Writing an advertisement FAQs

Female business owner writing an advertisement for her business

Twelve FAQs on writing an advertisement.

  1. How do I write an advert for my product or service?
  2. What are the essential elements of a good advert?
  3. What should I say in my advert?
  4. How do I make my advert attention-grabbing?
  5. How can my advert encourage readers to take action?
  6. How do I write good advert copy?
  7. Should I use a professional copywriter to write my advert?
  8. What kind of images work best in an advert?
  9. How can I write effective advert headlines?
  10. What legal issues should I be aware of when advertising?
  11. Should all my advertising stick to the same style?
  12. Should I advertise to existing customers as well as prospects?

1. How do I write an advert for my product or service?

First, ensure you're clear about the purpose of your proposed advert. You may have several different reasons for advertising, so make sure you know exactly what you're trying to achieve.

You may want to:

  • announce a sale;
  • announce a new product or service;
  • drive traffic to your ecommerce store;
  • increase awareness of your brand;
  • improve your public image.

Don't start work on your ad without deciding on your objectives. These will dictate the tone and pace of your advertising copy, and the level of detail it requires.

Also, be sure who you're talking to and what will appeal to them - and what might put them off.

Then think about how you're going to persuade readers to take action, and where to place your ad to reach as many targets as possible.

Once you are clear about exactly what you are trying to do, you will be able to write a convincing ad. Even so, it may well take several drafts to get the wording and tone of voice right.

Back to top

2. What are the essential elements of a good advertisement?

To produce consistently good results, remember the acronym AIDA. This stands for attention, interest, desire and action, the sequence through which you are aiming to lead your reader.

  • Attention - the first requirement is to stand out in the crowd. Using the right keywords will help your ad appear prominently in search results online.
  • Interest - the advert must engage the reader and persuade them to read on.
  • Desire - the text or images must make people want the product.
  • Action - your ad must encourage people to take some action - to click on a link, pick up the phone or visit your premises.

In practice, you will normally use four basic elements to produce these reactions - usually an image, a headline, some body copy and a call to action (CTA). An ad that leaves out any of the four stages of AIDA is unlikely to be effective.

Online ads are usually shorter than printed ones, but they still need to meet the AIDA criteria.

Back to top

3. What should I say in my advert?

Successful ads sell by appealing to the reader, so a list of benefits is always more powerful than a dull list of features. Try to write from the readers' point of view, focusing on what's in it for them and what will make them act.

List all the benefits your product or service can offer. Then identify the single most powerful benefit (known in the trade as a unique selling proposition or USP), and build a headline around that.

Every ad should have a headline and your business name and contact details. The space that is left is all you have to play with when writing body copy. Depending on the size of your ad, there may be just a couple of lines of copy.

Adverts should be compelling and give just enough information to persuade the reader to take action. Hone your copy until you have the right balance.

Draft several versions and try them out on people whose judgement you trust. Online advertising copy can be A/B tested and improved to boost results.

Back to top

4. How do I make my advert attention-grabbing?

There are several ways of making your advert stand out. Focus particularly on:

  • a good picture (illustrations catch the eye before headlines);
  • a strong headline (five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy).

To engage your audience, the headline should ideally appeal to that segment of the market, and that segment only. Concentrate on writing a strong, appealing headline that will attract the right audience, spell out a positive benefit and persuade the reader to find out more.

Your picture should amplify the headline's message.

To catch attention online, always put yourself in your customers' shoes - which words and phrases would they use to find a product or service like yours online? Make sure the words you select are also used prominently on your website and landing pages.

It's best to use specific and highly relevant terms, as competition can be very high for more general ones. Google's Keyword Planner can help you find suitable words and phrases. Using location words is also the best way to attract customers in your area.

Back to top

5. How can my advert encourage readers to take action?

Make responding as easy as possible for your readers by including your web address, your email address and a phone number (freephone if possible).

Impose a deadline, such as a closing date for your offer; that will encourage readers to act quickly.

Back to top

6. How do I write good advert copy?

Copy should be to the point, punchy and unambiguous. Once you have written something, treat it as a rough first draft that needs polishing up - every word that is left in must earn its keep.

Try to keep to facts and specifics, such as promises and prices (make sure you can back these up).

Tips for producing good copy include:

  • Put yourself in the readers' position. Consider what will interest them.
  • Use a friendly, direct style, more like speech than formal writing.
  • Talk to the reader directly, using "you" and "we" to make your message personal.
  • Steer clear of pompous words, jargon and clichés. Instead, use short words and lively, everyday vocabulary.
  • Emphasise or even repeat your main points, to make sure they are understood and remembered.
  • Avoid exaggerating and using too many superlatives.
  • Whatever you write, leave it overnight before reviewing it - you'll be surprised how frequently a fresh eye improves things.

Humour can be effective - or it can ruin everything if it misfires. Unless you are certain it will hit the mark, and you know your audience inside out, do not take the risk. What works for one customer may offend others.

Other proven copywriting techniques include:

  • Focusing tightly on one USP, rather than trying to make too many points.
  • Emphasising newsworthiness or topicality. Timing your advertisement to coincide with a big event or a sporting, local or national occasion can boost response rates.
  • Using endorsements, especially by people your target audience see as influential.
  • Featuring positive testimonials from satisfied customers.
  • Using before-and-after photos.

Back to top

7. Should I use a professional copywriter to write my advert?

Yes, if you can afford it. But advertising agencies and professional copywriters do not come cheap, and results aren't guaranteed. The only true test is to run the advertisement and monitor responses, testing and adjusting as you go.

A professional will be able to avoid pitfalls that a novice may not spot. But many small firms with limited budgets can design their own basic advertisements.

To find an agency, try the Advertising Association or search online for agencies and copywriters in your area. Many agencies will not take you on unless you are going to spend at least £5,000 (or, in some cases, £10,000).

When you interview agencies or freelance copywriters, you should be looking for two things: does the writer understand your target market, and can you see real evidence of creative flair in their work? You are paying for ideas, strategy and, finally, results. If the professionals cannot give you an edge in these areas, you might as well do it yourself.

When briefing an agency or copywriter, make sure you provide:

  • a description of your business personality or brand;
  • clear advertising objectives;
  • your budget;
  • the benefits offered by your product or service;
  • customer personas or profiles;
  • a short list of satisfied customers the copywriters can interview, if necessary.

Back to top

8. What kind of images work best in an advert?

Images must show either the product, or the essence of the idea you want to convey. A well-chosen picture can also create the right atmosphere for your advertisement. Its size has to be in proportion to the ad as a whole.

Show the product in action wherever possible, and include people in the shot to liven it up and add scale. Only use professionally taken, high-resolution photos.

If there is no room for an image, introduce something to create a difference in visual scale. A logo, for example, would normally appear in the bottom right-hand corner.

Back to top

9. How can I write effective advert headlines?

The headlines that work best in adverts usually ask a question, spring a surprise or offer an explanation. Don't be afraid of using long headlines: research shows they pull better.

You do not have to be too clever in your headline. Workmanlike headlines that focus on a single strong message can produce good results.

Headlines need to be of a reasonable size, and ought to complement your image, rather than merely repeating in words what the picture is saying. Make your headline specific and compelling. Avoid clichés and pompous language.

What?, Why? and How? headlines are traditionally powerful attention-grabbers.

Back to top

10. What legal issues should I be aware of when advertising?

The Advertising Standards Authority is the UK's advertising standards watchdog. It has six main areas of concern.

  • Truthfulness: Goods or services must be described accurately and must be fit for their purpose. There are also rules about sale prices. The goods must have been on offer at the higher price for at least 28 days before an advertiser can legitimately claim to be selling it at a discount.
  • Decency: Advertisements must not cause offence on the grounds of race, sex, religion or disability.
  • Health benefits: What health products can claim to do, and how they are promoted, are monitored very closely.
  • Safety: Adverts must not glamorise dangerous practices, such as speeding or smoking. Nor can anything be advertised which may encourage people to break the law.
  • Children: Advertisements must not encourage children to spend too much money or indulge in unhealthy habits, such as eating too many sugary snacks.
  • Environment: Products which claim to be environmentally friendly must provide unambiguous evidence to support the claims.

There are also rules relating to distance selling, and codes of practice governing online accessibility (www.w3.org).

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) could affect you if your company uses mailing lists.

As for knocking your competitors, as long as your claims are truthful, there is no law to stop you. If you choose this route, though, you may well put potential customers off. You must decide what is best for your reputation in the long run.

Back to top

11. Should all my advertising stick to the same style?

It's definitely worth developing a house style for your adverts. It is all part of building brand awareness.

If your advertising goes through significant changes of style and content, readers will be confused - unless your current image is so poor that the change would be a big improvement and therefore worth the risk.

Back to top

12. Should I advertise to existing customers as well as prospects?

You shouldn't try to differentiate between prospects and existing customers. Although advertising offers the opportunity to reach a new audience, repeat or replacement orders from existing customers are likely to form the backbone of your business.

When it comes to addressing existing customers, advertising is not the only route. By obtaining their contact details, and their permission to stay in touch, you can market to them directly.

Remember that there are rules governing the sending of unsolicited mail and emails. You must give your customers the opportunity to be removed from your mailing lists.

Back to top

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.