Not only was it the first book to bring advertising to the attention of the public at large, but it presented it as a thoughtful, professional business as well as a colourful one.
The fact that it remains the only book on advertising many people have ever read is testament to the durability of the Ogilvy & Mather founder's philosophy. His views on managing agencies, winning clients and building campaigns are as relevant in the internet age as they were when Ogilvy first espoused them.
Today, Confessions remains the most successful advertising book of all time, having sold more than 1.5 million copies. It has become a standard text in business schools, shaping the views of thousands of students and encouraging some to take up careers in advertising.
Asked why he had never written something similar, the legendary adman Ray Rubicam confessed that "David Ogilvy took it all and put it in his book".
The popularity of Confessions stems from its highly readable juxtaposition of Ogilvy's personal history, his advertising philosophy - that the purpose of advertising is to make sales - and management principles. Ogilvy called it "a textbook sugar-coated with anecdotes".
Ogilvy's biographer, Ken Roman, says: "What makes the book endure is Ogilvy's ability to distil experience into principles and state these in memorable aphorisms." Most of those aphorisms hold true 50 years later, from "You cannot bore people into buying" to "The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Don't insult her intelligence."
With Confessions, Ogilvy joined the elite of industry philosophers - Rosser Reeves, Leo Burnett and Bill Bernbach - who had clear views on what constituted good advertising and made sure their agencies practised what they preached.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Ogilvy wrote Confessions with no great expectations it would be a success. Although a dozen publishers expressed an interest, he thought the book would sell no more than 4,000 copies.
- Seeing the book more as a way of attracting new business to his agency, Ogilvy assigned the royalties to his son as a 21st birthday present.
- The director of the US Travel Service, an O&M client, was so impressed with Confessions that he sent his copy to President Kennedy.
- An associate of Ogilvy told him he'd found a copy of Confessions in the erotica section of a Paris bookstore next to The Story Of O."There is much to be gained from a headline," the author replied.