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Compelling messages deliver better ad results

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By Andrew Ballard
Growth Strategies
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013, 3:33 p.m.
  • Andrew Ballard

    Andrew Ballard

When advertising campaigns don’t generate the desired results, many advertisers blame the media (delivery vehicle, e.g. broadcast, print, Internet, etc.) when it is more often the message that failed to deliver.
In the midst of a slow recovery, ad budgets are still tight. Consequently, there is more accountability for results now than ever before. For ads to be effective, they need to be well targeted — not only in terms of reaching the right audience, but with a compelling message, too.
Choosing the right media is easier than crafting the right message because selecting your media mix involves “science.” The objective is to match your target audience to the media vehicles most cost effective at reaching them. Creating a message, however, that stimulates interest and action is more difficult because it involves “art.”
When crafting messages, remember that you’re writing for your customers, based on their values and preferences, and not for yourself. To truly understand what your prospective customers care about requires research.
Once you know what your customers care about, there is a tried-and-true formula that will help you sequence your content and likely improve your results. Many successful copywriters use the AIDA method, which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. These are the four stages a consumer goes through (during the buying process) as they consider and eventually make a purchase.
The length of time it takes a consumer to go through these four stages has mostly to do with the product category. When purchasing a loaf of bread, a consumer isn’t even aware of the buying process since it takes a matter of seconds. However, when considering a larger purchase, such as a new car or enterprise software for a business, the buying process can be lengthy. Following is the AIDA messaging process.
Attention: You need to cut through the clutter before you’ll get anyone’s attention. The most important copy you’ll ever write is the headline or hook. Asking a poignant question and using a stunning illustration or photograph are also effective attention getters. Advertising legend David Ogilvy started by writing up to 16 headlines for every ad he wrote. And he made a gazillion dollars doing so; you might consider following his lead.
Interest: You want to communicate “what’s in it for me” early in your ad to arouse prospects’ interests. Use short, simple sentences that convey advantages and benefits. A list of features won’t get prospects excited; benefits are why people buy. Explain how your product or service will make your prospect’s life better.
Desire: All purchases are motivated by either “decreasing risk” or “increasing gain.” Make a connection with your audience’s underlying motivation based on the satisfaction or solution your product or service will provide. This is the part of your ad where you’ll make an irresistible offer, a strong guarantee or astonishing claim (as long as it’s legitimate).
Action: A “call to action” is imperative if you want to generate a response. Be specific about what you want your prospect to do: Call for more information, go to our website, schedule an appointment, etc. Creating urgency (limited time or inventory), building value (third-party endorsement) and offering an incentive can also increase the level of action.
Common mistakes include putting your company identity or logo at the top or in the beginning of your ad copy (it should be below or at the end, after your call to action). Trying to cram in too much information can actually reduce results. Keep your copy focused on a single selling proposition, and above all, keep it simple.
It is also advisable to have someone else proof your ad copy. Have a team member or colleague read it out loud; if it doesn’t sound conversational, your copy won’t read well.
In summary, your copy structure should be: headline/hook, benefit-laden body copy, desire-building offer, call to action, identity (logo) and signature (slogan). If you want to get better ad results, practice writing headlines, and your advertising won’t fail to deliver.
Andrew Ballard is the president of Marketing Solutions, a local agency specializing in growth strategies. For more information, call 425-337-1100 or go to
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