A weekly marketing column by Graham McGregor

Graham McGregor: How to write a good direct response print advert

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Bob Bly is one of my favourite marketing experts (I highly recommend his excellent free marketing ezine that comes out several times a week.).

Bob gave me some great advice recently on how to write a good direct response print advertisement.

(And I thought it was worth sharing with you.)

Here are some of Bob's thoughts...

To define what constitutes good print advertising, we begin with what a good print ad is not:

It is not creative for the sake of being creative.

It is not designed to please copywriters, art directors, agency presidents, or even clients.

Its main purpose is not to entertain, win awards, or shout at the readers, "I am an ad. Don't you admire my fine writing, bold graphics, and clever concept?"

Okay. So that's what an ad shouldn't be.

As for what an ad should be, here are some characteristics shared by successful direct response print ads:

1: They stress a benefit.

The main selling proposition is not cleverly hidden but is made immediately clear.

Example: "How to Win Friends and Influence People."

2: They arouse curiosity and invite readership.

The key here is not to be outrageous but to address the strongest interests and concerns of your target audience. Example: "Do you Make These Mistakes in English?" appeals to the reader's desire to avoid embarrassment and write and speak properly.

3: They provide information.

The headline "How to Stop Emission Problems-at Half the Cost of Conventional Air Pollution Control Devices" lures the reader because it promises useful information.

Prospects today seek specific, usable information on highly specialized topics. Ads that provide information the reader wants get higher readership and better response.

4: They are knowledgeable.

Successful ad copy reflects a high level of knowledge and understanding of the product and the problem it solves. An effective technique is to tell the reader something he already knows, proving that you, the advertiser, are well-versed in his industry, application, or requirement.

An opposite style, ineffectively used by many "professional" agency copywriters, is to reduce everything to the simplest common denominator and assume the reader is completely ignorant.

But this can insult the reader's intelligence and destroy your credibility with him.

5: They have a strong free offer.

Good ads contain a stronger offer. They tell the reader the next step in the buying process and encourage him to take it NOW.

All ads should have an offer, because the offer generates immediate response and business from prospects who are ready to buy now or at least thinking about buying.

Without an offer, these "urgent" prospects are not encouraged to reach out to you, and you lose many potential customers.

In addition, strong offers increase readership, because people like ads that offer them something-especially if it is free and has high perceived value.

6: They are clearly illustrated.

Good advertising does not use abstract art or concepts that force the reader to puzzle out what is being sold. Ideally, you should be able to understand exactly what the advertiser's proposition is within five seconds of looking at the ad. As John Caples observed a long time ago, the best visual for an ad for a record club is probably a picture of records.

At about this point, someone will stand up and object:

"Wait a minute. You said these are the characteristics of a successful direct response ad. But isn't general advertising different?"

Maybe. But one of the ways to make your general advertising more effective is to write and design it as a direct response ad.

Applying all the stock-in-trade techniques of the direct marketer (coupons, toll-free numbers, free booklets, reason-why copy, benefit-headlines, informative subheads) virtually guarantees that your advertisement will be better read-and get more response-than the average "image" ad.

I agree with Howard Ruff when he says that everything a marketer does should be direct response.

"If it doesn't sell, it isn't creative." - David Ogilvy

Action Exercise:
What points can you use from Bob's comments to write better advertisements of any sort?

Graham McGregor is a consultant specialising in memorable marketing. You can download his 396 page 'Unfair Business Advantage' Ebook at no charge from www.theunfairbusinessadvantage.com

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A weekly marketing column by Graham McGregor

Graham has had 36 years 'hands on' experience in sales and marketing. He has sold a range of services including advertising, sales training, personal development, life insurance, IT services, investment property and business consulting services.

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