How To Write An Ad

Advertising is just salesmanship multiplied...

It has been said that advertising costs the same whether it is used intelligently or foolishly.

An ad in the newspaper costs you the same amount whether it generates one new customer or 100 new customers.

A mailer costs you the same whether it brings in $10 of business or $10,000.

Your degree of skill in marketing and advertising can obviously have a profound impact on your business.

Surprisingly, very few small business owners really understand how to advertise intelligently. Entrepreneurial companies tend to focus much of their efforts on perfecting their product or service. They figure that if the product is
good enough, people will somehow find out about it and want to buy it.

Advertising messages usually reflect this attitude.

They say, more or less...

“Here we are, buy it from us,or We’ve got a better one for less money.”

There was a company from California that was trapped in the “I’ve got it, they will surely want it”, mentality. When reality struck, they looked for help.

The company, a buyer and seller of used computer equipment, had spent over 6,000 hours researching and compiling a comprehensive directory which listed every used computer dealer in the country, as well as over 3,100
computer service centers.

Then, eager with entrepreneurial spirit, they spent a couple of hours designing a mail piece that they just knew would generate excitement, desire, and action.

20,000 pieces were sent out at a cost exceeding $5,000.

At $195 per sale, they would break even at a + of one percent response rate.

One glance at the mail piece quickly revealed why it had failed...

The yellow, 8+” x 6" card stock postcard had the following headline printed on the front by itself:

“Who? What? Where? When? How?... Wow!”

The back of the card said:


with a sub-headline containing the publications cumbersome name:


A bunch of quotes followed telling how great the Hangidon Guide was, along with a bar graph comparing the number of listings in Hangidon’s Guide with competing publications.

Bottom Line: Nobody could figure out

a) What the headline was referring to,
b) What in the heck a Hangidon was, and
c) Just what exactly this company was trying to sell.

I’m sure that this mailer went straight into 19,999 trash cans.

One person did place an order. Mr. Hangidon’s mother must have sneaked onto the mailing list!

Small businesses must demand maximum performance from every marketing dollar spent.

Ad campaigns that are cute, silly, attempt only to build name recognition, or merely say “Here it is, come get it”, must be avoided.

Every advertisement must cost-justify itself just like a salesman.

Would you continue to send out a salesman who told a lot of people about your product but never sold anything? You’d fire him for sure!


Remember, advertising costs the same whether it is used intelligently or foolishly.

To make the most of your budget, turn your advertisements into an army of tiny salesmen.

In other words, attempt to make your advertisements relay as much interesting and relevant information as possible given your time or space restrictions and achieve some specific, predetermined result in the process.

Do you think Mr. Hangidon would have approached a prospect face-to-face and said:

“Hello Mr. Johnson, Who, What, Where, When, How...WOW!”

Of course he wouldn’t have...

Then why would he send out a letter, with such an ambiguous, ridiculous statement on it?

His un-salesman-like attempt to be cute and catchy buried him.

Small businesses cannot afford to spend a lot of money on advertising thats main purpose is to build name recognition.

Rather, advertising must lead prospects to act in some measurable, specific way - send in a coupon, call a number, write a check, go to the store, etc. - all in an effort to make a sale.

If your army of tiny salesmen generate enough sales directly from the ad to cover their cost, then image-building value is free.

After all, those who didn’t respond still saw your ad just the same as if it had made no specific offer. The results, however, are much more quickly realized.

Here are some quick tips on turning your advertisements into salesmen for your company and maximizing their effectiveness:

Direct Response Advertising:

Most of the advertising you see on television and in print ads can be classified as institutional advertising.

It makes no attempt to sell anything; rather, it just says “here we are, come and get it” Its main function is to build brand name awareness.

If you happen to be the owner of a Fortune 500 company, you can disregard this section.

Everyone else, listen up:

Institutional advertising doesn’t makes sense for small business. Direct response advertising is the key to success.

I’m not talking strictly about direct mail. I’m talking about making every piece of correspondence you send out, every advertisement you place in any medium, every salesman you send out in the field making a specific, direct
offer to your prospects. An offer that, when responded to, has a definite, measurable result.

Since Ive already touched on this subject in the previous example, Ill go ahead and move on to the next subject... headlines.

Headlines: Simply stated, the headline is the ad for the ad.

It’s purpose is to pick people out of crowd of readers/listeners who may be responsive to your general offer, and give them a reason to continue reading or listening to the ad.

For print and online media, the headline is at the top of the ad. For radio or television, it is the first sentence the listener hears. Likewise, the first words of your salesmen’s “pitch” are in essence his headline.

how to write a powerful headline

You will usually want to incorporate your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) into your headline.

Your USP is the singular, unique benefit your customers will receive by doing business with your firm, stated in an easily embraceable way. It’s the one thing that really distinguishes you from your competition.

People who have interest in your proposition will read the headline and decide to keep reading. Those who aren’t interested in your headline wont keep reading but you shouldn’t care, because they aren’t qualified prospects.

On the other hand, if you use a cute, ambiguous headline to attract attention, chances are you will lose people who are qualified.

Remember you are only interested in selling to qualified, interested prospects.

Being Specific: Claude Hopkins, the father of direct response advertising, said:

“Platitudes and generalities roll off the human understanding like water from a duck. They leave no impression whatever.”

To say Low Prices, Biggest Selection, or Highest Quality is useless. People tend to be skeptical. They need to be convinced.

Instead, try using specific, graphically illustrative words and phrases that quantify your statement:

“We Always Have at Least 1745 Tuxedos in No Less Than 22 Different Styles, 72 Varying Sizes, and 10 Desirable Colors, And in Price Ranges From 25 to 125.”

This is more definite and more believable than the usual, generic “Large Selection.”

Since people are skeptical, they tend to discount (or flat out ignore) any generalized statements you make. But they know that you wouldn't tell a boldfaced lie.

When you make a specific statement about your product, they give it 100% credibility.

Changing general statements to specific ones will double the effectiveness of any advertisement. No extra cost. Try it.

Long vs. Short Copy:

Interesting short copy is better than boring long copy. But remember who you are trying to sell your products to: interested, qualified prospects.

People who are hungry for information about the product in question.

Think in terms of sales-man-like advertising.

You certainly wouldn’t send a salesman to see an interested, qualified prospect and have him merely hand the prospect a photograph of your product and say:

“Ours is higher quality, and we have better service”, and then leave.

But that is exactly what 90% of all advertising says. If you don’t believe me, just look in your local newspaper or trade magazines.

(As a caveat, I’m using video sales letters more and more frequently for online advertising.)


A rule of thumb is to use as much space as it takes to present a fairly complete argument for your product or service.

Drew Kaplan of DAK consumer electronics fame has earned hundreds of millions of dollars describing in exiting, painstaking detail every feature, benefit, and advantage of what seem to be very common products.

You should have seen his 32-page mini-magazine that sold one product - a desktop publishing software package.

W.I.I.F.M.: What’s In It For Me?

Every ad must address this important question.

Surprisingly, most advertisements only breeze over WIIFM.

They would rather tell you that they’ve been in business for 200 years or that they have 44 expert tailors on site.

If this sounds familiar, that's because it is.

Your USP should tell people whats in it for them and state that reason in clear, graphically illustrative terms.

Here’s another formula for you to remember when you’re describing your products or services: FAB.

FAB stands for Features, Advantages, Benefits. While most ads focus on features, your ads should focus on advantages and benefits. Look at the end of this report at the FAM summary for a common #2 pencil. It will give you a good idea of what I’m talking about.

what is in it for me radio station everyone tunes in to advertising rules

Risk Reversal:

In almost every business relationship, one party is always asking the other whether implicitly or explicitly - to bear the burden of risk on the transaction.

If your product or service can truly perform, then you should not hesitate to offer it to interested, qualified prospects at zero risk.

If your product cannot perform, or if you’re trying to sell it to the wrong target, you have no business being in business. Don’t make your prospect take the risk though.

Marketing consulting is a perfect example of risk reversal.

Even though a lot of my clients come to me on a referral basis, they don’t really know if I can help them out in their situation.

People hesitate to pay me $500 in advance to write an advertisement if they’ve never worked with me before.

But since I know my services will exceed their expectations (I cant go wrong because I hedge by testing) I don’t mind “giving” the service away.

Depending on the relationship with the client, I might, or might not, ask for a good faith deposit. But... I never accept any money if something doesn’t work.

Now, contrast that to my competition advertising agencies.

They demand payment in advance and I guarantee that they will refuse to refund your money if their $10,000 art work didn't net you any new customers.

They’re funny that way!

Like everything else I exhort, always state your guarantee in readily embraceable terms.

“Money Back Guarantee” does not evoke the same response as saying:

“Your check will not be cashed for two weeks, and the sale isn't even considered binding until you’ve taken your diamond to be appraised by at least two certified gemologists of your choice.”

Yes, you will have a higher incidence of returns if you offer a guarantee.

You might even have a few people take advantage of you.

But, if emphasizing a performance guarantee doubles or triples the response of an ad, the returns are inconsequential.

Again, the guarantee offers you an opportunity to increase your bottom line spending without spending extra money.

Chameleon (or Native) Advertising:

In many cases, it makes sense to disguise your advertisement.

People tend to not pay attention to advertisements but they do tend to pay attention to news or entertainment your advertisements are so often delivered with.

Paul Harvey used to tell the whole world “The Rest of the Story” three times a day.

At least a couple of times a week he’d start one of his news stories by talking about the consumer satisfaction polls for new cars.

Buick Park Avenue, the car Paul himself drove, is always on top. It sounds just like a news clip. It’s an advertisement.

Some of the greatest print advertisements of all times looked just like news articles.

One I liked was frequently found in the sports section. The headline said:

“New, Hot Golf Ball Banned From Pro Tour - Flies Too Far.”

It ran for years until people must have finally become immune to it.

Call to Action:

Just like a good salesman always tries to close the deal, your advertisements should lead the prospect to do something.

Your objective will determine what that action is.

If you’re generating leads, your ad needs to tell people to call, visit this website, bring in a coupon, click to learn more, or some other specific reply.

If you’re trying to make sales, tell people to write a check or call with their credit card ready.

People are silently begging to be led. If your advertisement has built a solid case for your product, all you have to do is ask for action, and you will get it.

In Conclusion:

There are several other aspects of ad writing that haven’t been covered here, like use of testimonials, bonuses, postscripts, and such.

Unless your product is very simple to understand, its a good idea to use advertising for lead generating. There comes a point when it makes sense to sub in real salesmen to close the sale.

But don’t underestimate the usefulness of employing a huge army of tiny salesman to open doors and pique interest. If your sales-man-like ads are reaching qualified, interested prospects, they will definitely have a positive
effect on your business.

top ten words in advertising

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