The following 10 pointers assume you've already addressed a simple, but very important, prerequisite: identifying the right publication with the right audience for your ad. Although that seems like a no-brainer, you'd be surprised how failing to meet that requirement has derailed many an otherwise great piece of advertising.
1. Create a headline "to die for." This is the most important part of an ad, bar none. It must be compelling enough to grab the reader's attention as he or she "surfs" through the publication. How can you stop people in their tracks? Appeal to the reader's self-interest, promising to improve his or her life in some important way.
2. Avoid headline clichés; use unexpected words instead. It helps to use a word or words not usually seen in advertisements. For example, instead of calling your sale a "Spring Sale," why not call it a "Spring Price Thaw"? I call such approaches "speed bumps" that get the reader's attention. Another example: (before) "Lose weight without dieting"; (after) "Lose weight on strawberry shortcake."
3. Support the headline with a strong subhead. This is typically a sentence in boldface type that follows the headline and adds a little more information. It's an important element because even if people don't read the fine print, they're usually willing to scan headlines and subheads to get the gist of your message. So use these two elements to communicate the essence of your sales pitch while "teasing" the audience enough to read further. For example, the dieting headline above might have a subhead like this: "Discover how easy it can be to lose 10 pounds in 10 days and still eat the foods you love."
4. Use an arresting visual. Support the headline and subhead with a complementary--and, ideally, arresting--photo or illustration. Again, aim for the unexpected. For example, a dry cleaner could trumpet, "We specialize in spot removal" in an ad using a cartoon of a spotless leopard trying to cover up as if naked. If your ad is small, an interesting border treatment can make it stand out visually.
5. Use direct-response elements. Unless you simply want to build name recognition and not get an immediate response to your ad (perish the thought!), you need to add elements that motivate a response. A prize drawing can increase retail traffic and also give you a database of names to mail to. A free bonus of some kind--for example, a bottle of special spot cleaner as a gift to offer your rug-cleaning clients--can differentiate you from the competition and get people to try your product or service. A free publication on "after-care" of any home or business service can be an incentive, too. Free information can generate leads if it has a high perceived value.
6. Sell with testimonials. What you say about your product can never carry as much weight as what satisfied customers say about it. So always try your darnedest to include at least one or two testimonial quotes--including the person's name--in your ad. (Ask permission first, of course.)
7-10. Use YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU through and through. You can't say "you" too often. Addressing the reader as "you" throughout your ad elicits far more attention than talking about what "we"--meaning your company--can do. Let's face it: By constantly referring to "you," you'll be talking about the reader's favorite subject. --Jerry Fisher