Q: I just started a new at-home computer business, and I took the small amount of money I had to put some advertisements in the local newspaper and in a weekly newspaper. I put fliers up at all the local Laundromats, insurance companies, any place that would allow me to, and I still haven't received any business. Only one person has called me. The only thing I can think of is to wait until the new phone books come out, but that's not for another six months. Do you have any ideas on advertising that would be cheap and somehow effective? How do all the other small computer companies get business?
A: My strong advice is that you stay out of the Yellow Pages until you've found a message that works for you. Your problem isn't that you've been using the wrong media; you've simply been saying the wrong thing. To illustrate how widespread your problem is, read the following question that arrived within minutes of your own: "I have to write a research paper for my Advertising and Media course, and I need to know what makes advertising effective. I have already read many books, but I hope to get your expert opinion since none of the books really answer the question. I hope to hear from you soon. I am waiting for your response."
Here are a few matches to strike when heating your ad to maximum sizzle:
Great ads begin with great opening lines, so pay wide-eyed attention to your FMI (first mental image). The FMI of your ad will be the first thing your listener will "see" clearly in his or her mind. Consequently, "A great, big, bright red..." is a bad opening line because nothing can yet be seen. You're modifying something, but is it a ball, a rose or a nose? "A truck-big, bright and red-came rolling into my field of view." See how much more imaginable that is?
Most people bury their FMI about one third of the way from the top of the script. They lead up to the main point of their ad when it would be far better to just drop the cat in the punch bowl-SPLASH. (See what I mean about imaginable?) Consequently, scan down about one third of the way from the top of your ad, and you'll usually find your opening line. Rip a big X through everything that occurs prior to the FMI. Fling open the curtain on your list of unexpected words and you'll find it easier to seize the listener's attention. Open big.
Action words are big. Especially the ones with tread left on them. Avoid verbs that are worn slick with use. Wallop, sting, smack, slap, snip, jolt and vibrate with verbs. Write with too many adjectives-modifiers-and everyone will think you're a moon-eyed poet in junior high. So croak the modifiers with action-word bullets. Shoot to kill with unexpected verbs. (Notice how the verbs in the previous two paragraphs lend energy to the writing and make it easier to read: bury, drop, scan, find, rip, fling, seize, open, avoid, write, croak, kill.)
No writer can edit his or her own ad. It takes a second pair of ears to hear a weakness. That's why brilliant writers demand their ads be edited by a heartless bastard who won't spare their feelings. Soft-shell writers want to argue about every little thing. That's why their ads are ineffective.
The LMI (last mental image) is equally as important as the FMI. Ideally, you want the LMI to loop back to the FMI, thus completing the mental circuit, driving the memory of your message ever deeper into the mind.
The perfect ad causes the readers/listeners/viewers to imagine doing the thing-taking the action you want them to take. But DON'T tip your hand by opening with the word "imagine" or anything like it. Asking the listener to imagine something is like saying to a woman, "I'm going to compliment you now in the hope that you'll think I'm thoughtful and considerate. Ready?" Don't tell her to imagine, cause her to imagine. So make sure you do the following:
- Open with a vivid FMI.
- Trigger voluntary mental participation.
- Employ unusual verbs.
- Minimize adjectives and modifiers.
- Cause listeners to see themselves taking action.
- Close with a vivid LMI.
Say what you want to say and say it hot. It's how businesses are built and bestsellers are written. Now go build one.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.