Never Place an Ad Without These 4 Elements

This post by Brenda Do,

Posted in Advertising, Communications, Customer Relations, Education, Marketing

Never Place and Ad Without These 4 Elements


Yesterday, I was flipping through a magazine, getting progressively annoyed with each page. Not because of the contents. But because of how most of the ads were a waste of money.

Some of the ads looked like photocopies of the company’s business card. Others were barely a step up from that.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. You’ve probably ignored them on the back of event publications, national magazines, phone books—everywhere.

Tell me, if you saw a CPA’s business card in a stack of other cards, would that compel you to call them for a consultation?

If you saw a salon’s business card amongst the bills and other ads in your mailbox, would you suddenly drop your stylist and go to the salon advertised?

I’m betting it’s a big fat no on both questions.

And that’s how a sizeable chunk of the magazine’s readers are reacting too. That’s why those ads were a waste of money. Even if the business made a few bucks, imagine how much more they could have made if they had a decent ad.

So what convinced bright business people like you to place such an ad? It’s likely because the ad sales guy was trained to say something like this:

The typical ad sales call

Sales guy: “You can be in front of __ (big number) potential customers who all trust the ___ (publication name) brand. These are all people in your target demographic. And it’ll only cost you $___ to be in front of them all month long.

Business owner: “Well, that sounds good, but I don’t know how to design an ad.”

Sales guy: “No problem. We have our own in-house designers who do this every day for businesses like yours. Or just look at what the other companies in your industry are doing, and make yours look like that.”

That’s when the business owner unknowingly lightens his wallet for nothing.

Don’t fall for ad templates

In most cases, those in-house designers don’t know your business and they don’t care to. You’ll know they don’t care when the only questions they ask about your business are contact information and your offer. They won’t find out what makes your business unique, your business’s personality, or anything.

Their job is to churn out ads quickly. You may sell roller skates, but your ad could look similar to a financial planner’s.

Just take a look at the phone book. Pick any profession then check out the ads. You’ll see they all look similar: the same colors, the same talking points, and nearly the same layout.

If you look like your competitor and sound like your competitor, how will the prospect know to choose you? They won’t.

Later, if you report the ad didn’t work, the sales guy will tell you it’s because you need more repetition. It has nothing to do with the ad itself.

Then your wallet lightens again…

So how do you write effective ads that get people’s attention?

Four elements of an effective space ad

1.      Start with a kick butt headline

In small space ads, use headlines that are benefit driven or attention getting. Or if your unique selling proposition is an effective selling point, use that in the headline.


  • Bold the headline
  • Use a larger font size than the copy


  • Make the headline in all CAPS (this lowers readability)
  • Include your company name in the headline unless people buy based on your name
  • Use a crazy font that’s tough to read

2.      Meet the reader where they are

Let’s say you’re shopping around for a landscaper. Nearly every ad’s going to offer free estimates, have a license number printed in the corner, and bullet point a bunch of services they provide.

When you give the same sales spiel as your competitors, it encourages the reader to shop based on the lowest price. And that’s a terrible way to sell your product or service.

Think about what the prospect’s thinking as he’s looking for a landscaper. Put yourself in his shoes.

Your biggest fear may be choosing the wrong person. It’s a pretty pricey mistake. You want someone who provides the landscaping design you like, who’s reliable, knowledgeable, stays on schedule, who provides quality work. And someone whose crew you can trust around your family. There is a lot to consider here, not just price.

If you flipped through the phone book and saw a page of landscaper ads all looking the same, then you saw this ad headline:

Warning: 5 Common Tricks Landscapers Use to Cheat You
Falling for these tricks can cost you thousands in repairs!
Before hiring anyone, look for these warning signs…

Would that get your attention?

Then you can fill the rest of the ad space with a quick description of a free report you offer about how to choose the right landscaper. Add a couple of ways they can get this no-obligation report (website download or call) add a testimonial, contact information and a few credibility elements and you’re golden.

Notice in this ad, you’re not selling your landscaping service. You’re selling helpful information that breeds trust and when the person reads your truly helpful information, they’ll likely call you to do their landscaping.

3.      Have a single call to action

Just like all of your sales letters, email campaigns, direct mail, everything – have a call to action in your ad.

Keep in mind, your call to action likely won’t be “buy now!” because you wouldn’t buy a $3,000 lawnmower off a 3” x 5” ad, would you? But if the ad did its job, you’d probably be interested enough to download a free brochure from the company’s website, right?

So make your call to action realistic. Remember the sales cycle is like dating. Ask her name and get to know her before you ask to meet her parents.

4.      Don’t be afraid of copy

If you look at most ads, the majority will have an image or your company name/logo take up one third or more of the entire ad space.

The trouble is, most of these images, and especially your company name or logo, doesn’t mean much to someone who doesn’t know you from a can of paint. So don’t waste valuable selling space with images that don’t support the sale. Then fill the rest of the ad space (or all of it) with copy.

You need to educate and entice the reader in a small space. So use only what helps them want to take the next step with you.

Fun time

Take a look at your current ads, or flip to any random ad in the newspaper or magazine.

Then ask yourself, “If I’m the target customer, would that ad make me want to call them (or place an order, visit, etc.)?”

If the answer is no, dissect the ad and figure out why not. That’ll help you analyze your own marketing better too.

Remember, it’s always about the prospect’s WIIFM—What’s In It For Me? Answer that clearly and you’ll elevate above the ads around you.

Leave a Comment

* indicates required field

NSBDC Website Business e-News Home Who We Are What We Do How Can We Help Toolbox Education and Training All Services Legal