From the June 2009 issue of Startups

One of the toughest jobs for any startup is to produce stellar ads without the help of a big-budget ad agency. The key is to engage your target audience, because for advertising to succeed, it has to be remembered. Even on the tightest budget, you can create successful ads by following these six vital tips.

  1. Design for the ad environment. There are literally hundreds of forms of advertising-from billboards, websites and taxi-tops to ads on supermarket clocks. And ad environments sometimes differ within a single medium, such as when magazines offer four-color display advertising and small-space shopper ads. Become familiar with the nuances of the media you choose, and design your ads to meet their specific visual and editorial requirements.
  2. Address the right audience. How well do you understand your target audience? Your ads should immediately appeal to prospects and speak to them in their own vernacular, including buzzwords. The ads must ring true, without the use of gender or cultural stereotypes, or exaggerated claims, so prospects automatically understand that your offer directly relates to their needs and wants.
  3. Have a visual focal point. Unless you're creating a sale ad for a newspaper featuring multiple products, use a single, eye-catching visual to provide the central focus. Competing visuals can make a small-space print ad or online ad appear cluttered. With so much competing advertising, make your ad stand out by virtue of clean, clear design, with an appealing focal point and simple elements.
  4. Create an "aha" moment. If you've ever wondered why the word "new" is used so often in advertising, it's because our brains are actually alert for new information. One of the most exciting parts of creating advertising is that great ads have the ability to open minds. Your ad can show your customers a new way to achieve a goal or provide unique insight. The rewards will be greater audience attention and elevated response rates.
  5. Make something happen. Any ad worth its salt should move a prospect to take some kind of action. If you highlight a strong benefit in your headline and include details in your body copy, your prospects will be excited to learn how to take advantage of what's promised. It's essential to close by providing a call to action that takes prospects to the next step, whether that means making a purchase or visiting your website to learn more. Great ads build interest, are remembered and get results.
  6. Present a powerful benefit. Want to create a headline that pulls in readers? Use it to highlight a desirable benefit or offer. Understand what your customers want that you can provide. Put your promise up front in your headline, then use your ad's body copy to explain how you'll deliver that benefit.