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Best Books on Advertising

Updated on February 13, 2019
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations.


The world of advertising is in a constant state of change. Ad campaigns can be started and stopped within a matter of weeks. What worked last year may not work this year. So finding books that can provide advice applicable over time is a challenge. Below are some of the best books on advertising, some of which are decades old, whose principles STILL can apply to today's markets, both online and off.

Oglivy on Advertising

Love the AMC television ad drama Mad Men? Then you'll love David Ogilvy's Ogilvy on Advertising and Confessions of an Advertising Man! In 1962, Time magazine hailed him as "the most sought-after wizard of today's advertising industry." He was truly an icon of the real Mad Men era.

Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963) offers Ogilvy's wisdom on management and advertising. His second book, Ogilvy on Advertising, delves into which ad techniques sell and those that don't. The examples of ads from around the world from the industry's golden age are amazing, making this just fun to look at (so not being able to purchase as an e-book is no big deal!).

Some of the nuggets of knowledge you'll gain from reading Ogilvy on Advertising:

  • How to make TV commercials that sell
  • The secrets of success in business-to-business [B2B] advertising
  • 18 miracles of research

Just imagine if Ogilvy was alive today. Wonder what he'd have to say about Internet advertising and social media. In the chapter "I Predict 13 changes," he predicts that "ways will be found to produce effective television commercials at a more sensible cost." Well, looks like that one came true with our web video capabilities and YouTube. But we can disagree with his prediction that billboards will be abolished. They're stronger than ever with the evolution of electronic billboards.

Tested Advertising Methods

This classic by advertising copywriting genius John Caples is also on the Best Books on Marketing list. It made that list for its relevance in writing headlines and appeals that resonate with target audiences for advertising, marketing and public relations.

A contemporary of David Ogilvy, Ogilvy references Caples throughout his book, Ogilvy on Advertising, for headline writing tips and wrote the forward to Testing Advertising Methods. With that kind of endorsement, it's worth a look for anyone charged with creating advertisements.

Some of chapters have titles that prove Caples' rules of effective headline writing (dare you not to want to check them out!):

  • 22 Ways to Increase Selling Power of Copy
  • Headlines that Attract the Most Readers
  • 17 Ways to Test Your Advertising
  • How to Write the First Paragraph

In Caples' day, these were primarily used for magazine, direct mail and newspaper advertising. However, these principles are just as relevant for Internet advertising and social media.

This is destined to become one of the most valuable reference works in your advertising library.

How to Make Your Advertising Make Money

Even more good stuff from copywriting genius John Caples in How to Make Your Advertising Make Money!

A great companion book to Tested Advertising Methods, check out these must-follow tips for boosting advertising ROI:

  • 12 Ways to Find Advertising Ideas
  • 303 Words and Phrases That Sell
  • How Editorial-Style Ads Can Bring Increased Sales
  • How to Write Sales Letters that Make Money

Like Tested Advertising Methods, many of the tips in this book can also be applied to Internet advertising and social media.

10 Ways to Screw Up an Ad Campaign

While Madison Avenue set creates advertisements on the national and international scale, small business owners often have a difficult time applying the same principles to their local operations. Enter 10 Ways to Screw Up an Ad Campaign... and How to Create Ones that Work by Barry Cohen.

Written in easily applied concepts and tips, 10 Ways provides a wealth of advice for small businesses that can't afford to waste even a couple thousand dollars experimenting with advertisements. Check these topics which will definitely pique the interest of a budget-conscious business owner:

  • Hire the Biggest Ad Agency in Town... When You're the Smallest Advertiser in Town
  • Think You Can't Afford Advertising? Try These Budget Stretchers
  • Promotion: How to Create Larger Than Life Advertising

The 33 Ruthless Rules of Local Advertising

Like 10 Ways to Screw Up an Ad Campaign, The 33 Ruthless Rules of Local Advertising by Michael Corbett is written for small business owners. One of the strengths of this resource is the explanation of electronic media (radio and television -- this is from pre-Internet advertising days) and methods of measuring advertising results.

These budget-conscious principles provided in The 33 Ruthless Rules are definitely worth noting:

  • Always Get Two Prospects for the Price of One
  • Know What a New Customer is Worth to You
  • Avoid the "Sale" Syndrome
  • Use a Proven Scheduling Formula

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


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