On Copywriters (Great Quotes on Advertising, 2)

Good copy involves digging for facts before a word is written, not whirling around to a typewriter keyboard, and starting to bang out words. —Schwab, How to Write a Good Advertisement

I had no desire to make money and not render service, but I certainly had no desire to render service and not make money. That has always been my credo. —Lasker, The Lasker Story, As He Told It

I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I can never find out which half. —John Wanamaker (1838-1922), U.S. businessman

Genius is the art of taking pains. The advertising man who spares the midnight oil will never get very far. —Claude C. Hopkins, Scientific Advertising

When doubt enters a copywriter’s mind, complacency must necessarily fly out. And complacency is an enemy of good copywriting. —Schwab, How to Write a Good Advertisement

J.C. Leyendecker, ad for Arrow Shirts, 1920s.
J.C. Leyendecker, ad for Arrow Shirts, 1920s.

I have discovered the most exciting, the most arduous literary form of all, the most difficult to master, the most pregnant in curious possibilities. I mean the advertisement … It is far easier to write ten passably effective sonnets, good enough to take in the not too enquiring critic, than one effective advertisement that will take in a few thousand of the uncritical buying public. —Aldous Huxley, “Advertisement,” On the Margin

Big ideas are so hard to recognize, so fragile, so easy to kill. Don’t forget that, all of you who don’t have them. —John Elliott

Every time a man puts a new idea across, he faces a dozen men who thought of it before he did. But they only thought of it. —Oren Arnold

The next time you’re in a meeting, look around and identify the yes-butters, the not-knowers, and the why-notters. Why-notters move the world. —Louise Pierson

To swear off making mistakes is very easy. All you have to do is swear off having ideas. —Leo Burnett

When you try to formalize or socialize creative activity, the only sure result is commercial constipation; the good ideas are all hammered out in agony by individuals, not spewed out by groups. —Charles Browder

The secret of all effective originality in advertising is not the creation of new and tricky words and pictures, but one of putting familiar words and pictures into new relationships. —Leo Burnett

Whether you believe you can, or whether you believe you can’t, you’re absolutely right. —Henry Ford

Advertising is a business of words, but advertising agencies are infested with men and women who cannot write. They cannot write advertisements, and they cannot write plans. They are helpless as deaf mutes on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. —David Ogilvy (Ogilvy on Advertising is one of my all-time favorite books on the subject; and the illustrations are wonderful, too.)

The human brain is like an automobile engine. It works best when it is hot. When you sit down to write an advertisement, your brain is cold. —John Caples

Trying to please [all the critics] is like trying to hit a dozen different targets with a single arrow. If you want to write enthusiastic copy, you must banish critics from your mind entirely. Ignore them. Forget them. Write the way you want to write … the way good advertising must be written. And write fast. Get steamed up. Make your copy sizzle. Put all the power of a runaway locomotive into it. Later go over it in cold blood and cut out the things your critics will object to. In that way you can produce copy that is both lively and acceptable. If you write with the prejudices and preferences of other people uppermost in your mind, you will produce copy as correct as a school child’s essay, but utterly lifeless. —John Caples

Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science, and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. —David Ogilvy

Don’t keep a dog and bark yourself. Any fool can write a bad advertisement, but it takes a genius to keep his hands off a good one. —David Ogilvy (advice to clients)

Steep yourself in your subject, work like hell, and love, honor and obey your hunches. —Leo Burnett

If you insist on being different just for the sake of being different, you can always come down in the morning with a sock in your mouth. —Leo Burnett (quoting a former employer)

Ad writers forget they are salesmen and try to be performers. Instead of sales, they seek applause. —Claude Hopkins


  • I’m a copywriter as well as an art historian and historian. Some years back, for inspiration, I collected my favorite quotes about advertising; they ended up in the appendix of the Versaquill Copywriting WorkbookThe quotes above are the the second installment: I’ll be publishing more here occasionally.
  • Want wonderful art delivered weekly to your inbox? Members of my free Sunday Recommendations list (email DuranteDianne@gmail.com) receive three art-related suggestions every week: check out my favorites from last year’s recommendations. For more goodies, check out my Patreon page.
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