How to Write an Ad Page 2

It is not usually wise to invent specifications, except in those cases where it would be difficult for anyone to disprove them.

The Calculated Omission: If the product you are advertising is really quite good in most respects, but has a few less attractive features, play up its positive qualities to the exclusion of everything else. It is bad practice to try and explain that the aspects in which it is inferior aren't really important, because this will only draw attention to the fact that competing products are better in these respects. Publish a factual-looking spec sheet, but omit the specs that wouldn't look too good on paper. This isn't lying about the product. It is just being evasive, and there's nothing dishonest about that.

The Mediocre Product: Advertising the product that isn't really any better than the competition demands a certain dexterity with words. To claim for it things that simply aren't true is illegal. Yet to be truthful about it would defeat the purpose of the ad. So, you must endeavor to give the impression that you are making certain claims for the product, while actually avoiding any outright statement that could be proven false.

The safest course of action here is to lean heavily on opinions—assertions which, if questioned, can be passed off as somebody's "honest opinion." Most adjectives, like "high-quality," "deluxe," and "hifi" are safe to use as opinion words. Nouns are risky, as there are dictionary definitions of most of them, and the courts are happy to supply definitions where none already exist.

The Endorsement: The fact that some celebrity owns and purports to like your product will be highly persuasive to people who can't make up their own mind, but unsolicited endorsements come few and far between for the maker of the mediocre. There's a way around this, though. Some celebrities can be bought, if you can meet their price. Most, however, are leery about endorsing products they've never heard of. But if you would care to donate one of your products to them, they won't be averse to posing in a picture with it and allowing you to state that they own the product, which indeed they do.

The Junk Product: You may never be faced with the problem of advertising a truly worthless product, but it happens occasionally to every practicing ad writer, so you should know how to cope with it when it comes along.

The secret of this kind of ad is: The worse the product, the more flamboyant the ad must be. Flamboyant ads will repel intelligent people, but they won't buy the product anyway, so to heck with them. Aim your ad at the clod mentality.

The clod can read, but he swore off it ever since high-school English class. So don't give him text ads. Give him the loudest display ad you can dream up. Use a gaudy picture—preferably in several colors, including red—and use vibrating circus-billboard type to get across your message.

A little market research will help here, to clue you in to your prospective buyer's most pressing needs and desires of the moment. These are known as appeals. Some effective appeals are those pertaining to money (Save, save, save!), prestige (The finest homes have...), comfort or pleasure (Satiate your sensibilities!), and the herd instinct (You gotta have it 'coz everybody else's got it!). Appeals sell products, so be appealing.

Finally, a word about evaluating your work. Anyone can write an ad, but a good ad is more effective than a bad ad. How can we tell whether or not an ad is a good one? This is easy. If it sells the product, it's a good ad. It's that simple.

Footnote: Lucius Wordburger is a nom de plume for the author, J. Gordon Holt, who wishes to remain anonymous.

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!