There are so many must-read advertising books. The subjects range from creativity to behavioural economics, strategy, divergent thinking, problem solving, social anthropology, marketing science, customer insight… the list goes on and on. In fact there are even so many lists of must-read advertising books that the lists go on and on. Exhausted from these never-ending reading lists, Lucian, Harry and Tom decided to make the list to end all lists, The World Cup of Advertising Books.


100k+ impressions and 4,979 votes later, The World Cup of Advertising Books is over. We didn’t think it would go that big, we didn’t predict the winners, there were a lot of things we didn’t see coming, some things we did and we’ve made some observations along the way we’d like to share.

We did miss a few books that people strongly felt should be on the list. Perhaps the most prominent titles lacking were; Where the Suckers Moon, Book of Gossage, The Art of Advertising & How Not To Plan. Many more were mentioned and you can find them if you scroll through the @s

The extremely homogenous list of authors. This is something we called out at the start (see original post below), and was indeed challenged by many on Twitter, particularly regarding the major lack of female authors. However, we were surprised that on asking for recommendations, we received only 3 (thanks @katgordon – & sorry if we’ve overlooked a response, please let us know!). Those were: @SallyHogshead ‘How to Fascinate’, @knightan ‘Mad Women: A Herstory of Advertising’ & @ninadisesa ‘Seducing the Boys Club.’

Let’s challenge the canon. There must be many more books out there by a more diverse set of authors that are worth reading. Please comment below or tweet us and we will share.

Creative Vs Strategy. It seems that the majority of recently popular books are from the strategic end of the spectrum focusing on simplifying marketing science and pop science. And if you want to write a creative book you’ve got to be an established ad legend.

Anything can happen and that made it all very exciting.  Newcomers can knock out Nobel Prize winners and shoe-ins can go out early. We look forward to 2022.

Thank you all for taking part.




Using social listening tools, we started with a longlist of the 80 most commonly recommended books from marketing blogs, Twitter and the industry press. Then to whittle this down to our 32 contestants (and then seed them into groups), we ran them through our Must-Read Metrics: number of appearances on “top advertising books” lists, search interest and Goodreads rating.

Now, of course there are flaws with this experiment. Firstly, diversity. The drawback of using data – rather than personal curation – to build this list is that it’s nowhere near as representative or diverse as we’d hope. This brings up an important question about the makeup of our advertising canon of must-reads. Surely our aspiration towards diverse and interesting thought must hit a ceiling when our set texts come from such a homogenous pool of writers?

Secondly, just as VAR still makes mistakes, classic books will have slipped through the net. Sorry. But screaming at our omissions is all part of the fun.

We will conduct the World Cup as Twitter Polls so please share this article now(!) and then vote / retweet as we go so we get the largest sample size possible.

The Group Stages kick off Monday 23rd July.

Last 16 on Tues 24th.

Quarters on Weds 25th.

Semis on Thurs 26th.

Third Place & Finals all on Fri 27th.

Full titles and authors:

Group A

David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising
Bob Levenson, Bill Bernbach’s Book
Adam Morgan, Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete
Ken Segall, Insanely Simple

Group B

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and …
Jon Steel, Truth, Lies and Advertising
Robert W. Bly, The Copywriter’s Handbook

Group C

Richard Shotton, The Choice Factory
Claude Hopkins, Scientific Advertising
Tim Wu, The Attention Merchants
John Hegarty, Hegarty on Advertising: Turning Intelligence into Magic

Group D

Les Binet & Peter Field, The Long and The Short of it: Balancing Short- and Long-Term Marketing Strategies
Byron Sharp, How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know
James Webb Young, A Technique for Producing Ideas
Bridget Brennan, Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumer

Group E

Al Ries & Jack Trout, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
Paul Feldwick, The Anatomy of Humbug: How to Think Differently About Advertising
Judie Lannon and Merry Baskin’s (ed.) A Master Class In Brand Planning: The Timeless Works Of Stephen King.
George Lois, Damn Good Advice (For People With Talent): How To Unleash Your Creative Potential

Group F

David Trott, One Plus One Equals Three
Paul Arden, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be
Richard Rumelt, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference And Why It Matters
Lawrence Friedman, Strategy: A History

Group G

Tom Goodwin, Digital Darwinism: Survival of the Fittest in the Age of Business Disruption
John Caples, Tested Advertising Methods
Pete Barry, The Advertising Concept Book
JWT Planning Guide

Group H

Phil Barden, Decoded: The Science Behind Why We Buy
Dan Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Luke Sullivan, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This
Judith Williamson, Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising

15 Responses

  1. A campaign that functionally requires a hashtag and there isn’t one! What should we use when sharing?
    Cheers, Chris

  2. My vote: the well researched, curated and insightful ‘Beyond Advertising: Creating Value Through All Customer Touchpoints’

  3. this is so much fun. 🙂
    can’t wait for the playoffs.
    btw, this made me think – how useful are any of these books really? i have read only a handful of these and glanced through a few more. all were interesting and sage-like in their pronouncement. But few were really USEFUL. What i mean is, every book will have some insightful nuggets for sure and every book will be entertaining and full of wit. But none will be comprehensive in its scope or original with its insights.
    i feel that’s the problem with a lot of advertising books. they are not really useful, they do not aim for a comprehensive understanding. i have always found books written by scientists in sociology, psychology, economics or even insightful fiction to be of better use than advertising books really.
    Though, for a curious mind, advertising books are always an entertaining read.

  4. I have read ‘Ogily on Advertising’, ‘Bill Bernbach’s book’ ‘Scientific Advertiisng’ and a short version of ‘Tested Advertising Methods’. My addition to this list – ‘Breakthrough Advertising’ by Eugene Schwartz, ‘Robert Collier’s Letterbook, Gary Halbert’s Collected Writings and ‘Boron Letters’.

  5. Amazing idea! I’ve got some serious reading to do now… Any ideas on what I should start with first?

    • Young’s Technique For Producing Ideas. Super-quick read (30 minutes, tops?), and a great foundation for how creative happens. Everyone (inside and outside of advertising) should have and keep a copy of this book in their pocket.

  6. My vote goes to The Choice Factory. It is brilliant! I have read so many articles and press coverage on this book – SO highly recommended.

  7. A few great books here. I would have replaced George Lois’ “Damn Good advice” with his “What’s the big Idea?” as it has more detail on his approach plus some funny stories – so it might have got further in the tournament.

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