Eight Steps to Writing Ads that WORK

Let's examine the process in eight steps.

First, make sure your ad is...

...Attention Getting

Customers are inundated with ads these days. Your first job is to catch their attention - your ad has to stand out.

If you've got eye-catching visuals, use them. Make sure your ad isn't too complex visually though - too much going on will shunt the reader's gaze away. Good, strong visuals will pull readers in - but make them count: don't just add visuals for effect. Tie them into whatever you're selling in a direct and immediate way.

In most cases, your headline is the most important - in fact, 80% of your readers will only read the headline! That's $.80 of every dollar you spend for your print ad. Make the headline strong - pull them in! Some ideas: start with a question, promise a reward, lead with a hook, say something provocative that's explained in the rest of the text.

Make your headline strong visually too, even if you're using classified avertising (in which case you can go for as large type as is practical, and explore options like white-on-black type to make your message stand out).


What makes your product or service stand out? This is often the most difficult question to settle (ad agencies call this the concept), but it's the most important. Why does the customer want what you have to sell? If you don't know, they won't either. The finest ad copy in the world won't cover up a confused ad. Before typing the first words of your ad, make sure you know what you're really selling. Point out how it's new, how it stands above the competition, how useful it is. The more you put into this question, the more you'll get out of it. If you know what you're talking about, and can show what makes what you're selling unique and valuable, the product will practically sell itself.


Don't try to introduce too many concepts in one ad. Make it specific and as clear as you can. You don't have much time to get your crucial points across, so in most cases, keep it simple and straightforward. Outline your points with headings, just as in this article.

If your ad isn't clear, your point won't be either.


Empathize with your audience, put yourself in their place. If your ad is stiff or formal when a conversational tone is called for, you won't connect. Offer a reward of some sort for reading your ad, hinted at in the headline (for example, "Save 10% on your grocery bill - NOW!").

Make your writing appealing - make the reader want to keep reading. Instead of tired prose, use words like crisp, celebrated, hearty, sparkling, and so on.

Add punch and zing to your words! Try to use positives, not negatives (ever notice how non-fat items are called 100% fat-free?). It's best to avoid being clever just for the sake of being clever; if it ties into what you're selling, fine. Otherwise, it'll just distract from the reason the ad is there - to generate sales.


Solve your customer's problems. Nothing grabs someone's attention better than showing them how what you have to offer will materially fix the things they worry about most.

Some of the classics: money, kids, relationships, "getting ahead", nutrition, health, and, increasingly, time-management. If you can show your customers that you are solving a problem of theirs, filling a need, or improving their life in a way they care about - you've made a sale.

...Easy to Respond To

You've got their interest. You've shown them you'll solve a problem they are concerned about at a good price. You've got their interest. It can all be lost at this point. Unless you provide a clear path from your customers to you, you'll lose them along the way. That's the whole justification behind 800 numbers (have you considered one, by the way?) - making it easy for your customers to get in touch with you.

Other techniques include coupons, prizes, free samples, free gifts - anything that gets them into your store or on the phone is good. People frequent the places they're familiar with; if they've been inside your store, chances are they'll be back.


Imagine sending out a $1 mailer to 10,000 customers at random... and getting almost no response. Sort of like throwing darts at a cloud of busily elusive gnats, isn't it?

To generate far more bang for the buck, know your clientele, do some research. Then you can target your advertising, improving your results by two, five, even ten times. Know your prospects - and just as important, know who are not your prospects (and avoid spending advertising resources on them)! It helps to track your customers - ask them how they heard about you when you get sales leads. If you're placing multiple ads in a number of places, find out which ad your customers are responding to by asking them. (It's best, by the way, not to try too many things at once in your advertising - if you do, you'll never find out what works.)


Make your ad professional. Nothing puts customers at ease like a touch of professionalism. It's reassuring, and shows them that you know what you're doing.

It's a good idea to consider hiring a professional copy writer, and it can be far more cost effective than you might think. Working with someone who's had experience can bring you the rewards you want - and be a rewarding experience.