David Ogilvy on confessing your sins and writing in the first person.

Written by Cole Schafer


In episode one of Game of Thrones, Ned Stark lops off a man’s head with a sword the size of small tree. Blood spews, the skull tumbles and his adolescent son looks on in horror.

Later, he pulls his son aside and asks him…

“… do you understand why I had to kill him?”

His son gives a fairly ambiguous answer, the equivalent to a shrug. Sensing his confusion, Stark answers the question for him…

“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.”

Writing is far from beheading.

But, I think Stark’s advice rings true for both writers and brands doing the brunt of their writing in the third-person.

If you’re making claims, sharing beliefs and spreading ideas you should have the balls to write said claims and beliefs and ideas in the first person.

Directly from the horse’s mouth.

David Ogilvy touches on this belief, briefly, while introducing his book Confessions of an Advertising Man

“By writing this book in the old-fashioned first person singular, I have committed an offense against a convention of contemporary American manners. But I think it artificial to write ‘we’ when I am confessing ‘my’ sins and describing ‘my’ adventures.”

Ogilvy was in good company.

Ernest Hemingway, ironically an “American” writer, shared this affection for the first person with David Ogilvy.

But, for very different reasons.

While Ogilvy reached for the first person because of authenticity purposes, Hemingway did so because he believed it was just better writing. Plain and simple.

In A moveable Feast, Hemingway makes the following argument…

*Hemingway is typing now*

“When you first start writing stories in the first person, if the stories are made so real that people believe them, the people reading them nearly always think the stories really happened to you.

That is natural because while you were making them up you had to make them happen to the person who was telling them. If you do this successfully enough, you make the person who is reading them believe that the things happened to him too.”

In closing…

Whether you’re writing to remain authentic or to make your reader feel as though she is reading something that is happening to her, it’s worthwhile to consider the first person.

But, I digress.

By Cole Schafer.