12 ad copy tips

John Foust

Dec 1, 2020


Once an ad’s graphic design attracts readers’ eyes, it has to say something of value. Otherwise, readers will skip the ad and miss the message completely. Here are a dozen copywriting tips to gain and hold attention:

  1. Don’t try to appeal to everyone. Every large group (newspaper readers, for example) is composed of smaller groups (homeowners, parents, accountants, etc.). When you clearly define a specific target audience, you’ll be able to tailor the advertising to fit their needs.
  2. Make the headline sell. According to research, four out of five people don’t read beyond an ad’s headline. This means the headline has to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Its primary purpose is to convince readers to keep reading to learn more about the product being advertised.
  3. Give relevant information. Before they make buying decisions, consumers need to know the answers to several key questions: who, what, when, where, why and how much does it cost?
  4. Use simple language. Readers lose interest when they encounter complicated terminology or long explanations. When that happens, they turn the page or click the button — and the advertiser loses. It’s best to keep things simple.
  5. Say or imply “you.” Readers care more about themselves than about anyone else. That’s human nature. And that’s why the focus should always be on the consumer, not the advertiser. “How you can save on your heating bill” is a better message than “How we cut heating bills.”
  6. Use product benefits to appeal to readers’ self-interest. This is a sensible way to keep the focus on “you.” People don’t buy features; they buy benefits. They don’t buy products; they buy what those products can do for them.
  7. Don’t exaggerate. Advertisers lose credibility with words like “unbelievable,” “fantastic” and “incredible.” Consumers simply don’t believe that kind of puffery. And they are likely to disbelieve everything else those advertisers say, even if some of those things are true.
  8. Don’t make unsubstantiated claims. When advertisers say their products have certain attributes or accomplish certain results, they should support those statements with evidence. That could be in the form of data, examples or testimonials.
  9. Limit exclamation marks. One sign of weak writing is the overuse of exclamation marks. If numerous sentences require special punctuation to sound important, it would be better to use more important words instead. Take a look at national advertising and you might not see any exclamation marks at all.
  10. Don’t criticize the competition. When an advertiser blasts competitors, it looks like sour grapes. Comparisons are much more believable. Some ads even feature charts with point-by-point comparisons of specific features.
  11. Create urgency. If you’re running a response ad (as opposed to an image ad), give people a reason to buy immediately. Is inventory limited? Will the offer expire soon?
  12. Ask readers to take specific action. What do you want people to do when they finish reading an ad? Stop by the store today? Call for information? Place their orders now? Don’t make them guess. Tell them. © John Foust 2020. All rights reserved.

John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. Email for information: john@johnfoust.com