How to Write an Ad

Everyone knows that advertising people make more money than ordinary people, but many assume that the high pay is because ad writing is so difficult. This is not true. Low-income people can write advertisements, too, so just in case somebody should accost you on the street and ask you to write an advertisement, here is how you may go about it.

There are three basic points every ad writer should bear in mind. First, no advertisement may tell a lie. Lying in ads is dishonest. It is also illegal, so don't. Second, if you have a really good product, tell the truth about it, in tedious detail. And third, if you're trying to peddle a third-rate product, be as persuasive as you can without actually committing yourself to anything. Remember these points.

The purpose of an advertisement is to sell something. To do this, you must convince the prospective buyer that he needs your product more than he needs any other product, even if he doesn't. This is the secret of advertising.

The Display Ad: Before writing the ad, you must decide what kind of an ad to write. The most common these days is the display advertisement, which is a picture of something interesting, accompanied by as few words as possible. The picture must accomplish two things: It must catch the eye, which is why sleek female models are used in so many display ads. And it must also create the desired impression. It is not good practice to show Fidel Castro using your product, even if you have five unsolicited endorsements from him in your files. Endorsements are In, but Castro is Out.

The words in a display ad are important. They must be carefully chosen because there are so few of them that they have no place to hide. They must be appropriate, succinct, and short. Four-letter words are useful, but watch the ones you use. Longer words are fine, too, if you know how to cope with them.

Words that have stood the test of time are "luxurious," "deluxe," "outstanding," "rich," "silky," "superb," "delicious," and "hifi" (often hyphenated in print, but never pronounced that way). Always make sure you use the right word. Automobiles are not delicious. Neither are most phonographs hifi, but it is all right to call a phonograph hifi because, to the average ad reader, a phonograph is a HiFi, just as a vacuum cleaner is a Hoover. One very important word is the manufacturer's brand name. Make sure you include it.

The Text Ad: The other kind of ad is the text ad, which is verbiage with a message. The text ad is much more fun to do than the display ad, because words offer far more opportunity for ambiguity than do pictures. (Regardless of what the FCC had to say about TV advertising.) A text ad sometimes has a picture, too, but it is smaller, and it doesn't have to mean much of anything, just as long as it is eye-catching and creates the intended impression. Remember, though, that the intended impression need not necessarily be the right impression. This depends on whether or not you can be frank about the product you're advertising.

The Top-Notch Product: For instance, if your product is indisputably better than anybody else's, you can probably prove its superiority without too much trouble, so this is the thing to do. Publish hard, cold facts, including all the technical data you can lay your hands on. Show charts, graphs, and photos of your product doing its stuff, and then sit back and wait for the orders to roll in. This is the easier kind of ad writing, because all you have to do is to tell the truth. Of course, who's to know your competitors aren't telling the truth when they publish their specs?

Spec Stretching: A time-honored technique for making a product seem better than it really is is the simple expedient of stretching your specifications. Spec stretching can be done in several ways. You can pull a few dozen units off the assembly line, test them all, and publish the best measurements you get. Or, you can pick an outstandingly good production unit, have it carefully peaked for top performance in your design lab, and publish its performance specs.

If you really want to get an edge on the competition, you can devise your own set of test procedures, using measuring techniques and reference standards that are much less stringent than those used by your competitors. If you do this, however, do not list your test conditions. Just omit them, and publish only the measurements.

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fricc's picture

After almost fifty years of hard work, and with the precious instructions of GJH, cable manufacturers seem to have gotten all this really right!

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