What's In an Ad?

Print ads generally have four written parts - headline, support copy, call to action, and company name - plus a visual. Visuals are usually more important than copies; they're more effective in attracting readers' attention and can instantly present your product or service in a dramatic and motivating way. Unless you're commissioning your own original artwork or photography, the visuals you'll use will probably be either drawings and photographs from your suppliers or non-copyrighted artwork (clip art) found in clip art books and scrap art computer programs. Choose the strongest visual among them - the one that best draws the eye and explains what you're selling - and move on to copies.

The most prominent piece of copy, your headline, must not only work with your visual, amplifying its meaning, but also attract attention with a word, phrase, or sentence announcing a benefit that appeals to your target market. One expert wrote that a headline is that final, mind-changing, sales-clinching comment you'd make when leaving the office of a prospect who, until then, had responded with nothing but negatives. Others point to the enduring effectiveness of the standard headlines "Sale," "Free," and "Buy now and save." Collect ideas that are right for you from your salespeople, the ads in your file, and advertising books. Remember, it is not so much the words, but the ideas they express that sell; determine your message, then find words to convey it.

Below the headline, support copy explains the headline premise and adds secondary benefits and any assurance readers might need to dispel suspicions raised by the headline, such as the assurance of "same great quality" when you're offering a "new low price." Following this copy, a sign-off is a call to action urging the reader to respond ("Call for an appointment today," or "Remember, sale ends March 21").

Your company name, traditionally at the bottom of the ad, should include your address and phone number. Make your phone number larger to help stimulate response by phone. Add a cross street to your address (e.g., "5730 Sheridan, at La Monte") if you're a new business or if, for other reasons, people might have difficulty finding you.

The next step is to combine all these visual and copy elements into an eye-catching, easy-to-read ad formatted to the dimensions stipulated by the publication. It's best to study the ads in that publication in advance and consider what your ad might look like in order to stand out on the page. Experiment with different layout ideas rendered in thumbnail sketches, then fine-tune your ad to fit the layout you prefer. Obviously, it's highly advisable, if not imperative, that when you're doing ads in-house, the person composing your ad has design experience. Not only is skill required to make an ad look right, but the quality of your ad must compete favorably with others appearing in the publication.

It's also a good idea to prepare your ad well ahead of the deadline. This way, you can put it aside for a few days and then review it with a fresh perspective while there's still time to make revisions.

As a final check, lay your ad on a page of the publication where it will appear; make sure it stands out from the articles and other ads on the page.

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