“I’m in advertising.”
That once was a glamorous statement, hinting at a fabulous career. It evoked images of 4 martini lunches followed by all-night writing sessions and horn-rimmed artists creating while hunched over watercolor story-boards.
It brought to mind Don Draper slickly pitching his client’s products using poetry, emotion and a healthy dose of manipulation.
But that was back in the day before advertising morphed and evolved and became so much more than just one thing. Used to be, a headline was written once by an agency and you’d hear it on the radio, see it in print and watch an actor speak it on TV. Companies would invest in one campaign and let it run for a long time, even for years at a time.
Not anymore. Just about everything about that paradigm has changed.
You can’t get away with writing one campaign for multiple platforms. You’d never let the same campaign, no matter how expensive, run for extended periods of time. And you definitely can’t just hire a Don Draper to come in, take you out to dinner once or twice and then pitch to your consumers on your behalf. You have to get in there and get your hands dirty.
You have to be “in advertising” yourself. And you have to know what comprises a good ad.
Before we dive into what the recipe for creating an effective ad might be, let’s quickly clear up a common confusion. There are ads…and then there is branding. Some of the most famous TV commercials you assume are straightforward ads are actually examples of fantastic branding.
Take the uber-famous, Budweiser Clydesdales 9/11 Superbowl ad. Not one word was spoken, not one beer can was ever shown. The logo blinks but for a moment at the end of the ad. This was not a product push. It was an established brand paying its respects to the victims of a terrible tragedy.
And maybe one day your brand will be well known enough that you can afford to spend your advertising dollars on brand-deepening, feel-good pieces like that.
But for now I’m going assume that you are a small business owner who just needs their ads to do one thing: convert.
Notice I didn’t just say “sell.” Because a good ad converts. Sure, sometimes that’s a straightforward purchase of your service or product. But more often than not, especially if the ad is your first interaction with a prospect, you just want to get them into your sales funnel.
No matter how well-crafted the pay per click (PPC – commonly associated with Google Adwords) ad, and no matter how great the product, the chances of someone buying a pricey product from being exposed to one ad is pretty much nil.
So try instead to focus on getting them to take an action – any action – that keeps them engaged with you. Patience is not easy, I accept, but this approach works and you can sell them later.
Here are few things to keep in mind when you begin to write your ads:
1. Keep it Clear
Before you even begin to think about penning a PPC, Facebook, email or other ad, think long and hard about exactly which action you want your prospects to take.
What should they ideally do when they are done reading your ad? What will your call to action be? That should be the absolute core of the ad, all roads leading right to it.
2. Keep it Singular
Resist the temptation to invite them to do A or B. For example: “Click here to contact us now or instead you can join our newsletter!” Nine times out of ten, if you give them a choice, they will take neither action.
(These 8 opt in options are the best ones out there and will definitely give your customer reasons to act)
Remember, this is an ad, not your full website where you can afford to take your time and show them everything you have to offer. So decide on one clear course of action you want them to take, and clearly ask them to take it.
3. Keep it Real
Don’t promise the sun, moon and stars…even if you really think you can deliver them eventually to your client. In the context of an ad, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Don’t lose an opportunity to create a bond with your prospect by turning them off with outrageous promises. Instead, be confident but quietly assured that they will love your product or service and try to find a way to get it in their hands, either on a trial or free sample basis. Then let the product itself do the wow-ing for you.
4. Keep it Relevant
Consider where this ad will appear, and to whom. The day of the big, omni-demographical billboard by the busy highway is over. These days, especially with the advent of keywords and geo-targeting (and don’t even get me started with the Facebook advertising options!) – you can really pinpoint who sees which ad.
So take the time to do some keyword research and see what other advertisers are promising in those ads. Learn from them what might be already working. Start your testing there.
5. Keep it Colloquial
Speak in the language of the particular demographic you’re hitting with that ad (This post will help you to create the perfect copy). If you’re talking to college professors try to keep the LOL’ing and OMG’ing to a minimum. If, however, you are writing an ad to attract teens, you might purposely throw a few trendy terms in.
You want the ad reader to think that you are really talking directly to them and that they are exactly the kind of person who needs your newsletter, Facebook updates, coupons, product, etc.
6. Keep it Unique
Even in the age of pop-up blockers, paid radio with zero ads and the ability to fast forward through TV commercials, advertisements are ubiquitous. Consumers seem almost born with a filter in their brains these days that lets them zone out and zoom right by most ads without ever letting them sink in.
So it’s more important than ever to do what you can to stand out. Make your language interesting, disarming, and possibly even risky or controversial.
Better to attract a bit of attention with a little shock value than to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on an ad that no one even really “sees”.
7. Keep it Different
You know your product or service is better than your competitor’s. You know exactly why. So make sure that you mention that, in some way, in your ad copy. You can’t possibly pack it all in – every single feature and benefit – so instead pick the top benefit that differentiates you from your competition and find a way to reference it.
It might be tempting to focus just on the “one day discounts” and “join my club now!” in your ad copy, especially if word count is tight. But you must also tell customers why buying from you (or subscribing to your newsletter, etc.) is a good idea. A better idea than doing the same with your competition.
Again, never underestimate how many ads your prospects are getting hit with. You want to be able to write ads that only you could write, promising things only you can promise!
8. Keep Honing the Headline
The headline is potentially the most powerful part of your ad. It’s the hook, it’s what will make or break an ad. Indeed, it is what will make them either keep reading, or keep moving. It’s worth it to put some extra work into the headline, and to keep testing it.
Remember, not matter what you end up writing to always test, tinker and never tire! Unless you like the idea of leaving money on the table, you should constantly test your copy and headline.
Test new language, lingo, offers, ad lengths. You should always be striving to improve your conversion rate.
That said, if you happen to hit on a winner, stick with it for awhile. If suddenly your conversion rate on an ad leaps up more points than anything else you have tried in the past, let it stay and work a bit for you.
Even if you don’t get why it’s resonating with your audience. Even if you find the language annoying or boring. The old adage is just as true for digital ads as it was for barn doors : “If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it!”
So tell me: what are some of your most effective ads? Least effective? What surprised you by not working…or by completely blowing up? Show us specific examples in the comments below so we can all learn from each other.
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