A well-written and strategically placed advertisement can significantly increase your brand exposure and drive sales.
While writing a great advertisement is an art, the key principles are easy to understand - helping you to prepare your own advertisement or evaluate the work of an agency or copywriter working for you.
1. The basics
Choose the right media to reach your target market
- You need an understanding of your target market and which media will give you access to it. Check the readership profiles for potential media outlets to ensure they match your target market.
- Options include local, national and trade newspapers and magazines, online advertising and directories, sponsorship, radio and billboards.
Before writing anything, remind yourself of your objective
- Who are the consumers or businesses that make up your target market?
- What are you trying to achieve? For example, creating awareness, changing attitudes or encouraging an immediate response.
Be clear about what you have to offer
- What are the key benefits you can offer, and how do they set you apart from key competitors?
- You need to be able to answer your target customer's primary question: "What's in it for me?"
Your advertisement will have no effect unless it catches the reader's attention
- A good headline is essential.
- An illustration can add impact.
- Good, clear artwork design will help your advertisement stand out.
- A clear call to action will encourage response.
Your advertisement needs to carry the right message
- After the headline has captured the reader's attention, most advertisements use the main body copy to build up interest, create a desire for the product and ultimately prompt the reader to take action.
- If the advertisement is intended to generate a response, make it easy.
Online advertising allows you to stand out in search results and get exposure on popular websites.
Banner adverts usually comprise an image and a compelling headline
- These are designed to encourage people to click through.
- Online advertising gives you the flexibility to add music, video and graphics at little extra cost.
Pay-per-click advertising allows you to appear at the top of online search results
- Success depends on the use of appropriate keywords and phrases so that your ad appears when someone searches for a business like yours.
- A compelling heading then encourages click though.
- You only pay when someone clicks on the ad.
Testing and refining your wording allows you to improve results
- Using analytics software makes it easy to track how effective different ads are. For example, you can see how many people click through to your website, which pages they visit and whether they make an enquiry or purchase.
2. The headline
A compelling headline will draw the eye to your advertisement, so spend time getting it right.
A good headline grabs the attention of your target audience
Good headlines can:
- Highlight the key benefit of your product or service. For example, expertise, convenience, reliability, service, value for money, or a unique selling point.
- Contain news or be topical.
- Arouse curiosity. For example, by raising a question which the advertisement can then answer.
- Offer value for money.
- Provide an endorsement. For example, "Recommended by dentists".
Bad headlines will fail to attract attention and may even put readers off
- Overcomplicated headlines are unlikely to grab attention.
- Avoid hackneyed phrases (eg "unique offer"), clichés and claims that cannot be supported. An empty boast is unlikely to be convincing.
- A feature (as opposed to a benefit) of your product is unlikely to be of interest to your target market. For example, when advertising saucepans, the Teflon coating is less important than the fact that they are non-stick.
A joke could cause offence.
- Avoid redundant information.
- A misleading headline may encourage interest - but could be illegal and readers may feel let down when they find out what you are really offering.
- Do not put your logo in the headline, as it stops people reading on. If you include a logo, put it at the end.
An illustration acts in much the same way as a headline. Again, it must capture the attention of your target market.
A relevant illustration can help your message to stand out
- A photograph showing the product in action can be very effective.
- An experienced photographer or illustrator can usually come up with good ideas, and can make even boring or unattractive products look interesting.
- A professional stock shot can work well if it supports the message.
- If you have nothing to illustrate, do not include illustrations just for the sake of it.
The quality of the illustration will reflect on your product or service
- Use a professional who has experience of your subject.
- Show the photographer or illustrator the proposed layout for your ad, so they can come up with a tailor-made image.
- A poor quality illustration will diminish the impact of your ad and make your product look cheap.
- To maximise the quality, use black and white photographs if your advert is to be printed in black and white.
An illustration will increase your costs
- You usually have to pay for a photographer or illustrator, or for the right to use a stock shot from a picture library.
- Stock shots are relatively inexpensive. Never use a poor quality shot; it will damage your brand reputation.
- Make sure you check the licensing agreement on any stock photo you're intending to use.
- If you run a colour ad, print advertising costs could be higher.
4. Body copy
Include as much body copy as you need to
- Advertisements that aim to increase brand awareness often contain nothing apart from the headline, an illustration and the product name.
- In contrast, advertisements in trade magazines may be packed with facts and details that the advertiser is confident the reader will want to know.
- Online adverts usually link to a dedicated landing page on your website where more in-depth copy should be published. Key product information, delivery details and positive customer reviews can all help to encourage visitors to buy.
Build on your headline
- For example, enlarging on the key benefit.
- You may also want to explain other benefits.
- Longer ads can end with a pay-off line that relates back to the headline.
Support your claims with facts
- Provide customer endorsements.
- Give precise information.
- Make sure your ad is not misleading. You can get advice from the Advertising Standards Authority.
Prompt a response
- Make it clear what you are offering and what you want the reader to do.
- See Response mechanisms.
Use the right tone and style
- Write from the reader's point of view, focusing on benefits rather than features.
- Use simple, clear and concise language that the reader can understand immediately.
- Be honest and confident, without being too 'salesy'.
- Break up paragraphs into easily readable points.
- The best ads appear uncomplicated, but use phrasing the target audiences can relate to.
Don't spoil your chances
Be careful with discounts
- Words like "sale" and "discount" can make your business sound tacky.
- If you cram in too many words and pictures, readers find ads hard work.
- Obscure words and long sentences put people off. Keep it simple and direct.
Don't be boring
- No-one wants to plough through a pile of statistics and facts. Decide what is important, say it clearly and stop when you have whetted the reader's appetite.
5. Response mechanisms
If you want readers to respond to a print advertisement, make it easy for them
- Include your company's contact details: company name, address, phone number, email and website address.
- Consider providing a coupon or a freephone number.
You can prompt readers to respond.
- Provide an incentive, such as a special offer or discount.
- Give a deadline by which your offer ends.
Devise a response mechanism that will allow you to measure effectiveness
- For example, ask respondents where they read about you.
6. Check your advertisement
Before you design the layout of the advertisement, check the content.
Ask a few key contacts for their reactions
- If possible, test different drafts with potential customers.
Look at the ad yourself through the eyes of your target customers
- Will the headline - and illustration, if there is one - stop readers in their tracks?
- Is the body copy compelling? Does it tell them something they want to know?
- Are the special benefits of your product given the emphasis they deserve? Is it saying something different from your competitors' advertisements?
- Does the advertisement make the reader an offer or a promise? Does it back up that promise with facts or testimonials?
- Does it encourage the reader to act? Does it make it clear what to do next?
- Would the ad achieve your objective?
If your ad isn't good enough, try again or use a specialist
- It may be worth paying a specialist to write it for you, rather than wasting money buying space for an ad that does not bring you in any business.
- Advertising agencies are good at matching the style and content of an ad to the prospective customers for your product.
- If you cannot afford an agency, shop around for a freelance copywriter and work together to generate ideas for ads.
Choose clear typefaces (fonts)
- Use type that is large enough to be easily read throughout your advertisement.
- Use a font that reflects the image you want for your company. For example, clean, crisp and smart, or traditional, established and reliable, or young and innovative.
- Avoid ornate fonts, which can be difficult to read. Also avoid reversed-out type (white on black) for small print.
- Do not mix too many different typefaces in one ad.
Emphasise important text
- Use large or bold type to make your headline stand out
- Highlight key messages or contact details (eg your freephone number).
Lay out your advertisement with plenty of white space
- Cramming illustrations and text together creates clutter, which is off-putting.
- If everything will not fit in easily, you probably have too many words.
If necessary, get help
- A graphic designer can design your advertisement and do the artwork.
- A printer can also design and produce the artwork. Their work may not be as creative as the work of a graphic designer.
Produce final artwork
- Ask the publisher what size and format you must provide your artwork in.
- Check if you need to provide a hard-copy version of the advertisement.
- Provide any images or graphics that are needed; identify them in the file name.
Check a proof copy of your advertisement before it goes live or to print
- Check once, without reading the words, to see what the overall visual effect is.
- Ask yourself whether your advertisement will stand out from other ads appearing on the same page, website or elsewhere in the same publication.
- Check that the ad gives the right impression of quality.
- Check a second time to make sure there are no typographical errors (spelling mistakes, missing text, wrong typefaces). Double check contact details.
- Check that any images are sharp.
- If your advertisement will be in colour, check a colour proof.
- Ask a second person to check it. Small mistakes can easily slip through.
- Do not approve the finished advertisement until you are sure it will be effective.
- If there are errors that are not your fault, insist that they are corrected at the publication's expense.
- Find an advertising agency with guidance and a list of members from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.
- Find a freelance copywriter through PeoplePerHour.
- Get guidance on advertising regulations or bespoke copy advice from the Advertising Standards Authority.
- Find free photos at freeimages or morgueFile.
- Find out about Google AdWords online advertising.