Treasure Hunt

Searching for some sparkling ad copy? It might be right under your nose.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the July 1997 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Instead of looking heavenward, as many of us do, for inspiration on how to improve our advertising, sometimes it pays to do just the opposite: Look downward. By that I mean look down into the belly of your current advertising copy for any buried treasure that might merit boosting to the top, perhaps even as a stronger, more eye-catching headline than the one you're using.

I say this because there have been several times a client has anointed me an advertising Einstein as the result of a smart ad concept I've presented, only to learn the idea was actually theirs. I merely found it lying mildewed in the fourth paragraph of their old advertising copy and raised it to its rightful place. You'd be surprised how much potentially powerful, fresh headline material lies hidden below the surface of a lot of advertising efforts.

That's my primary message to Don Sims of Lamar, Arkansas, who wrote recently. Sims is in the seminar field, taking the stage every week on behalf of a program called "Debt-Free and Prosperous Living." The seminar describes a system of satisfying your debts within a few years and then using the money you would have spent on your now-paid mortgage to build a retirement nest egg. The flier Sims sends out to solicit church groups and other prospective audiences across the country is not weak by any means; some provocative ideas are persuasively communicated. But with a little burnishing, it could become even stronger.

Lower Your Sights

My first take on eyeballing Sims' flier is that the headline, although catchy, was placed too high visually. This isn't an egregious sin; however, for the same reason companies like to have their products at eye-level on supermarket shelves, headlines should also be at eye level for maximum impact. Second, after reading the whole flier, I felt that the first bulleted item in the copy, "How to turn every dollar of debt, including your mortgage, into $11.83 of real wealth" and so on, offered even more potential benefit than the promise in the headline. So my recommendation is to use a distilled version of that bulleted point as the new headline, while using the essence of the original headline in the subhead.

Thus, the new headline would read: "Turn Your Every Dollar of Debt Into $11.83 of Wealth. Here's how." This headline would be followed by a subhead that said: "Attend one powerful seminar and learn how to be debt-free in about five years, no matter what your circumstances . . . while also safely building a $1 million+ retirement nest egg."

Moreover, I thought the name of the seminar, "Debt-Free and Prosperous Living," was essentially buried and should not only be exhumed and made much more prominent but trumpeted as "The seminar that's changing the lives of families across America." This new element would be bannered somewhere near the bottom of the ad.

The new headline is a call to action that makes a very provocative promise. This approach challenges readers to make things happen, take charge and alter their situation for the better. The "Here's how" phrase provokes them to read the explanatory subhead.

This headline and subhead combination is the first thing the reader sees and responds to. The second element that attracts the eye is the seminar name, now emblazoned in large type at the bottom. Then the third most noticeable component is the new set of BODYimonial columns columns I've put on either side of the main selling copy. Here again, we're unearthing buried treasure because these golden comments from previous seminar attendees were not immediately noticeable in the copy. In this case, they were on the back of the flier but really deserved to be on the front. Unfortunately, there are no names attached to the quotes, which takes away a little of their power, but the page is certainly more potent because of their presence. Sims also has two very strong and much longer BODYimonials from church pastors on the back of his current flier. I would retain these elements for the back of the new piece.

I've retained much of the rest of Sims' flier copy because, as mentioned, a lot of it is very solid and persuasive. But perhaps with the new swipes of the copywriter's word brush, the flier will be even more attention-getting.

Looks Like . . .

Is it an ad--or editorial? Sometimes it's hard to tell.

I recently created an "advertorial" for one of my corporate clients, and it reminded me how strong this approach can be for your advertising efforts--and Don Sims' efforts as well. An advertorial, for those not already familiar with the concept, is an ad that looks like editorial material--hence the hybridized name. Advertorials are written and designed to look like an article in a magazine or newspaper. More often than not, publications in which they run insist that you label them--in small letters at the top--"advertisement," lest the readers confuse it with the publication's real editorial.

Advertorials can be strong because they cause the reader to switch gears and read promotional matter as news, and thus with increased credibility and interest. Even though prospects usually realize it's an ad in editorial clothing, they are still willing to take it at face value and give you the opportunity to sell them journalistically. In addition, because they look like editorial, readers may be drawn to advertorials visually, giving them an advantage over traditional-looking ads that prospects may pass over.

The key rule to remember is to make sure the tone and manner of the copy is editorial-like and the overall look of the "ad" is such that it could be mistaken for a real newspaper or magazine story. Naturally, at the bottom you can opt for your logo and phone number, but other than that, keep it strictly editorial-looking.

To give you an idea how to write an advertorial headline, I'll relate the one I crafted to start off the piece for my client. The company is an advertising agency that also specializes in buying air time for infomercials and other direct-response TV (DRTV) efforts that it produces for its clients. The agency wanted to use its well-known CEO in an advertorial that spoke about the importance of seeking professional assistance in this important area, as well as the inherent dangers of going with less experienced firms. My advertorial headline was "Poor Media Judgement `A Scandal,' Says DRTV Pioneer; Urges Scientific Approach."

It sounds like a newspaper story--and looks and reads like one, too. How would I write an advertorial

headline for Don Sims' seminar flier? "End Debt in Five Years and Retire With $1 Million+, Says Expert." It could be just the newsy hook that catches the browsing reader--and brings prospects to the door.


This ad has some strong copy, but does it pull you in by the earlobes and demand

that you read it? Not quite yet.

1. A good headline, but you need a ladder to get to it. Headlines should be at
eye level.

2. Solid bulleted points, but the seminar name needs more of a trumpet-sounding presence.


1. This headline makes more of a provocative promise.

2. The BODYimonials add credibility and a "gotta sign up" urgency.

3. The seminar name is now a

dramatic focus and emphasizes a benefit.


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