By Kent Davies
Composing advertising artwork using your personal computer's publishing software in conjunction with your laser printer may lull you into a false sense of security. Creating successful ads requires very specific writing and composing skills--skills you can learn and use in conjunction with your software to create effective, small ads.
Small ads generate more bang for your advertising buck. Just because the space is small does not mean the diligence and forethought used in composing the ad should be similarly meager. The truth is, small ads require substantial time and creativity to be effective.
To harvest big bucks from small ads consider the following steps:
Grab Your Readers' Attention
If you want your ad read from start to finish, you must first motivate prospects to read beyond the headline. This is crucial, especially if you consider the fact that 70 percent to 80 percent of consumers do not read beyond an ad's headline.
Successful headlines present news or promise specific benefits. For example, advertising an upcoming special sale with a headline that reads "Spring Cleaning Storage Special" will not motivate prospects as much as an ad promising readers in bold type "Spring Break: One Month Free." The latter headline screams for attention and motivates storage shoppers to learn how to achieve the promised savings.
Keep headlines simple and direct. Do not use language that only confuses readers. Remember: You are not trying to impress them with your vocabulary. Your purpose is to generate rentals. Always use short, attention-grabbing and easy-to-understand words like "save," "safe," "unconditionally guaranteed," "satisfaction," "you," "bargain" or "new."
Increase your ad's visual impact by emphasizing your headline with appropriate photos or illustrations. This encourages prospects to read further. For example, using a photo of a barbed fence will reinforce the idea of security.
Titillate Your Prospects' Appetite
After your headline has grabbed a prospect's attention, carefully develop the body of your ad. What you want to accomplish here is to clearly and concisely help prospects understand the advantages of responding to your ad. This is especially difficult in small ads, but not impossible. Keep the text of your ad simple and direct, keeping foremost in your mind the ad's primary purpose.
If your goal is attracting new prospects to your climate-controlled storage facility, keep the climate-control aspect foremost in your mind while developing your ad. Give a phone number to call and/or a second-month-free coupon they can return by a given date.
If your goal is selling your new state-of-the-art security system, your approach would be quite different from advertising your new climate-controlled facility. The body of your ad must clearly reflect this difference. You might use attention-grabbing phrases such as "state-of- the-art security system" or "24-hour on-site security."
Cover the Five Ws
Be specific in your ad. Always cover the basics of who, what, when, where and why. Make sure your ad clearly states what your business is and, if you are having a specific price break, designate just what is on promotion--such as all 8-by-12 storage units are renting for a special reduced rate.
Avoid any confusion by clearly indicating the dates your promotion begins and ends. Nothing angers customers more than making a trip to a business and learning the sale was over yesterday. In addition, include your address and any nearby landmarks, such as a shopping mall, as well as your phone number and business hours. If you are open for extended hours during your promotion, clearly state this in your ad. Finally, clarify why you are having this sale, such as a "grand opening."
The more specific your text, the easier it is for its readers to grasp. Do not say "high ceilings." More effective text clearly states, "12-foot ceilings available." If you are advertising security, make sure your ad clearly specifies what extra security you are offering, such as "lighted, 12-foot, razor-wire fencing." A clear photo of your intimidating fencing reinforces your message.
Testimonials or endorsements are attention-grabbers. Nothing attracts prospects like the endorsement of a distinguished hero or respected celebrity. For example, if you are selling enhanced security, the interest in your ad increases exponentially if it's endorsed by a well-known and respected former police chief. A direct connection between the endorsement text and celebrity picture dramatically increases your ad's overall impact.
To be effective, endorsements or testimonials must be believable. Don't overdo it, or you will lose credibility.
Offer a Guarantee
If you offer guarantees, make one thing clear: If you offer a 30-day full refund to unsatisfied customers, express this prominently in your ad. Prospects always like knowing there will not be any hassles if problems develop or if they change their minds.
Use Coupons Effectively
A coupon at the bottom of an ad offering 25 percent off the first month for a limited time attracts prospects to your business and provides important feedback on which printed ads are most effective. Contest coupons for a six-month-free rental also help attract prospects.
Develop coupon code numbers to track your ad's effectiveness. Using a code, such as 51BCTS, for example, could identify the coupon's source as the May 1st ad on the Belleville Courier Times sports page. Tracking your media responses increases your long-term advertising's overall effectiveness.
On your copy's last lines repeat your ad's primary purpose. A statement such as "Act today. Only seven units left. Don't leave your irreplaceable heirlooms vulnerable to theft..." summarizes your ad's main purpose of attracting security- conscious customers to your facility. The "only seven units left" effectively motivates prospects to rent quickly.
Make Your Ad Stand Out
With small ads, you need to remember that, in most publications, you are very likely competing in a sea of similar small ads. Therefore, you must use a design strategy that grabs a reader's attention.
Your ad's border is important. The more unique the border, the more it will stand out. There is no one answer as to the most effective border to use. A thick, black border may be more attention-grabbing if adjacent ads do not use similar borders. Consider using a different border for your coupon to make it stand out from the rest of your ads.
If you are using a photo or illustration in your ad, be sure that it is a clear portrayal of your primary message without a lot of frills or clutter. By connecting your text to your photo or illustration, you will significantly increase your ad's overall visual impact.
Do not put much faith in the idea that photos of young blondes in bikinis will attract prospects. People may remember the young woman's charms, but not your ad's specifics or your facility's name.
If you are using a sale or contest coupon, make it large enough for prospects to easily write their name, address and phone number. Avoid shading or color that only makes their handwriting harder to read.
Attract more attention to your ads by reversing your headlines so that white type is on a black background. This is only effective on short headlines. Long headlines, especially in small ads, are more difficult to read when reversed.
Don't Mix Typefaces
Always select a good, readable typeface. Don't mix many different typefaces. Avoid having your ad typeset with italic, Gothic or other high-design typefaces. These designs are impressive in old books, but only detract from a small ad's overall appearance. In addition, stay away from all upper-case type (capital letters). They are more arduous to read than headlines using both upper- and lower-case letters.
More Bang for the Buck
Small ads deliver more bang for the buck. Do not deny your small ads the attention they deserve just because they are small. Like the one-minute speech, small ads that attract and hold the attention of their audience are, dollar-for-dollar, more effective than large ads that quickly consume your already meager advertising budget.
Writing effective small ads is challenging. By following these principles and developing an effective feedback system to measure your advertising's effectiveness, you will significantly increase your overall marketing power.
Kent Davies is a freelance writer.