What makes you read an advertisement? Is it the size of the ad, colors used, photograph, or headline? Many times a strong, interesting, and eye-catching headline is the catalyst for a busy person to take the time to read an ad. Writing effective copy is an art, one that takes time and practice. I am amazed by ads that are expensive and well placed, but their copy is weak. It is important to remember that while graphic design is an integral part of any ad, copy must be strong and complement any images used. The following are pointers for creating copy that will be compelling and engaging to your audience.

Determine your audience, and write with their lifestyle, age, needs, and wants in mind. The copy you would compose for a mountain bike store is vastly different from that for an art gallery. Research other ads in the publication you are using. Which ads work well and which don't? Use your research to jump-start ideas.

For advertising continuity you will need to work on concept. It is important to collaborate with your graphic designer at this point. Brainstorm about campaign ideas, then pick a campaign that has "legs," something that can work for the long haul. Consistency is important in your advertising. Don't start with an edgy, hip campaign and then switch to a conservative approach. You will turn off both potential audiences.

Sketch out a rough draft of the ad. Play with headlines and the flow of the body copy. Describe the product or service's benefits, and give the audience a reason to call, stop in, or write for more information. Use simple language and be truthful. Stay away from clichés and overused words or phrases like "conveniently located." Don't overstate the benefits of your service/product -- people won't believe outlandish claims.

Firm up your headline. The formula for a good headline is "ABC: Attention, Benefits, and Creativity." Most effective headlines are short and sweet -- just enough to get your prospective customer to read further. Think about using hot-button words like "New," "Free," "Attention," or "How to." Never use anything that is racy or in dubious taste.

Work with your designer on the copy layout. The flow and presentation of the copy is as important as what it says. Make it easy to read, in a font size that doesn't cause migraines. Don't be afraid to use a lot of copy. It is a myth that people will not read copy-dense ads. Think of the ads for Bose stereos -- a great headline with a full page of text describing the product in detail. People love details. Include price if applicable. A special note about working with artists: artists may steer you in an aesthetic direction that may not suit your needs. Don't be carried away by a beautiful ad that doesn't sell or say anything. Remember, you are trying to gain clients, not win awards for design.

Proofread, proofread, proofread! I can't overstate this. When you've read your ad a dozen times, put it down for a day and then read it again. Give it to a friend or associate to review. This is especially important if you composed the copy yourself. It is difficult to see typos when you've been working with an ad for a while. Having a typo in an ad is an instant loss in credibility, no matter how good you are or how great the offer. Errors in copy cause customers to question your service or product. (I liken this to being on a plane that's dirty -- I always wonder, if they can't clean the tray table, did they check the engine?)

Hire a professional. If you do a lot of advertising, you may wish to hire a professional copywriter. There are many agencies and freelancers that offer copywriting. If you work with a media buyer to place your ads, most will also write the copy.

Study ads that are similar to your own. Brainstorm ideas. Keep a notebook with you to record the idea that comes when you're in the video store or standing in line at the bank.

Copyright © 2000 Kimberly L. McCall