Anatomy of a Great Ad

Like a great work of art, a great ad has a rather predictable set of elements. In digital and technology-based mediums, they just look or are ordered a bit differently. What doesn’t really change is the characteristics that make up the content.

Photo Selection: The Best Foot

Is there a photo or other visual element to your ad? If so, make it a good one that supports your message.

<rant>Creatively, I loathe text-based AdWords. 35 characters? Suck it, Google. The layout should adapt to the content, not the other way around.</rant>

Anyway, pick your photo or visual element carefully. Your fellow humans won’t read your headline or copy before looking at the photo. We’re just wired that way, much to the dismay of every tormented, genius novelist who died a century ago.

A great ad is a pitch. Is your photo relevant to what you’re pitching? That doesn’t mean that you have to show a picture of a cutely staged apartment if you’re renting apartments. The emotional objective of pitching an apartment rental is to get the audience to visualize themselves living there, and like it. What if you showed a picture of an adorable dog napping on a couch in an apartment?

Pets are family, and that would drive [a major subset of] your audience to that emotional objective… just along a different vector than you might have thought about.

The Headline

Short. Memorable. Just a tickle.

The headline’s job is to convince the audience to keep reading. Nothing more, nothing less. Society in the 21st century is more ADD than at any point in history (#FirstWorldProblems, am I right?). You’ve got five to seven words to win here. Any more, and half your audience will drift off.

The Copy

For self-identified wordsmiths this be the main show, yo. The copy is where the action happens, and communicates your message. It’s a vehicle to create the desire needed to take action. For content developers, it’s one piece of the puzzle and is used strategically to support the other elements of the ad. The approach that you take with copy doesn’t really matter, as long as it all plays well together and you get your audience to the goal post.

Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing wrong with long copy. You just have to know how to make long copy more usable for your audience. Some people won’t want to read your copy, work of art or not. Don’t take it personally. Adapt, and be a rockstar for those people too.

Copy Heads

Copy heads are pretty important, particularly with long copy. Use copy heads to break up your copy into more digestible pieces, which will help keep your audience engaged. Here’s a little known secret about copy heads… they should be strategically written and placed in such a manner that they can be scanned by the audience, and gift the full context of your copy to them. If you can read only the copy heads in an ad and understand what it’s about, the copy heads are solid.

Features vs. Benefits

This is probably the least understood concept in advertising. The consumer electronics industry is particularly guilty of packing ads full of features and ignoring the benefits completely (though you could make the argument that a key target demo of CE, young and male, responds better to features-based advertising).

Typical CE ad:

NEW! 2336.017px x 4840.694px Ultra WXXGUASLPRDMNU 4X High Definition Tempered Glass, Low-e Display! BUY NOW!




Who gives a fuck?

Here’s what the majority of humans need to know: the display will be sharp, bright, and anti-glare. Your eyeballs won’t hurt after staring at it for six minutes.

Benefit: what your audience can do, feel, or experience with your offering. How it contributes to their happiness.
Feature: the characteristics of your offering.

benefit is about your customers. A feature is about you. Don’t be self-absorbed… make it about them, not you. It’s their money, after all.

Call to Action

The call to action is the final element, the piece that directs your audience to take the next step and identify their interest in purchasing (or just to purchase). CTAs are important. A good CTA is clear about what the audience should do next. A great CTA is clear about what they should do and what to expect after doing it (trust-building).

Particularly amusing is how a lot of industry people explain what a CTA is to non-industry people. I’ve heard jittery copywriters and go-getter media sales types describe CTAs as the killshotthe bomb, the closer and a host of other overly aggressive, idiotic descriptions.

Here’s what I think a great CTA really is:

An invitation.

This is part three of a three part series. See the rest:

Part I: Getting in the Mood

Part II: Understanding Your Audience

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