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By BRADLEY J. SUGARS
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Bradley J. Sugars
All rights reserved.
Part 1 The Basics
Most people wrongly believe that good ads have to be funny, well written or visually dramatic. The truth is, the very best ads work because of the strategy behind them.
Here's a good analogy. If you've prepared a delicious meal and your dinner guests are hungry, they won't care what kind of plates you use. Put another way, if your message and offer appeal to the people you're writing to, it barely matters how you present them.
Of course, there are things you can do to make your ad clearer, more direct, and more interesting, but these are definitely secondary concerns. If your strategy is wrong, the best penmanship combined with the best graphic design in the world won't save you.
Imagine trying to encourage teenagers to invest $400 a week for their retirement. On the surface, it sounds like a reasonable idea, but realistically, you'd be lucky to get a single interested adolescent. The strategy is completely wrong. First, you're going after the wrong people, and second, the amount you're asking for probably exceeds their weekly incomes.
That's an extreme example, but a good one to highlight the problem with most advertisements: saying the wrong thing to the wrong people.
Usually ads are saying nothing much to no one in particular. That's a far more serious issue. If you've been writing the kind of ads that just say, "Hi, there. My business name is X, and my phone number is Y," you shouldn't be surprised if your ads haven't been successful. These types of ads rarely do anything, except fund a newspaper or magazine. People will not read them unless you promise to give them something.
Behind all of this is a strategy. So let's look at what the word strategy means. It is defined as a plan: what you want people to do and how you're going to get them to do it.
Let's take an example. A local butcher wants to place an ad. Not being the smartest businessman around, he simply writes his name at the top and his phone number at the bottom. He sits back and looks over his ad. This will bring in heaps of customers, he mistakenly thinks. Of course, nobody bothers to look at his ad, as it's completely uninteresting.
He's missing a strategy. So let's work one out for him. First, we need to think about what it is he's trying to achieve. Put simply, he wants to encourage people to come in and buy their meat from him. But we have to be more specific when we talk about people. Thinking about it, he's really interested in the people who do their weekly grocery shopping in the local area.
So, how's he going to encourage these people to come in? They're probably already quite satisfied shopping at the supermarket four minutes down the road. He needs a good reason for them to come in and see him. How about a special offer? For every $10 you spend on meat, you get a $3 credit. That's not bad—people would probably go out of their way to claim that. Throw in a larger choice of meats, cheaper prices, higher quality, and friendly service, and you've got something that looks like a strategy.
Once people have come in and taken up his special offer, they're more likely to come back again the following week. He may not make a killing on the first ad, but he will see some customers, as opposed to none. Over time, this strategy will pay off with repeat and referral business.
So give it some thought—what is your strategy? Whom do you want to do what, and how are you going to encourage them to take that action now?
2. Stop Being Clever
One of the most common mistakes people make when they first start writing advertising copy is being too clever. They try to impress people with their ability to write humorous or clever advertising copy, rather than simply getting the sales message across.
So why do they fall into this trap? Well, it's simply what they've learned from what they've seen, heard, or read. It's what they've been exposed to in magazines, newspapers, and on television and radio.
You see, all around the world advertising agencies spend thousands of dollars trying to produce award-winning advertisements. These "clever" advertisements are not designed to make sales for their clients but rather to impress judges. The judges themselves have no interest in how successful a campaign has been. They simply look for the best play on words, the biggest, the brightest, or the funniest advertisements.
They miss the point of the whole exercise: making sales.
Advertising is about one thing and one thing only: getting people to buy your product or services—getting customers coming through the door and spending money with you.
The problem with clever advertising is simply that it doesn't make people buy. To prove my point, consider how many ads you read, see, or hear in the course of an average day. If you consider the number of billboards, in-store displays, window signs, taxi-signs, and outdoor signage you go past on an average day, you probably won't be surprised to hear that you, like most people, are exposed to over 1500 advertisements each day!
Now how many of those do you stop and take notice of? How many can you actually recall seeing? Probably not too many. In many cases, people would be lucky to remember 10. That's not many out of 1500. It's hardly surprising we can recall only a handful; after all, if we were to stop and pay attention to every ad we were exposed to, we'd spend our entire day reading advertisements.
So the problem with clever advertisements is that people simply don't have the time to stop and think about what the ads are trying to say. If your ad doesn't get the sales message across quickly, it will fail to achieve its true purpose: additional sales.
To give you an idea of how this works, consider these two headlines for a fish and chips shop that is trying to advertise a two-for-one fillet of fish promotion in a newspaper:
"If you think there's something fishy about this offer, you're right."
"Buy one fillet of fish, get another one FREE!"
Now the first headline uses a clever play on words. A fishy offer in relation to a fish sale is quite humorous. But people have to stop and think about what it means.
Chances are that rather than reading the rest of the ad, they'll simply turn the page and keep going. Compare this to the second headline, which gets the message across quickly. People thinking about what they were going to have for dinner that night would be tempted to read on.
The second ad might not be as glamorous, but it works.
It's all about getting people to read your ad, and then take action. If people have to decipher what you've written, they'll simply pass your ad over and forget about you altogether. Writing ads is not about making people laugh, or having them think you're a genius. It's about communicating with them in the fastest, clearest way possible.
Average people are not skilled in reading comprehension. If it's not spelled out for them, they won't be able to understand it. You need to realize that writing ads is not about you the writer, it's about making people understand. If you want to write for your own selfish reasons, then copywriting is not for you. You'd be better off writing novels or short stories. There's no place for big egos when it comes to writing ads.
If you want to be a copywriter, you need to forget about beautiful writing styles and creative expression and focus instead on getting your message across in a fast and efficient manner. It might not win you any awards, but it will win you a lot of satisfied clients and repeat business.
3. Promote Something Big
Tasteless, boring, unimaginative, dull advertisements never made anyone any money. But that doesn't stop people from running them. In fact, people seem to consistently run common, uninspiring ads, seemingly without ever asking themselves the question, "Would I respond to this ad?"
Let me show you what I mean.
Imagine people running an ad to sell wood-turning equipment. Now they could run the standard product/price type of ad, but would this inspire anyone to call? Hardly! However, with a little bit of forethought and planning, they could put together an event that would motivate people to respond.
For example, they could package up a number of products and/or services that would be worth boasting about. Perhaps a jigsaw, a lathe, and some chisels for an unbeatable price, plus free woodturning lessons. Now that would be something big!
Once you've got something worth promoting, then you can start to really boast with exciting headlines. Things like "HUGE SALE" or "BEST EVER DEALS ON (X)" will get people reading and, more importantly, will get them buying.
But package deals are only one means of promoting something big. Demonstration Days, Market Days, and Open Days will also give you something to really sell in your ad.
A lot of people are put off doing these types of promotional days because they feel that it would be too expensive or too difficult to put together. But it's really not that much of a challenge when it comes to organizing one of these events.
To start with, suppliers will quite often assist with the cost of a promotion, providing they see some benefit in them by getting involved. It surprises me how many business owners don't realize that suppliers often incorporate a marketing levy into their prices. This levy is usually around one percent or one and a half percent of the purchase price of the goods they sell.
Now they won't come out and tell you this, but if you ask them to subsidize your advertising, they will normally come to the party. Also known as cooperative advertising, this will normally take one of two forms.
The first is a straight payment to assist with your marketing costs. Your suppliers will in this instance offer to pay a percentage of any ads you run to promote the event, provided their product is mentioned or their logo appears.
The second is often the most popular and involves stock at cost price rather than a financial contribution. This is normally easier for them to fit into their budgets, and once you've sold the goods at normal retail you'll have made back the money anyway. The reason this is often better from the retailers point of view is that suppliers are more generous when it comes to this form of assistance. Whereas they may have paid $100 towards an ad, they'll often be willing to give you goods at cost, which when sold, will give you many hundreds of dollars in additional profits.
However, monetary assistance is just the beginning. Most suppliers will often send one or two representatives along to demonstrate their products. They will give you extra stock on consignment for the sale and then actually set up and man their own display. This has two major benefits for you, the business owner: It makes the day more interesting for the public and it alleviates some of the staffing problems you might otherwise have had.
Regardless of whether you put on a show to end all shows, or simply put together an exciting package, you must never run "just an ad" and always, always promote something big.
4. Sell One Thing at a Time
It always pays to keep your ads as simple as possible. Trying to get too much information across will cause your ad to fail, as people will tend to either get bogged down when reading it, or they'll become confused.
Often people will have many products or services that they are looking to sell. Trying to fit them all into the one ad or letter is detrimental to the campaign as a whole. Better to just cover one key product or aspect of your services, and then tell them about the rest when they call or come into your store.
What we're trying to achieve with most advertising is to get people to contact us. You shouldn't attempt to get people to buy straight from your ad. We still want to qualify those people who respond to our ads. For example, if we run a headline that says, "Attention people looking to buy a new VCR," we should only get people responding who are in the market for a new VCR.
But we don't want to give them too much information, because they'll then feel that they can make a decision about your product without needing to come in and see you. Let me show you why we should avoid telling them too much up front.
Imagine that you are selling home entertainment units. You place an advertisement and one of your competitors places an ad in the same publication. You list all your product's features and benefits, as well as all of the optional extras that come with your system. Your competitor tells them very little and invites them to call or come in for further information.
People read your ad and feel that they know a lot about what you have to offer. Based on this, there's no need to call you. Instead, they'll call your competitors to compare their system to yours. At this point you might still rate yourself a chance to make the sale.
But when they call your competitors, they are immediately caught up in a slick sales script that results in the customer making a purchase. You have now lost the sale because you gave too much information away and you never got the chance to talk to the prospect.
So it pays to always sell only one thing at a time. If you're selling a product or item that has many accessories, mention only the key ones in your ad. Tell them about the rest when they come in. For instance, if you were selling paint, you would also most likely sell brushes, rollers, drop cloths, thinners, etc. But although you sell all these other items, you would not mention them in your ad. You'd cover these when prospects come into your store.
The less you put into your ad, the less confusing it is for the prospect. The less confusing, the greater the chance of success. Let's face it, nobody wants to deal with anything that's difficult. If something looks too complex, people will shy away from it.
5. Relate to Something Local
Have you ever noticed the peculiar views of sports fans in relation to players on opposing teams? A sports fan who supports one team will usually love the players on that team. As much as they love the players on their team, they'll hate players from an opposing team.
Often they will go along to watch their team play and sit there hurling abuse at the opposing players with great vigor and passion. But if the opposing player they've been abusing is selected to represent their country against another country, they'll quickly turn from the abusive, crazed individual they'd been earlier, into that player's greatest fan. Why?
It's all about being a local.
People will generally support "locals." They'll favor people who live on their street over someone who lives across town. They'll support someone who lives in their town over someone from another town, a person or group from their state over a person or group from another state, and so on.
So what does this have to do with advertising? Simple. You need to appeal to people's sense of loyalty if you want them to buy your product or service.
To demonstrate what I mean, imagine you were advertising in a small country town for a large client based in a big city some distance away. Now, if the product or service you're advertising is already being provided by a local company, you'll have a lot of trouble getting the locals to purchase from you. Even if what you're selling is bigger, better, more reliable, and less expensive, you'll still have difficulty overcoming the loyalty factor.
You see, the people you're advertising to feel a loyalty to their town and those people and businesses operating in that town. If you want to break into that market, you need to appeal to their sense of loyalty.
6. Skim the Cream
One of the most popular techniques employed by copywriters is commonly known as skimming the cream.
This is where you go after an existing market, a market where people have already decided to buy and are now just working out whom they'll buy from. And it's a popular market because they've already identified themselves as buyers.
For this type of advertising the emphasis is not on "Why you need to buy X," rather it's on "Why you should buy X from us."
To give you an example of how this works, let's imagine for a moment that you sell washing machines. Using the skim-the-cream technique you'd use a headline such as, "So you need a new washing machine."
A headline like this will attract only those people who are looking to buy a washing machine right now (or at least in the very near future).
You're not trying to convince people who already have a functional washing machine to buy a new one. You're targeting only those people who have already decided to buy. It's now simply a matter of getting them to buy from you rather than from someone else.
Your body copy will focus on why people should purchase their machine from you rather than your competition. While you'll cover the benefits of your brand of washing machine (or whatever it is you're selling), you'll also explain why your company is the best one to deal with.
You need to cover all the advantages of dealing with your store. After-sales service, layaway, and free delivery are all the sorts of things that you'd mention in your ad. There's less copy needed to describe the benefits of having a new washing machine because your prospect has already decided to buy one. You can now devote more space to explaining why yours is better.
If you want to take this technique one step further, you can target those people who are in the market only for your particular brand, or model, of product. For example you might have a headline that reads, "So you're looking for the best deal on a new Simpson LI5000 washing machine."
An ad like this will bring you very qualified inquiries. But caution needs to be taken with this approach because the more targeted your headline becomes, the fewer people it will attract.
Excerpted from INSTANT ADVERTISING by BRADLEY J. SUGARS. Copyright © 2006 by Bradley J. Sugars. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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