in ways and forms that you otherwise might not have come up with, then believe in the abilities of those you’ve entrusted to do this and step away from playing copywriter or art director. Yes, you’ll know your product much better than the agency in the same way the agency knows how to communicate it to the marketplace much better than you. In short, collaborating is a good thing. Dictating to your marketing partner, well, that’s not how to get the best work done.

4.  “I’d rather apologize than to be so timid as to never try and do anything smart or brave.” – Lee Clow

Lee, who created legendary advertising ranging from Apple Computer’s “Think Different” to the Energizer Bunny to Taco Bell’s Chihuahua to California Cooler, knows of which he speaks. The reason these brands became megabrands is because they recognized good work and weren’t afraid, yes, unafraid, to put it out there for the world to embrace. They rejected the status quo. While your company might not ever become a megabrand, it certainly has in it the ability to fascinate your audience more than it does now and in doing so make your competitors say “Why didn’t we think of that!”

5.  “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” – David Ogilvy

The headline or title of your ad, blog post, collateral piece, Twitter post, YouTube video, etc., is the most effective way to get people to give you the 8 seconds of attention that you want before the reader decides to move on to something else.  In short, the purpose of your headline is to get people to read your first line. The purpose of your opening line is to get people to read the next one.  If you don’t embrace – and more importantly, implement – this principle, you’re going to miss out on a lot of readers. Employ headlines that stop the prospective customer.  Don’t let it be anything but scintillating.

OK, I was going to stop at 5 but I thought of five more quick ones that really should be on anyone list of remembered marketing & advertising quotes:

“The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.” – David Ogilvy

“Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula.” – Bill Bernbach

“Creativity may well be the last legal unfair competitive advantage we can take to run over the competition.” – Dave Trott

“Stopping advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time.” – Henry Ford

“Don’t tell me how good you make it; tell me how good it makes me when I use it.” – Leo Burnett

So take these inspirational quotes to heart and make your advertising and marketing ancestors proud! If you want your brand and products to get more noticed in today’s media-saturated world, you might not have to look any further than the original Mad Men and marketing legends. Their legends for a reason!


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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