Did you know that Ogilvy was not the first to use the “electric clock” comparison in a headline?
I came across this bit o’ trivia while writing my post on Ogilvy’s preferred ad layout. I found it written up by Robert Rosenthal at Freaking Marketing, who had done the detective work to find and scan in this Pierce-Arrow ad that ran about 25 years before Ogilvy’s Rolls Royce campaign.
If you consider yourself a student of advertising, you’ll want to read Robert’s entire post to get all the historical details, but any copywriter should find it worthwhile to compare the two headlines and analyze the improvements Ogilvy made to his version.
So here are the two headlines for comparison:
The only sound one can hear in the new Pierce-Arrows is the ticking of the electric clock
“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls Royce comes from the ticking of its electric clock.”
1) Specificity: The Ogilvy ad gives an actual speed. Not only are specifics always more believable than generalities, but in this case, the specific speed makes the reader think that an actual test was conducted to determine this fact. By comparison, the Pierce-Arrows ad reads like hype.
2) Quote marks: The quotation marks around the Rolls Royce headline indicate to the casual reader, scanning the page, that this was a remark made by someone, perhaps by a tester or engineer. And indeed, the subdeck and first bullet point confirm that this is the case. Again, the Pierce-Arrow headline has none of this credibility-building substantiation.
3) Believability of the claim itself: Notice the change from “only sound” to “loudest noise.” For the reader, conjuring up a mental image of driving in a car in which the electric clock is actually louder than the engine is relatively easy, whereas the mind rejects the idea of a moving car making absolutely no noise except for that of the clock. Consequently, the Pierce-Arrow ad practically provokes skepticism and dismissal from the reader.
4) Words fat with emotional associations: the difference between sound and noise may seem subtle, but the emotional connotations are miles apart. Sound could be anything, and all else being equal, the word alone usually has positive associations. Noise, on the other hand, is a nuisance. Tell me I won’t hear a sound in a car, and I’ll think you’re exaggerating or speaking figuratively – would anybody even want to drive in the kind of sensory deprivation chamber that that would require? But tell me that the loudest noise in the car comes from a ticking lock, and I’ll want to experience the serenity of such an exquisitely engineered car/cabin that is capable of nullifying the unpleasant noises and nuisances of the road.
In some ways, my comparison is simply not fair since the Pierce-Arrow ad hails from a far less cynical age than the Rolls Royce Ad. One could suppose that back in the days of the Pierce-Arrow ad, “yeah, sure” and “prove it” probably weren’t the automatic responses to any advertising claim that they are today.
But the transition in audience attitudes wasn’t instantaneous. In fact, you can already see the need for proof and substantiation by the time Ogilvy’s ad rolls around. That’s why the Rolls Royce ad:
If you are an online copywriter here’s what you need to ask yourself:
1) Are you doing the research that Ogilvy did in order to come up with powerful headlines? And once you have that angle of approach, are you anywhere near as careful with your wordsmithing?
2) More importantly, do you think the public has grown any less cynical since the time of that Rolls Royce ad?
3) Most importantly, are you providing more substantiated copy, proof, and pricing information than Ogilvy’s Rolls Royce ad does? Or are you providing less?