Eleven FAQs on writing an advertisement.
- How do I set about writing an ad for my product or service?
- What are the essentials of a good advertisement?
- What should I say in my advert?
- How do I catch attention with my ad?
- How do I make people respond to my ad?
- What copywriters' tricks and techniques will work for me?
- Should I get a professional to write the ad?
- What kind of illustrations and headlines work best?
- What legal issues should I be aware of?
- Should all my advertising stick to the same style?
- Do ads that address my existing customers need to be approached differently?
1. How do I set about writing an ad for my product or service?
First be clear about the purpose of your proposed advert. There can be 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 online store;
- increase awareness of your business or 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 act, 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 develop your ideas logically and write a convincing ad. It may well take many drafts to get the wording and tone of voice right.
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 get noticed among a crowd of similar ads. Keywords will dictate whether your ad appears prominently in search results online.
- Interest - the advertisement must engage the reader and persuade them to read on.
- Desire - the text or pictures must stimulate desire for the product.
- Action - your ad must encourage people 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. An ad that leaves out any of the four stages of AIDA is unlikely to be effective.
Online ads are short and sweet, but they still need to meet the AIDA criteria.
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 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 cut back your list to isolate a single, 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, your name and your 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 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 constantly tested and improved to boost results.
4. How do I catch attention with my ad?
There are several ways of making your ad stand out on the page. Focus particularly on:
- a good picture (illustrations catch the eye ahead of headlines);
- a strong headline (five times as many people read the headline compared with the body copy).
To engage your audience, the headline should ideally appeal to that segment of the market, and that segment only. Concentrate most of your time and effort on writing a strong, appealing headline that will attract the right audience, spell out a positive benefit and lure the reader to find out more.
Your picture should amplify the headline's message.
To catch attention with online ads, always put yourself in your customers' shoes - what words and phrases would they use to find a product or service like yours online? Make sure the words you select are also prominent on your website and landing pages.
It's best to use specific terms if you want to stand out. Google's keyword planner can help you find suitable words and phrases. Using location words is also the best way to target customers in your area.
5. How do I make people respond to my ad?
Make responding as easy as possible 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.
6. What copywriters' tricks and techniques will work for me?
Copy should be to the point, punchy and unambiguous. Once you have written something, leave it for a while before polishing it 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 justify these).
Tips for producing good copy include:
- Make a note of your key points, and tick them off as you include them.
- 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 long and pompous words, jargon or obscure sayings. Instead, use short words and lively, ordinary 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.
Proven techniques and tricks of the trade include:
- Focusing tightly on one USP, rather than trying to say too much.
- Emphasising newsworthiness or topicality. Timing your advertisement to coincide with a big event or a sporting, local or national occasion can boost response rates.
- Demonstrating endorsement by a respected person or body.
- Featuring positive testimonials from satisfied customers.
- Linking your advertisement to an attractive offer.
- Using before-and-after photos.
7. Should I get a professional to write the ad?
Yes, if you can afford it. But advertising agencies and 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 design their own advertisements and achieve reasonable results.
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: will the writer understand your market, and can you see real evidence of creative flair? 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 brand profile;
- a clear statement of your advertising objectives;
- details of your budget;
- a list of the benefits offered by your product or service;
- a customer profile and a short list of happy customers the copywriters can interview.
8. What kind of illustrations and headlines work best?
Images must show 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. Make sure photographs feature the same type of individual as the members of your target audience.
Only use professionally taken shots, with good contrast. Digital images must be taken with a high-resolution camera.
If there is no room for a picture, introduce something to create a difference in visual scale. A logo, for example, would normally appear in the bottom right-hand corner.
The headlines that work best 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 the 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 illustration, rather than merely repeating in words what the picture is saying. Make the headline specific and compelling. Avoid clichés and outmoded language.
What?, Why? and How? headlines are traditionally powerful attention-grabbers. For example:
What goes up but never comes down?...
...anything glued with STICKO!
Why put up with low wages?...
... join our sales team today.
How can you retire ten years early?...
... It's easy with an ABC Pension.
9. What legal issues should I be aware of?
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 a particular price for 28 days before an advertiser can claim to be selling it at 50% off.
- 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: Nothing can be portrayed that will glamorise dangerous practices, such as speeding or smoking. Nor can anything be advertised which may encourage people to break the law.
- Children: Advertisements are not allowed that encourage children to spend too much 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.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) could also 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 you in the long run.
10. Should all my advertising stick to the same style?
It's definitely worth developing the discipline of a set ('house') style. 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 any change at all would be an improvement.
11. Do ads that address my existing customers need to be approached differently?
You shouldn't try to differentiate between prospects and existing customers. Although advertising always offers the opportunity to reach entirely new customers, in most industries 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 contact details and their permission to stay in touch, you can speak to them directly.
Remember that there are codes of practice that control unsolicited mail and emails. You must give your customers the opportunity to be removed from your mailing lists.