What makes a good copywriter? Let’s ask David Ogilvy.

Written by Cole Schafer


You will get different answers.

An advertising copywriter might claim “good” copywriting is about writing an ad, that if done well, could loosely be described as art.

A sales copywriter, on the other hand, would argue that “good” copywriting can be measured by whether or not an ad sells.

However, according to the late great David Ogilvy, the truth of what makes for a “good” copywriter lies somewhere in the middle of these two schools of thought.

David Ogilvy’s killer poet metaphor.

When David Ogilvy stepped onto the scene with his agency, Ogilvy & Mather, in the late 40s he did what all greats do… he changed the conversation.

From spouting out epic lines like “the customer is not a moron, she’s your wife” to creating advertising for dominant brands like American Express, Sears Roebuck, IBM and Merrill Lynch… Ogilvy quickly became a reigning king during the golden age of advertising.

He was a gentleman with strong views –– strong views he could back up with a glowing portfolio of work that would take most admen several lifetimes to match.

One area of advertising where Ogilvy was particularly opinionated was copywriting; his first love that got him into the game.

At some point or another, a mentor of his said something to him that resonated, something that he would eventually pass along to the copywriters who worked under him at Ogilvy & Mather…

“Most good copywriters fall into two categories. Poets. And killers. Poets see an ad as an end. Killers as a means to an end. If you are both a killer and poet, you get rich.”

If you’re both a killer and a poet, you get rich.

Advertising copywriters (or perhaps creative copywriters) are poets. Sales copywriters are killers.

What Ogilvy argues is that while either is “good” enough to make a living in advertising, both make you and the brands you work with a legend.

I’m fighting desperately to be both.

By Cole Schafer.