Sunday, October 16, 2011

How to Create an Effective Ad

     What makes a good advertisement?

     For cynics, a good advertisement is one that the client approves.
      However, Leo Burnett, a famous advertising man, said, “The best identification of a great advertisement is not only that its public is strongly sold by it, but that both the public and the advertising world remember it as an admirable piece of work.”

     David Ogilvy, another famous adman (there is an Ogilvy and Mather agency in Santa Cruz), put it a little bit differently: “A good advertisement is one that sells the product without drawing attention to itself. It should rivet the reader’s attention on the product. Instead of saying, `What a clever advertisement,' the reader says, 'I never knew that before. I´ll have to try that product.' ”

      But the main thing, in all cases, is that the ad must sell the product, which is not always as easy as it sounds. Advertising people are fond of saying enigmatic things like, in the case of an ad selling steaks in a restaurant, “You don’t sell the steak. You sell the sizzle.”


      While we are going to keep things very simple, it will help to know some of the language advertising people use in analyzing a situation for which they are going to create an ad. They consider fours aspects in deciding what approach to take:

       The recipient – Who is the person (or persons) we want to get this message to?.

      The channel – What is the best way to get the message to the recipient – TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, Internet, billboards?. (This will not be a big issue for us because we will be basically creating magazine ads since they’re the easiest to conceptualize. Of course, if someone wants to try to make a TV or radio ad, they are welcome to try.)

      The message – What, exactly, is it we want to tell the recipient? (How do we communicate the “sizzle” to the recipient?)

       The source --. Who or what is communicating the message. The source might be a person like a celebrity, or just an ordinary citizen. It could be an organization, like a school. Usually it’s the company that makes the product. But in a pet food ad, it might be a dog or cat. We want it to be someone who can influence the recipient.

      After we come to an opinion on these points we then begin to construct an ad, and as a general rule we are going to start with doing a rough draft of the message we want to get across. In our first case, a restaurant,  it will be something very basic like “Come to my restaurant. The food is good and the price is right.” But we will also want to tell the recipient why we are a better choice than all the other restaurants making basically the same claim.

      Let’s stop here and do Step One: Designing Our Restaurant.  Use this sheet I´m giving you.


      Next comes Step Two: What message do we want to channel to recipients about this restaurant. Who do we want to attract to this restaurant? Why do we think they will come?

       The basic principles are the same ones we have been using in all our writing.  At the start we have to get the reader’s attention. Many of the techniques we have used before still apply. We can set a scene for the reader/recipient. Or tell him or her some amazing fact. Promise that going to this restaurant will be in his or her best interest, that it will make him or her a better human being. 

       Supposedly there are several words that never lose their power, no matter how often they are used. They include “amazing,” “new,” “free,” and  ”improved.” If you have a chance to use one of them, do so.

       Then the rest of the “body copy” should be arranged in a logical order. The message can be put into mouth, so to speak, of a celebrity, the company, an ordinary citizen, or anyone else. Some advertisements include, or consist entirely, of “testimonials,” which are statements from clients, patrons or consumers of the product or service being advertised. 

      (To review the basic principles of writing, re-read “How To Write Anything,” which is still on this weblog (
       Keep it short. No more than 200 words, probably. Maybe less. But they have to be good  words: Think about them very carefully. Don’t waste any. Don’t put in any that aren’t needed. In the past there have been famously successful advertisements that have had 700. 900, and even 1400 words, but the feeling seems to be that people won’t read that much any more. You should write, and then re-write several times, making it better each time.

      Keep it simple.  Don’t try to be literary or fancy. Write in the way that people speak to one another in everyday conversation. (If you’re looking for a way to get started on the restaurant project, imagine you are at a party and someone has just asked you, “What is your restaurant like? Would I like it?”)  You should, once again, “dictate” your text --“copy” in advertising lingo – to yourself as you write it. And read it back to yourself to “test” it for clarity, coherence  and smoothness. A famous book on writing, Rudolph Flesch’s “Art of Plain Talk,” urges writers to use short words, short sentences, short paragraphs, and highly personal copy.

      Give lots of facts. “The more you tell, the more you sell,” says one of the old axioms of advertising. This is how you get the reader to say, “I didn’t know that. I´ll have to try this.” Don’t be afraid to use facts that also apply to competitors. One airline (KLM) built a reputation as a safe airline by telling in its ads about all the safety checks it performed, even though all airlines did the same checks.

      Also give the recipient information and advice he or she can use. If you’re advertising a restaurant, make sure people know how to get there, and how to call to make a reservation.  If you’re selling laundry detergent, give people hints on how to get certain kinds of difficult stains (using your product).

       OK, enough advice. Write it out and send it to me. We’ll consider this a “first draft.” So it doesn’t have to be perfect.


      Step Three is to come up with a slogan (lema), or headline to go on top of the message.   This is the most important element in many if not most advertisements. (Some people think the image is what attracts the recipient initially, but the headline is  what makes the recipient decide whether to read the rest of the copy. On average only 20 percent of readers who read the headline read the “body copy.” A good headline can boost that percentage several times over.

       David Ogilvy always wrote at least 16 different headlines before picking the best one. You should write at least several before picking one. They do not have to be short. Twelve words is not too long. One of the most famous ad headlines had 18 words: “At 60 miles per hour the loudest sound in the new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock.”
      Using specific, concrete nouns, and active verbs can be especially important in the headline. Words that tend to attract attention  include: “HOW TO,” “ANNOUNCING,” “INTRODUCING,” Don’t be afraid to use emotional words:”DARLING,” “LOVE,” “FEAR,” ”FRIEND.” A restaurant, for example, could be a place “WHERE FRIENDS GET TOGETHER.”    


      Step Four is the image. Some people would say that this should come first, and maybe it should, but this is a writing class, not an art class, so we are picking the image to go with the headline and message, rather than the other way around. Ultimately they must all work together synergistically so that the whole is greater than the parts. (Remember that word for the SAT.) You should prepare yourself for the possibility that the image you choose may cause you to change the text.

      In the real world we could think up and image, and then go out and create it  In class we are going to stick to images available on the Internet, with the best source probably being Google Images.  You want to look for a picture – and photographs are almost always more potent than drawings – that attracts the recipient; that fits with the message (and headline); and that “sells the sizzle.”


      This is the fun part. Put everything together on a single page. You can play with the size of the image, the headline, and the body type. You can try different fonts (styles of type). Do make sure the type size is big enough to be read easily. Generally speaking it is supposed to be easier to read “serif” type like this type face (Times New Roman), than it is to read “sans serif type like this, which is Arial. However, designers seem to prefer sans serif type. Don’t use a hard-to-read “script” like this, unless you have a really good reason. The elements in the ad should form a design that feels balanced, like a Mondrian painting, if you are acquainted with that artist.  

      Be sure to add in all the needed  information like address, phone number, days and hours the restaurant is open, etc. 

      Go do it. Send it to me as an attachment when you are done.