Successful advertising is studied and dissected by marketers and analysts everywhere. There is no shortage of books written about marketing success- everything from headlines to colors to placement. Every aspect of an ad is examined to find out what about it made it successful. There is an occasional oddball in the group that breaks new ground, but the overwhelming majority have identifiable, predictable elements. These are just guidelines, but they are guidelines that have led to consistent moneymaking success. If you choose to break the rules, make sure you have an excellent reason for doing so. You may think it’s earthshakingly clever, but its reception by the marketplace is what counts. The history of advertising is littered with clever but unsuccessful marketing attempts. This isn’t making a case for sameness, but rather for utilizing the fundamental building blocks of success, regardless of how the work ultimately turns out.
Advertising: Direct Response or Institutional?
The advertising I’m talking about in this article is what is commonly referred to as direct response. In other words, it asks the viewer for a response- pick up the phone and call, come in, visit our website or some other action. It is more of a direct communication with the prospect, and designed with a short term goal in mind. If it is well done, it also has a long-term goal, building on what has come before it.
Institutional advertising is made with a long term goal of positioning the product in the consumer’s mind. It usually doesn’t ask the viewer to take a specific action. It is more of an image building ad. Open a fashion magazine and you’ll se a lot of institutional advertising. Entire pages can consist of just a picture of a model wearing a product and looking bored. Somewhere on the page is the product name. Both forms of advertising have their place (though by my calculations, an incomprehensible amount of money is wasted by most institutional advertisers.) For businesses not in the Fortune 1000, and who don’t have an enormous advertising budget, direct response is usually a much better choice.
With direct response advertising, you’re able to find out quickly what works and what doesn’t. Since most of us don’t have millions of dollars to spend to find out what brings us business, we need to know what messages and what elements are working. So let’s examine each of these elements in detail.
1. The offer
What are you selling? Is it new or different? Is it the same as what everyone else is offering? If you’re not offering something that people actually want, or can get at a lot of other places, it won’t matter much how you offer it. Before you place any advertisement, try to come up with something new. Make a specific benefit-oriented offer that promises to quickly and measurably improve the consumer’s life, and you’re off to a great start.
2. The headline
The headline is the element that tells people right away if the ad is worth looking at. If it doesn’t immediately promise a substantial benefit that is of interest to the reader, the ad won’t get read. It wouldn’t matter if you were giving away free gold bullion in the ad itself, the reader would never get that far. No matter what you have to offer, and no matter how good it is, it’s irrelevant if the headline doesn’t compel the viewer to read the ad. It is by far the most important element.
If you have no headline, if you’ve used your name as the headline, or if your headline is clever instead of benefit-oriented, you need to start over. Come up with something the reader cares about, or they’ll never read the ad.
3. The main graphic
The main graphic is usually a picture that relates to the headline. Not every successful ad has a graphic. Many advertisers, given the choice between a strong headline and a great picture, would choose the picture. That is a very bad choice. The picture should serve to support the headline, and help to quickly convey the benefit you’re offering. So many pictures used are irrelevant or “clever” and ad nothing to the ad. In many cases, they can actually detract, as the viewer’s eye passes over what looks like just another ad. It’s easy to pass over a picture, but harder to pass over simple bold words that interrupt your thoughts. Even if you only glance at the words, your mind reads them almost instantly.
With all that said, a great main graphic can help to make a great ad. Concepts that are hard to express can me made clear with a picture.
4. The first subhead
If your headline has worked, the reader will arrive at the first subhead. It should help the reader understand how the rest of the ad will explain the benefit promised in the headline.
5. The first paragraph
The first paragraph should summarize the benefit you offer, and promise the reader a clear and believable improvement to their life. It should also encourage them to read further.
6. Additional subheads
Additional subheads are used for making your strongest points. Don’t bury your best information in the body copy – pull it out and emphasize it.
7. Body copy
Body copy should be used to expand on your promised benefit. Keep it short, impactful and to the point. You don’t want to make more than a couple of points in and single ad, and each should relate to and build on the others. If you find yourself needing to make too many different points, you need to hone your message further.
8. Last paragraph
The last paragraph is the place to inspire action. Make the reader feel that he or she is this close to enjoying the benefit you’re offering. All they need to do is (insert your call to action here.) Just pick up the phone, visit our website, or whatever it is you want them to do. And make sure you actually know what it is that you want them to do. If you leave it up to them they’ll likely do something else.
9. Post script
The post script is a place to eliminate fear of taking action, or to inspire fear of not taking action. Here you can take away the risk for them by offering your explicit guarantee. Or you can tell them that the offer is good for a limited time only, or something else that will help persuade them to act on the desire you’ve instilled in them.