Full access to Entrepreneur for $5

Finding Ad Inspiration

Gain a competitive advantage by studying your competitors' advertising.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: I'm opening a new business, and I'm wondering where to get my ideas for advertising. Would it be best to pretty much do what my competitors are doing?

A: For ad placement, yes! Study the competition with booming businesses-the ones that have been around for a long time. Keep track of what TV programs and radio stations they're on and the location and size of their print ads and outdoor billboards. Whatever they're doing is working, which means they're reaching their/your target audience.

But when you're deciding what message you want to send and how to deliver it, rely on your own instincts. Trust yourself to develop a distinctive "look" to your advertising. Remember that it was your own individuality and unique vision that made you open your business in the first place. So have confidence in your concepts, and don't be afraid to make a mistake. No one is perfect, but your wacky/serious/straightforward/odd ideas might turn out to be very successful. Some of the best creative work can be found in trashcans at advertising agencies because clients are afraid to try something new. Besides, trial and error is the only way to determine what works best.

K-Mart dumped its famous Blue-Light Specials and have now brought them back. Borden advertised Elsie the Cow until we felt like she was grazing in our backyards, then they all but retired her, and then brought her back. Mr. Whipple squeezed toilet paper on TV, then disappeared; after a while he popped up and squeezed more toilet paper. These are all memorable "gimmicks" designed to deliver a message/brand to us, and they were so powerful that they stayed in our minds even through the times when we weren't seeing them. That is remarkable!

Resource Guide

Learn the secrets to creating a lasting impression with your ad in Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads by Luke Sullivan.

Leave your competitors in the dust with Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition by Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin.


Make your commercials unforgettable by breaking away from the "normal" look of your industry's ads. It's the only chance you have of breaking through the clutter of big-budgeted competitors. For instance, most diet commercials show before-and-after shots of women who have lost weight, while car commercials show vehicles traveling at high speeds up mountains or shooting around narrow, curvy roads. In that game, the companies with the biggest budgets win, because they get to run their ads the most. The smaller companies end up simply reminding people that they need to shed a few pounds or buy a new car, because when it's time to actually make the weight-loss call or visit the dealership, the companies that ran the most ads are the ones remembered.

If you can't outspend them, outsmart them. Ask your media reps for input, especially your radio reps-I have always found them to be the ones who most often assimilate into ad agencies during their careers. Tell several of them what you can do that your competitors can't (are you faster, cheaper, have better quality-you'd better have something!), then turn them loose to develop some creative ads for you. You won't necessarily have to use those ads, but you just might want to!