From the November 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

Why do relatively few people actually read an ad all the way through? Because beyond the headline, the rest of the sales message is usually locked in a boring block of paragraphs below it. Unless their interest in the product or service is keen from the outset, readers aren't easily lured into the homework assignment that a copy block can look like. Indeed, the sales points embedded there may be superbly crafted and hugely persuasive, yet may never get read because the text looks like labor to get through.

That's why it's refreshing to see an ad like the one shown here from Graco, a well-known maker of baby gear. The company compartmentalized its key sales points about its car seat in eye-popping yellow bursts that float like clouds around the ad. In fact, the headline itself hovers in a little cartoon cloud. So a new mom who's flipping though a parenting magazine with little Kevin or Kaitlin napping or yapping on her shoulder can quickly get the key points.

Obviously, such a whimsical graphic treatment is not appropriate for all products or services. But that doesn't mean you have to stick with formal copy-block ad formats. There are attention-grabbing cousins of the burst approach, including captions and call outs, that attract attention just as well. Use such blurbs to surround a central visual and point to different features, or simply to make your best sales points. House them in colored shapes, à la Graco. Put them inside "balloons." Have them flash on in sequence in your HTML e-mail. There can be a dozen of them without the ad looking daunting. The key is to keep them in easily digestible nibbles that look simple to read. And why not consider this same format to show off your powerful testimonials and endorsements? It almost assures they'll get read.

Mind you, my love for snack-size copy bits flying around an ad doesn't mean that paragraph copy is ready for the dustbin of advertising history. Many ads with potent headlines and dense copy blocks below can still get credit cards flying. Just don't underestimate the effect of advertising fatigue on your prospects. They are barraged every day with hundreds-even thousands-of advertising messages, each trying to distract them from more important matters. By the end of the day, their interest level in clearances, fall sales, closeouts, blowouts, manager's specials, zero-percent financing, mark-downs and "a free turkey with every order over $20" has pretty much flat-lined.

Always look for ways to relieve a sales pitch with graphics. And consider how approachable-or formidable-your piece of advertising may look to the typically indifferent, desensitized passerby.



Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising.