Creating Advertising That Sells

Advertising can really make a tremendous difference to your business. An advertisement can help generate an increase in cash flow, but it can also have a negative impact on your business. Frightening, but true. This is why advertising seems such a mystery for many small business owners.

Some of the rules for successful advertising

Know who your ideal customer is

Get the message right

Make sure your advertisement is seen (get attention)

Make it memorable

Make sure it is seen often

Give your advertising time to work, and then refine it.

Don’t leave it too long to do it

Know who your customer is.

Hint – not everyone will want your product and it is expensive doing promotion to people who are not interested.  Learn some marketing theory about good segmentation and targeting.

Hint 2 – Demographics will rarely give you enough insight to know your customer.  Demographics is a very broad, poorly defined “description”  Dig deeper

Get the message right

It is important to be able to summarise the essence of your message in one or two sentences. This is often known as the ‘elevator pitch’. In other words, if you were in an elevator with your ideal customer, what would you say to them to interest them in your business?

Make sure your advertisement is seen (get attention)

We are getting bombarded with various advertising messages every day It is important that your message has to stand out in order to get through to your audience.

Make sure your message is seen often

This means how many times people hear, see or read your advertisement. In marketing terms it is called ‘frequency’. The more exposure your advertisement has to your ideal customer, the better your chances of them noticing it. Often this means using a variety of advertising media, such as newspapers, radio and Internet.

Make it memorable to your Target Market.

If you have made a good offer to the right target segment it is likely to have a good basis for being memorable.  Hit the right buttons for the reader/viwer and they will remember it.  If the message isn’t so great – help them remember where to see the message again

Give it time to work

A long-term commitment to advertising, is more likely to have an impact than a short, sharp burst. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, it takes today’s average busy person time to notice your advertisement. Secondly, a longer advertising cycle can help demonstrate longevity of your business, which can result in trust.

Finally, it should allow you to refine your message and where you advertise, based on feedback.

Don’t leave it too long to do it

Some businesses wait until their business is in trouble to advertise, then only do so for a short period of time. Then they blame their advertising for the state of the business! The reality is that advertising can work if you do it well and give it time.

Writing your advertisements/promotional pieces

Let’s consider some ways to write the best possible advertisement and communication piece for your business. We will start with the most important part of any communication – the headline.

Writing headlines

The headline can be the singularly most important element of any selling message whether written or spoken. The headline is where you should begin your conversation with a customer. It is the first thing you should state when recording a television commercial, or when meeting people at your trade show booth display. The purpose of a headline is to grab your customer’s attention. Your headline needs to target your customer with laser-like accuracy.

One way to do this is byspecifically  addressing your audience. For example, if you want to reach car owners, put the words ‘car owners’ in the headline. It should immediately and clearly tell the reader the essence of what you are trying to say in the body of your advertisement. The headline should offer the reader a big benefit right upfront. Every headline or opening statement should appeal to the customer’s self-interest. If possible, try to add some educational or informational content as well.

Question – How many words should a headline be?

Answer – as long or short as it needs to be

When crafting a headline remember two key rules:

  • Ensure the headline is clear and clearly displayed
  • Ensure the key points are positive and personally beneficial to the target audience. You want them to feel as though the ad is written especially with them in mind

Two valuable words you can ever use in the headline are ‘free’ and ‘new’. Other terms you could include are how to, now, announcing, introducing, it is here, just arrived, an important announcement, improvement, amazing, sensation, remarkable, revolutionary, startling, miracle or miraculous, magic, offer, quick, easy, simple, powerful, wanted, challenge, advice, the truth about, compare, bargain, hurry, and…last chance.

Always incorporate your unique buying reason(or USP – Unique Selling Proposition)  into your headline. Make that reason as specific, desirable and advantageous to the customer as you possibly can.

People are usually looking to gain benefits and advantage. We want results, benefits, pleasure or value.

We want to avoid pain, dissatisfaction, frustration, mediocrity and unpleasantness.

Avoid headlines that don’t mean anything unless you read the whole ad. If you don’t attract the audience’s attention immediately with your headline, they are not likely to pay attention to the rest of what you have to say.

Be specific.

Being specific right up front provides the reader or viewer with context. They can start to visualise the result, and they are likely to want to hear, see or read more. Headlines should contain words that make you want to find out more. They should also be specific. ‘We’ll help you make more money in 30 days’ is appealing, but by presenting a solution to a specific problem: ‘We’ll help you pay the rent’, you are more likely to reach your target audience.

Good headlines explain how your customer can save, gain, or accomplish something beneficial through the use of your product. How could it affect his or her mental, physical, financial, social, emotional or spiritual stimulation, satisfaction, well-being or security? In short, good headlines spotlight the greatest ‘benefit’ you are offering a customer. Or, if you take a deliberately negative approach, they point out how the reader can avoid, ‘reduce’ or ‘eliminate’ risks, worries, losses, mistakes, embarrassment, drudgery, or some other undesirable condition by using your product. Whatever product (goods and services) you are selling, always, when constructing your headline or opening statement, try to remember this: Your customer is not buying a product, they are buying a beneficial result. Always focus your headlines on the benefit or specific result your customer will receive from purchasing your product.

Use ‘You’. To create a powerful headline, your message must convey benefits the customer can expect to receive. Your headline or message should not talk about ‘we’ or ‘our’ product, service or company. Each and every possible benefit or result must be written or expressed with the beneficiary’s direct interests in mind. When you read a newspaper, you scan headlines to identify stories of interest to you.

Headlines should appeal to the audience’s self-interest by highlighting a benefit.

Here are some of the basics:

Could it save them time? Make them money? Could it make them more beautiful? Or healthy? Will it give them more kilometres per litre? Or a whiter wash? What will it do for them?

Don’t worry about the length. Fourteen-word headlines get almost as much readership as three-word headlines. It is more important to get your message across than worry about the length of the headline.

Put news into the headline. The news can be an improvement of an old product, the announcement of a new product, or a new way to use an old product. We are always on the lookout for something ‘new’. Something that will benefit us.

Do not use headlines that are tricky, confusing or incomplete in their message. You are competing with a lot of other headlines in a newspaper or magazine. Most people are busy and read too fast to figure out what you are trying to say. They are likely to move on.

Don’t write to yourself or your staff or friends – they are not the target segment are they?

Never use headlines that need readership of the rest of the advertisement to be understood. You are likely to lose readers at that point. Most people are too busy and read too quickly to be bothered to keep on reading to find out what you are trying to say.

Body Copy

Body copy is where you describe how the benefits in the headline will be provided and how the interested reader can obtain them.

It is also where you establish or maintain your (organisation/company) credibility

Do not make your copy too small.  If it is hard to read, people are likely to give up.

Non-specific claims don’t count. Give actual facts and figures where you can. To say something is: ‘The best in the world’ or ‘Nearly 7,000 have been sold’ or ‘Great service’ is unlikely to make an impression. People can’t relate to non-specific claims and may lose respect for you for perceived exaggeration.

Factual and accurate statements are more specific and therefore more likely to be believable. It is very important to remember whenever you are making any claims or statements (whether in headlines or elsewhere) that they are factually true and accurate.

Here are some of the basics:

If you demonstrate your factual research by saying: ‘Our product will last up to 37% longer than similar products’, people will realise you have made comparisons and may be more likely to trust your offer. Remember you need to have evidence to back up these types of claims!

Prevention does not sell effectively. Cure does. Often we will wait for a problem to exist before we solve it, but as soon as a problem exists, we look for a solution. Focus on solutions.

Learn which headline most appeals to your target customers. You can dramatically improve the results of your ad by changing your headline. A headline can act as a flashing light with a person’s name on it. You select what you read by headlines. So it is in ads. You must always measure what effect a change in headline has on your results.

Don’t rely on your own judgement and experience in advertising – especially when it comes to headlines. Test everything you do with your specific audience. Your audience is likely to see the headline differently so, as with new products, prices and guarantees, test your headline with the target audience.

Writing effective copy

Once you have constructed a compelling headline, you must structure the copy, or the body of your letter or ad. This is where you write a story describing your business in the way a customer will want to experience it.

So what is it that you are trying to say? You need to let the customer or prospect know precisely why you are better than your competition. Tell them all the things you do that your competitors don’t.

Tell them about your extra service, your guarantee, and your friendly staff. Be sure that the copy clearly communicates how and why your company is better for them. Always be specific and honest (keeping in mind your legal obligations). For example, don’t say: ‘We serve you better than anyone else.’ That’s not specific. You should say: ‘We will provide an obligation-free quote’, ‘We will respond to your request within 24 hours’ or ‘We will deliver your goods within five working days or delivery is free.’

You should write your ad the way your customer speaks. Don’t make it cumbersome and wordy. Just write it like they would say it. If it sounds too ‘sales-like’ it is less likely to appeal. You want to be clear, precise and customer friendly.

Use testimonials in your sales copy. This is a simple but powerful tool that can dramatically increase your response rate. Ask your current satisfied customers to say what they think about your product. Ask them to explain what their need was and how it has been met.

Provide a free call number and a web address. Some customers may be more likely to contact you if you provide a free mechanism for them to do so. Some customers prefer not to deal with anyone directly, so may also be more open to leaving their details on a recorded message.

Include coupons or a special promotion number in your sales copy. A coupon customers can tear off or cut out and put in their pocket or purse can act as a prompt. Instead of a customer reading an ad and forgetting it as soon as they move on to the next, the coupon can act as a reminder to purchase.

Make a timed offer. This is important and should be considered as part of all your letters and ads. Just like the coupon it gives a ‘call to action’ but a deadline can be more effective because, generally, people don’t like to miss out. A deadline can be a very effective tool for increasing an ad’s response rate, and it can also help you keep a control of budget. It may be difficult to plan your budget if you are still providing a discount from an ad you ran two years earlier.

Make it a limited supply. Again it forces the reader to ‘act now.’ This works in the same way as the timed offer because there is a chance that you will miss out if you don’t do something about it right away. And this is another way of managing the financial impacts of your campaign. Just make sure there is enough supply to satisfy reasonable demand.

Use trial offers. This can be a very powerful tool. We don’t like to feel at risk, particularly when buying something new. For low-cost products such as food, beverages and high-repeat sale items, a free sample can be very encouraging. For larger items, a free trial or an inspection period might be preferred.


A slogan is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) or Unique Buying Reason (UBR) in action. Slogans should be an extension of your USP and not be in conflict with it. Slogans can also change over time as a business develops. Below are some guidelines to assist in the development of a slogan for your business.

1. Decide on your objective. Is it to:

Build company awareness?

Create customer loyalty?

Create controversy?

Establish credibility?

Re-position the business?

2. Develop a list of key words and phrases that are aligned to your objective. For example, if you were looking to develop a slogan around credibility and experience, you may choose words and phrases like:

30 years in business

Strong, stable management



Track record


Consider where the slogan will be used. This can help determine how long it should be, whether it needs a logo to accompany it, choices of colour and even style of writing. If you are going to use it across different media, make sure it works well (some things that work on TV, don’t translate on radio, don’t work well on the Internet). Consider some of the following media:


Print media


Social Media Site


Business cards

Telephone messages

Retail packaging

Order forms

Be creative – remember, you need to stand out.

Seek legal advice to ensure your brand is protected and that you are in fact able to use it. You may need to register an internet domain name of your slogan to protect it online, for example.

Research and test your slogan before final implementation. Make sure you test it with a sample group.

Some examples of slogans are listed below to inspire you:

We Try Harder – Avis

Just Do It – Nike

When it absolutely, positively, has to be there in the morning – FedEx

It’s The Real Thing – Coca Cola

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom – Mazda

The Spirit of Australia – Qantas.

Visual appeal

The design should be clear regardless of the complexity of the business. It may be colourful and chaotic, yet should still have an underlying sense of clarity and flow. It may have a witty or unique idea, or be confronting and anxious in some manner, but should make sense to the customer.


What level of visual literacy does your audience have? The ability to have your message read, either in a literal sense or a non-verbal sense, is the prime motivation for design in the first place, so make sure it is legible.


A skilled designer deals with the placement of text, choice of font, scaling, proportion, readability and hierarchy of information. There is a myriad of typefaces available today. Some businesses will require a font with flexibility, one they can use for many years without becoming tired. Some will use a contemporary, funky font and update it within a few years.

Testing techniques

Testing alternative headlines, format and copy can keep your advertising fresh, while testing alternative media channels can help you identify the best method of reaching your audience. Try testing different ways of saying the same thing

If you engage an advertising agency, you should ensure they understand your objectives loud and clear. Advertising that sells – that’s the creative attitude business owners want, and if you are using an agency it is the attitude you should demand. In reality, most small business owners will not be using an advertising agency. However, you may need the services of a graphic design agency and a professional copywriter from time to time. Following are some ideas on how best to work with a design business or copywriter.

A good brief?

When engaging a third party such as an advertising agency, graphic designer or copywriter, you should write a brief, or an outline of your expectations. A good brief is often a result of good preparation. Ask yourself:

  • What do I need?
  • What is my business plan/budget?
  • What are my business goals?
  • Who is my target market?
  • What are my expectations?
  • What is my timeline?
  • How will I measure the results?
  • Is my business serious? Quirky? Mass market? Niche?
  • Do I deal with other corporate clients, or do I have one-off customers with no particular loyalty?
  • Do I need to look slick? Rough? Intelligent? Handcrafted or elegant?
  • Do I have direct competitors to differentiate myself from?

You may provide a very structured brief following a standardised template, or you may prefer a verbal discussion, with the designer taking notes and asking questions.

The elements that make up good design

Every graphic designer is likely to have a different opinion on this, just as every person has an individual idea of what is a ‘good’ colour, or what is a ‘good’ car to buy – it is a very subjective topic. However, there are some fundamental design principles that can be used to test a ‘good’ design.  But this may be for a future article

What do you think?  What would you add?

Does this interest you?  Would you like a copy of the full paper “Creating Advertising That Sells”  Send me a message

Brian Monger


One thought on “Creating Advertising That Sells

  1. Here are some summarized thoughts about how to prejudge the potential impact and value of a proposed advertisement for a product or service. Both the creative message and media are important.

    – Reach. How many qualified people does it reach in the target audience?

    – Frequency. How often are qualified target audience members exposed to the ad?

    – Size / length. Larger ads (print) have more potential impact, as do longer broadcast ads. Here size matters.

    – Quality of the message (words/images,sounds). How well does the message get the attention of the target audience, relate to them and make an emotional connection? Does it support the intended purpose of the ad? Is the message clear, concise, positive, convincing and demonstrate intended value? Is there a call to action (stated or implied). Is it aesthetically appealing and support the sponsor’s brand and position?

    – Quality of the medium. Is the medium respected, garner the attention and is frequently used by the target audience? Does it fit and support the product/service advertised and the brand of the sponsor?

    Reach, frequency and size and media quality are largely media buying issues that are readily determined. The message is the heart of any ad and its quality is not so easily determined. Here a deep understanding of the target audience and knowledge of how the product/service brings value to this audience is critical. Where possible, unknowns should be tested. The ad should support the sponsor’s brand as well as the sponsor’s marketing objectives and strategy. All these things should be carefully considered and thought out before any ad is created.

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