When selling through advertising, you’re faced with two options,
both of which you will probably use frequently. Those options
are display and classified advertising.
We won’t deal here with radio and television copy writing
because it is not something many of you will be using until you
have developed a great deal of mail order experience. Once
you’re dealing with that sort of capital investment, you’ll
probably have an intimate understanding of the fact that expert
help is essential to the successful launch of any campaign, and
frankly, electronic media are not our field of experience.
Classified ad copy writing is a very exacting craft, not an art
in the way that display advertising is. It involves following a
few simple guidelines and requires little skill. That’s why
daily newspapers hire school and college students to take orders
– and write – for their classified section over the telephone.
The first point worth noting is that classified ads are sold by
the word or by the line. This has a bearing on how you write
your ads, because if the ad is sold by the word, you’re not
going to write an ad that has a bunch of « a’s » and « the’s » in
it. But at the same time, if it’s sold by the line, it will be
worth your while to include these words in the ad, as they’ll
appeal to the better educated segment of the market.
So an ad in at so much a line might read:
« The hottest thing in years. This is a household wonder you’ll
cherish for years. »
The same ad at so much a word will read:
« Hottest recent development. Cherish this household innovation
for generations. »
Both are about the same length. The first reads nicely in
proper English and the second used big, powerful words to make
up for awkward structure.
When you buy by the word, which will be the case in most
markets, use the biggest, most action-packed words you can think
of. And while we’re on the subject of word count, the way you
mark your address in a classified is also important.
If you live on Dog Breath Lane, mark your address as 22
Dogbreath, unless in that subdivision, there also happens to be
a Dog Breath circle, a Dog Breath Avenue and so forth, in which
case Dogbreath Lane will do. You can usually get away with this
ploy, since these ridiculous two name streets are there to sell
houses, not to please the Post Office. If you live in Apartment
12, you can usually get away with 12-22 Dogbreath, which saves
you another word. Never leave out the zip code, even a
nine-diget zip code counts as one word and in many publications
doesn’t count as a word at all.
The initials of your name or company will also do unless you’re
trying to project an image, and this can save you from one to
three words. Even your last name will be all right.
In most magazines and a few newspapers, your first word or line
of type will be set in darker bold letters. Choose that first
word or two very carefully. If you really want good results, do
exactly the opposite of what most other advertisers are doing,
or be different.
If you’ve got an income opportunity and CASH, MONEYMAKING or
INCOME are the usual first two words, be a bit creative, perhaps
with BROKE (no more! Try selling doogles! or HORRENDOUS)
(budget, a thing of the past.)
The first word or line gets your reader interested, and no
matter how large the circulation of the publication, you’ll
suffer terribly if you’re not attracting the reader as well as
the other advertisers. Those opening words are crucial. Like
the man said, you don’t get a second chance to make a good
Once you’ve made the hook, hold the reader by telling him
exactly what you’re offering. If it’s an ad for more
information, let him know what kind of information and where it
leads. Then drop the cost on him, if any and your name and
address. If it’s a product, in words that say a lot. It’s fine
to pussyfoot in a display ad if you can afford the space, but
short, sharp, to-the-point is what sells from classifieds.
One minor point or style to remember, if you’re offering a
bonus, leave it to the very last. « Bonus with… » won’t work.
A bonus or free gift is offered for one reason only: to hook
someone who has not quite been sold by the rest of the ad. The
offer of a bonus won’t work UNTIL they know what it comes with.
Writing display ad copy is much more involved and should really
not be undertaken by even the brightest English graduate without
some expert help. As we stated earlier, ad copy writing is one
of the highest-paying of the creative professions, mainly
because it is so difficult to do.
If you must do it yourself, here’s a few things you can do to
make the task a bit more successful.
Making use of the techniques we mentioned earlier, determine
which benefit your client is like to be most interested in.
Target the emotion that motivates the need for that benefit in
most people. If you can do that, you’ll hook the right person
for the product. If you’re selling runless pantyhose for
example, you know the anti-run characteristic motivates the
buyer, and the reason why women want to buy anti-run hose is to
look better longer.
Hey, there’s the lead for your copy! In big letters, you’re
going to flag your ad with LOOK BETTER LONGER! You might want
to bracket it top or bottom by writing in smaller letters:
« Da-don’t-run-run hose will help you « LOOK BETTER LONGER » in the
Da-don’t-run-run hose. » If the client is interested in runless
hose, you’ve got her. If not, forget it. Anything else you
could use to get a client who doesn’t wear pantyhose will cost
your clients who do use them, and that’s a waste.
Once you’ve got the initial benefit out in the open, either
explain it or be very sneaky about adding another. So say:
« These pantyhose will give you the confidence in your appearance
you won’t get with other pantyhose… » or
« LONGER… and without blowing your budget. These will give
you the confidence… »
but the best way to sneak in additional benefits without looking
pushy is to say:
« LONGER! Without blowing your budget, these pantyhose will give
you the… » using the new benefit as a prefix.
And, oh, it’s so much more complex than that. It’s obviously a
development in synthetic fibers that allows those hose to be
superior, so that must be included too, because the customer
wants to know why they’re so good.
Where do you mention it though? It might be just as effective
to get to it right after the heading, in this manner:
« LOOK BETTER LONGER! Thanks to a new development in synthetic
fibers, Da-don’t-run-run panty hose will give you the confidence
in your appearance you won’t get with other pantyhose. »
Then the money aspect. And how do you do that? Do you make the
sentence longer or start a new sentence? YOU MUST WEIGH EVERY
WORD WITH A SURGEON’S CARE! And what about a coupon at the
Do you use a small order form or use the address of the company?
How many words do you need, and if you need a lot of words, can
you afford the space it will take to print them?
Get a word count, and fix it within fairly narrow limits or
you’ll bore the reader or leave no room for graphics or blank
space, which you must have to some degree for proper esthetic
Speaking of graphics, what will you have to use? Will you have
to make your own? (Clip art used by most dealers is horribly
tacky.) And heaven forbid, you design an ad based on another
successful campaign by another firm with similar products… and
it works well that it sends their sales rising! It could happen.
There are many firms, probably even in small cities, that
specialize in print media advertising, and many do excellent
You in Canada are fortunate, especially if you live in Toronto,
Vancouver, Montreal or Calgary, since talent runs cheap in
Canadian advertising firms and you can get excellent work, and
we’re sorry to say this but it will generally be more creative
than American agencies of similar size.
The fact remains, though, that you know your product better than
the agency, and you probably know how you want to sell it.
You might have ideas for wording, graphical layout, any number
of things. If you truly want to make your campaign, and
especially at that crucial first campaign, as profitable as
possible, use the services of a graphics firm that composes
print advertising at the very least, and ad agency at the best.
By the way, we’ve discovered a lot of graphics houses have some
frustrated ad copy writers who can give you expert direction at
low cost if you’ll only ask.
Be ready to take in all your ideas at the time you get your ad
done. Every bit of work you do yourself should come off the
bill you’ll be paying for the job, since it cuts the time the
agency or graphics house has to take to prepare the ad.