In 1972 the agency of advertising pioneer David Ogilvy, which had then generated over $1.48 billion for clients such as Rolls-Royce, attracted new business by placing a full-page ad titled “How to create advertising that sells“, summarizing the results of nearly $5 million in research.

David Ogilvy, How To Create Advertising That Sells

At the top of the list of 38 guidelines was what Ogilvy stressed was the most important decision in advertising:

1. The most important decision. We have learned that the effect of your advertising on your sales depends more on this decision than on any other: How should you position your product?

Should you position SCHWEPPES as a soft drink–or as a mixer?

Should you position DOVE as a product for dry skin or as a product which gets hands really clean?

The results of your campaign depend less on how we write your advertising than how your product is positioned. It follows that positioning should be decided before the advertising is created.

Research can help. Look before you leap.

This is another way of saying that marketing or branding has a bigger impact on advertising and sales than how an ad is written. Ogilvy had put this principle into practice with his campaign for Dove, which set Dove apart from competing soaps by declaring that “Only Dove is one-quarter moisturizing cream.” (Below is an early version of the ad with a different wording emphasizing Dove’s cleansing benefit rather than moisturizing: “Every bar of Dove is 1/4 cleansing cream.”)

The slogan pushed Dove’s sales to the top of the industry and still influences its branding today. Dove’s current marketing strategy now emphasizes feeling beautiful rather than feeling rehydrated or clean, but the importance of positioning remains preeminent. The ad has changed, but the strategy has not: positioning comes first in a successful ad campaign.