Small Business Department

How to Write Advertising that Works!

By Alan Sartain

John Wanamaker once said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Most business owners agree. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent everyday on national, regional and local advertising. Whether the media of choice is television, newspaper, magazine or Yellow Pages, most business people feel like they are playing advertising roulette. Every advertising dollar you spend must return more than it costs. So how do you know what ads work? Use AIDA, a proven advertising formula and then test and measure the ads!

One of the best books ever written on the subject is actually a compilation of two books by the legendary advertising man Claude C. Hopkins; My Life in Advertising written in 1927 and Scientific Advertising written in 1923. It is amazing that the fundamental principles from 1923 still ring true today. Mr. Hopkins referred to advertising as “salesmanship in print.” Advertising must work harder than a direct sales effort. If you are selling directly to your customers and they don’t agree with a statement, you will immediately know by the tone of their voices and body language. With advertising, your ad either grabs the attention of the prospect or it doesn’t.

The second work that contributed to the AIDA formula was a book by John Caples, Tested Advertising Methods. He became a famous copywriter by combining his creative talent with a strong desire to find out why certain ads worked and others failed. This constant cycle of learning and adapting, helped him determine the critical elements for successful ads. The bottom line is the AIDA formula (Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.)

Attention: The first thing an ad must do is capture the attention of the reader. If it does not then no matter how good the copy is, the ad would be a total waste of money. There are numerous ways to capture attention, but the unfortunately the company name often dominates the headline. Flip to the plumbing section of the Yellow Pages and you are likely to find the following headline: Joe’s (or Phil’s or Smith’s) Plumbing. This is understandable since Joe is proud of his plumbing service.  Unfortunately for Joe, this approach does not work. Think about what you look for when you go to the Yellow Pages. You want to find a plumber that can do the job as soon as possible and one that you can trust. In developing an ad, you need to address your prospects with your headline.  In the case of Joe’s Plumbing, he is attempting to reach homeowners, not students or lawyers.  If used with the correct sub-head, the most powerful headline for Joe is simply: Homeowners…

Interest: The sub-head is designed to engage your prospects by promising to educate them about your product or service. If done correctly, the sub-head will compel the prospects to read the rest of the ad. When combined with the above headline, the following sub-head is very powerful: Ask these 5 Questions Before Hiring a Plumber! With this sub-head, you will come across both as the expert and someone who cares and wants to help the reader.

Desire: The body copy is where you create desire for your prospect and induce them to take action. If you look at Joe’s first ad, typical yet uninspiring, the bullet points are nothing more that a list of services that any plumber can perform. The second ad continues with the education of the prospect and interestingly, Joe’s Plumbing answers all of the questions. Imagine that you are flipping through the yellow pages for a plumber; you’re likely to respond to the second ad because it informs you and differentiates Joe’s Plumbing from the crowd.

Action: Close your ad by speaking directly to your prospects, directing them to call you immediately.  To induce immediate action, you will need to make an offer.  You need not give away money, although money is always a powerful motivator.  Instead, you can give away free advice or service.  In Joe’s case, the call to action gives away a free estimate. Always ask for the order by finishing your ad with a strong call to action.

Which one of theses two ads create the most desire? The second ad obviously works better and thousands of tested ads have proven that the second approach can increase calls by 5, 10 or even 20 fold. How will you know for sure? You must test and measure different approaches. Every ad you run should use slightly different headlines, sub-heads and offers. Over time, you will learn which approach generates the most responses.  Once you have figured out the best ad, stay with it.

By following the AIDA formula and testing each ad, you can significantly increase the effectiveness of you ads, bringing in more customers for less money than ever.  Don’t wait, use the AIDA formula on your next ad and see for yourself how AIDA can bring you more customers.