Print Ads

Print ads are the oldest form of marketing. In the 1800s, copywriters would spend their entire careers writing print advertising and little else.

These days, print ads are still everywhere, in newspapers, newsletters, magazines, conference materials — virtually anything that is published in print or online. Like it or not, it's advertising that makes a lot of the materials that we read and enjoy possible.

Many trade magazines — those that target professionals like plumbers and lawyers — feature a special reply card that readers can send in to receive more information on advertised products or services. So your call to action might be worded as “Call us for a free product brochure, or circle 37 on the reader services card.”

The format for a print advertisement is relatively straightforward and hasn't changed much in over a century. The typical components are as follows:

  • Headline

  • Visual

  • Body copy

  • Call to action

  • Ad Writing Secrets

    Composing an ad is like writing a song. You want to make sure it's a hit! Too long, too soft, too boring, or too whatever and your ad won't get any airplay. People won't listen. That's what makes writing a successful ad such a challenge. Even though you may only have to come up with a headline and fifty or so words of text, it can take hours to get those words just right. You can't afford to have even one awkward sentence, uninspiring metaphor, or impotent adjective.

    Here are the top tips for writing a successful print advertisement:

  • Put a benefit in your headline. Sometimes a clever or humorous headline can be effective, but it's a gamble. For every humorous headline that does work well, there are hundreds that do not. Clever headlines often make the copywriter or agency look good — “Aren't we smart!” — but do little to sell the product. A more surefire approach to creating a winning ad is to put a benefit in the headline.

  • Make your ads easy to skim. These days, everyone is busy, especially business people. So make it easy for readers to skim the ads and still get the message. Use bullets, subheads, bold and underlined text, and descriptive visuals to quickly communicate the key points.

  • Use customer testimonials. These are extremely effective in ads, yet rarely used. Think about it. Your customers expect you to be biased. But they will trust their fellow customers to be impartial.

  • Focus on the customer. As with any promotional piece, answer the reader's question: “What's in it for me?”

  • Use Y words. An ad is no place to sound self-absorbed. Use words like “you” and “your” to describe the benefits rather than “we” or “our.” For example, “You will write 50% faster” is much stronger than “Our training program improves writing productivity by 50%.”

  • Spend time on the headline. This is by far the most important component of an ad. Spend the time necessary to get it right. Brainstorm. Develop a list of possibilities. Scrutinize each one until you come up with a potential winner. The body copy and visuals may be important, but it's the headline that will often make or break your ad.

  • Be your own worse critic. Imagine your ad on a page cluttered with other ads and articles. As the reader, ask yourself: “Would I notice and read this ad?”

  • Put a coupon in your ad. That's what copywriting legend Bob Bly advises in his book, Business-to-Business Direct Marketing. “Coupons visually identify your ad as a direct response ad, causing more people to stop and read it or at least look at the coupon to see what they can get for free.”

  • Hit a home run with the body copy. If the prospect notices the headline and starts to read your body copy, this is your chance to convince him or her to act. Give it your best shot with the most persuasive body copy you can write.

  • As you write the ad, try to think of a visual that will support the key messages and help make the ad better and more effective. Don't leave this up to the designer — he or she may not be knowledgeable in print advertising and may mistakenly use a visual that competes with rather than complements your key messages. The best visuals illustrate the benefit in some way.

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