How to tell a good ad from a bad one: 10 point check list for predictable results

Your prospects are no fools. They’ve seen plenty of ads, heard plenty of pitches. They’ve been promised the moon, acres of blue sky, and 90-day paybacks for bridges in Brooklyn.

In today’s market, when you advertise for business, you’d better mean business. Corporate puffery and golden prose about “quality” and “commitment” and “our people make the difference,” just won’t cut it.

So let’s get into the guts of what makes ads really work hard. Bad advertising costs as much as (or more than) good advertising. Protect your investment by giving your prospects good reasons to read your ads.

  1. A strong, well-defined concept. Your ad must have a purpose. What is the focus? Is it corporate image? Product promotion? Primary sell? Secondary sell?  Set objectives such as building awareness or stimulating inquiries. Establish a competitive position. Make sure your ad is consistent with your communication strategy and the marketing plan it supports. Ads without a strong concept have no lasting impact on readers.
  2. A precise target. Know your prospects. Direct all creative and strategic energies toward delivering your message to them. Study in detail their industries, jobs, interests, and problems. Headlines, visuals, and copy must work hard both to attract prospects and to screen out unqualified readers.
  3. A strong but relevant visual appeal. Use clean, bold design and design elements that appeal specifically to your prospects. Entice them. Let a single ad component dominate. Avoid clutter. Be wary of borrowed interest. It’s confusing.  Think less in terms of just “getting attention” and more in terms of appealing boldly and directly to your prospects’ specific interests. You don’t just want their attention, you want their business!
  4. A headline worth reading. Marry your headline and your visual and give something of value to your prospects. Now you have real targeted impact.  Headlines with relevant benefits pull well. Headlines with news value pull well.  Headlines that promise useful information pull well. Curiosity headlines are risky.  Brag-and-boast headlines are a waste of good money.
  5. Easy to read and follow. Avoid hard-to-read typefaces. Don’t reverse body copy. Use a clean, uncluttered design that gives the reader a clear path to follow.  Go easy on the visual gimmicks: boldface, underline, italics, caps, exclamation points. Use simple, plain English; don’t try to be too elegant. Go easy on the jargon. Back off on the cute and clever. Don’t allow the style to step on the substance.
  6. The prospect comes first. Use more “you get” than “we have”. Only your prospects’ self-interest matters. They ask, “What’s in it for me?” Will the size of your logo solve their problem? Will a picture of your boss or building make their life any easier? The rule is sell the service, not the source. Your product’s features and benefits are a lot more useful information than your company mission statement. You want them to say, “tell me more,” instead of “who cares?”
  7. Reward the reader. People who read your ads deserve a reward. Offer something. Make a promise. Back it up with useful information. Forget the chest thumping and give your prospects details about how you can help them. Make a clear call for action. Ask for the business if you want it.
  8. Make it easy to believe. Don’t overstate. Don’t make empty promises.  Demonstrate and substantiate. Prove your claims with facts and details. Don’t just talk about quality, give concrete evidence that it exists.
  9. Dare to be different from your competitors’ ads. When your ad says “me too,” your prospects say “too bad.” The look, tone, and message of your ad must differ from your competitors’. Don’t copy them; they may be wrong. Even if they’re not, you’ll look like a follower, not a leader.
  10. Be consistent. All your sales messages must work in harmony. Keep your ad messages consistent with each other and with those used in your sales literature, direct mail promotion, and trade show activity. The cumulative effect provides a clear, positive perception of your company.

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