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First Impressions

An intriguing introduction keeps potential customers from skipping your ad.

Too many entrepreneurs miss the chance to make a sale by starting an ad with introductory thoughts that lose the prospect's interest. As late copywriting Hall of Famer John Caples put it in his book Tested Advertising Methods: "Millions of pages have been turned and millions of ads have been left unread because of [boring] first paragraphs."

Perhaps you, too, have high-fived yourself in the bathroom mirror for coming up with a great headline, only to produce an ad that fails because of a lackluster lead-in. Caples says you can overcome the first-paragraph scourge by putting your completed ad aside for 24 hours and then looking at it with fresh eyes. That's when a weak opening will leap out at you.

How to find examples of great lead-ins to inspire you? Apart from observing other ads, Caples suggests reading the way newspaper and magazine stories begin. The best ones arouse curiosity, he says, offering as an example one he plucked from Reader's Digest: "As you sit quietly reading these lines, a whirl of activity is taking place in your body."

By the way, the first-paragraph bugaboo doesn't curse only print ads. Sales letters, brochures and e-mails also suffer without irresistible lead-ins. Is your advertising missing a Caples-esque beginning?

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

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This article was originally published in the March 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: First Impressions.

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