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John McLain
national media consultant
Oak Harbor, Washington
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How To Write An Ad

If you run a small business, use this article as a guide to crafting your own advertisements.
Written Feb 07, 2009, read 7600 times since then.


Home-based business owners often need to advertise, but typically don’t have the resources to hire a professional copywriter in an advertising agency. No need to let that stop you. I’ve written ad copy for agencies, for corporations and for my own small businesses. You too can learn how to write your own ad, and do it effectively. Here’s how —

Every ad, sales letter, direct-marketing flier and radio or TV commercial is structured along an age-old advertising formula designed to motivate the person exposed to your ad. The acronym for this formula is AIDA. It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. In just that order.


Any ad must first seize the reader’s attention. It is typically achieved by writing an eye-catching, captivating Headline, followed by a brief Lead Paragraph (one of 25 words or less). Think of the strongest benefit your product has to offer – and use it in your headline. Spend time perfecting your headline. Offer some benefit or make a promise in your headline, otherwise you’ll lose 80 or 90 percent of readers right there. Expand upon the headline in the first sentence of your copy. This copy must appeal to the reader’s interest. It must be direct, and convey clear information.

A common misconception is that headlines and leads must be witty, clever, offbeat or hilarious. What often happens is that the funny, clever parts of such ads are remembered, while the product is quickly forgotten. Some of the best-selling ads ever written have, in a matter-of-fact way, simply stated the features and benefits of the product. With your own service or product, you need to discover your own Unique Selling Proposition (USP). What is it about your service that sets it apart from your competition? How, in words, can you position your product so that readers of your ad will come to you and not the guy across the street? One of the classic USP’s, as well as a good example of selling the "sizzle," was the slogan developed for an oil company: "Put a Tiger in Your Tank." Gasoline is pretty much gasoline, but this company positioned itself uniquely. Who else could promise to put a tiger in our tank?

Think hard about your own product’s "USP." The ways in which we usually set ourselves apart from the competition involve: quality, speed, efficiency, competitive pricing, specials, discounts, personalized service, friendliness, fairness, honesty, satisfaction or your money back. To generate ideas for your own USP, consider the ways other well-known products or services have been positioned: "Get a Piece of the Rock," "The Friendly Pepper-Upper," "Quality is Job One," "The Un-Cola" and so on. Again, your own copy setting forth your USP need not be necessarily as scintillating as those above. A simple, "Bud’s Bookkeeping Service - Fast, Professional, Affordable," does the job just as well.

A cardinal rule in any ad you write is that it be clear and quickly understood. Use short words, short sentences. Make each sentence carry only one thought or subject. Avoid complex or compound sentences that contain clauses. The rapidly skimming mind does not register complex sentences as well as it does the simple, declarative sentence.


Consider for a moment that the end result of every small- or home-based business is to provide the solution to someone’s problem. Regardless of what your business is, this remains true. Even if you’re selling snow cones or pony rides, you are still resolving your customer’s problem (in this case, the desire for pleasure or enjoyment). Appeal to your reader’s interest by emphasizing exactly how you can solve her problem, or help him achieve the results he desires. For example, if you’re running a small nursery from your backyard, you’re not merely selling flowers or plants. You’re selling the less apparent, intangibles – plants and flowers that are hardy, low-maintenance, worry-free. Plants that provide ideal ground cover. Flowers that are prolific, inexpensive, and will enhance the beauty of your home. Right along with that hardy, low-maintenance spiffy plant, you are selling trust and peace of mind. Always remember that customers aren’t so interested in the product as in what the product promises to do for them. Know thy customer’s hot button – and push it.


The core part of any successful ad appeals strongly in some way to the true needs that psychologists say are shared by every human on the planet. The needs or desires are concerned with survival, the need for love, our comfort, our sense of being important, and personal gratification or enjoyment. Ads that appeal to our survival often have to do with issues of security (home-alarm systems), health (vitamins, exercise equipment), safety (air bags, car seats for children), and financial concerns (IRAs, mutual funds, banks and savings & loans). Ads dealing with love have long fueled multi-billion-dollar industries in cosmetics, plastic surgery, dating services, charm schools, romance novels and deodorant manufacture.

Everything that walks, talks, lives and breathes needs to feel attractive and loved. The need for comfort is something we all share. People desire to be well fed, to be warm and dry, to enjoy their leisure in a stress-free, relaxed manner. If your services or products – from home-knit sweaters, hot-oil massages and built-in sprinklers to selling funky pillows or donkey-tours of the Grand Canyon – touch on comfort, be sure to sell comfort in your ads. Because people need comfort. Let them know you’ve got it. Perhaps your small business provides decorative nail care, or seminars in computer skills, or even classes in weight-loss or self improvement.

Ads for these businesses will address our common needs to fulfill our egos, to become more powerful, more successful, more respected. To feel more important and thus self confident. Ads appealing to our need for enjoyment capitalize on all five of our senses – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. Everything from Grandma’s fresh-baked oatmeal-raisin cookies to rock climbing and sky diving courses are sold through our senses – usually with alluring photographs showing the goodies or the action that we all identify with.


This is the critical wind-up where you ask the customer to buy. Order today! Buy Now! Call for Free Information. Get One Today and Save 30 percent! Don’t be shy or embarrassed to ask for the customer’s order. The failure to exercise a "call to action" in your ad is common to the rookie salesman and anyone else who doesn’t understand how to "close" the deal. Your ad must ask the customer to take steps to seize your opportunity.

Be sure to include phone, fax, e-mail or mailing address to make it easy for your prospect to take advantage of your offer. Whatever it is you’re selling, your service or product will always contain two things: features and benefits. Many sales have been lost by people who don’t understand the difference between these two. The ad that blathers on exclusively about all of the handy, innovative features of your product (power steering, sixteen stereo equalizer buttons) without demonstrating benefits will not be fulfilling the customer’s key question: What’s in it for me? Mention of features must be linked to the ways each will provide a benefit: ease of use, comfort, enjoyment, easy to afford, durable, guaranteed.Remember that benefits are the sizzle, and that’s what you’re selling.

Nobody ever leaped out of his seat in response to an ad that read "Get Rich Slow." When you sit down to write an ad for your small or home-based business, it’s wise to begin by making a list of the features of what you’re selling. Next to each feature, list one or more benefits to the customer. This exercise will make the actual writing of your ad much easier. You’ll stay focused on the benefits that stimulate people to buy. Next, decide what your ad is to accomplish. By that, I mean that ads can have different purposes. Typically, your ads will be designed to get new business or to generate leads by inviting customers to call or send for free information. Other ads are simply image-builders, they reinforce the fact that your products are good quality and competitively priced and that you’re a solid person to do business with.

Then there are ads that offer your services directly – by mail order or by direct mail. Decide on the aim of your ad before you begin to write.

To recap: Make sure your headline conveys a promise or benefit. Expand on the headline in your lead paragraph by telling the reader something he doesn’t know – that will benefit him. Subsequent paragraphs will discuss competitive advantages, features and other benefits. Don’t forget to note discounts, freebies or guarantees as they apply. At the end of your copy, ask for the reader’s business. Call now. Order today. Make it easy for your reader to find you, with phone, fax, e-mail or mailing address.

Learn more about the author, John McLain.

Comment on this article

  • Brand Consultant 
Phoenix, Arizona 
Ken Peters
    Posted by Ken Peters, Phoenix, Arizona | Feb 11, 2009


    Anybody can create an ad that gets noticed, but it takes talent to design an ad that gets results. Well-crafted copy is essential, and your article offers tremendous advice.

    Important to remember also is that approaches must necessarily vary depending upon on your audience, the size of the ad, and the placement of the ad.

    I'd like to invite your readers to also review an article I posted on biznik that offers some additional helpful info for developing effective advertising, and marries well with your good thoughts above.

  • national media consultant 
Oak Harbor, Washington 
John McLain
    Posted by John McLain, Oak Harbor, Washington | Feb 11, 2009

    Ken, I read your article. It was excellent. Thanks for your comments on mine. John

  • Decks, Gutters & General Contractor 
Sedro Woolley, Washington 
Dan Estabrook
    Posted by Dan Estabrook, Sedro Woolley, Washington | Feb 11, 2009


    Thanks for writing this. I will be taking a look at our advertising and making some changes. Its nice to have this information available to us Biznik'ers.

    Take Care...

  • national media consultant 
Oak Harbor, Washington 
John McLain
    Posted by John McLain, Oak Harbor, Washington | Feb 12, 2009

    Thanks Dan. The AIDA formula for ad copywriting has been around for years. Some copywriters have added more dimension to this in order to produce effective advertising, i.e., ads that get results. Ken Peters, who commented in the first reply posted above, had some additional ideas that were excellent, too. My own book, HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR HOME BUSINESS (Amazon), deals with a wide range of advertising and publicity techniques applicable to any size business. In your own advertising, a key thing to be aware of is to be sure you're selling the "benefits" of your product and not just the "features." Anyone reading your ad will be asking: how will I benefit if I buy this product. Answer that in your ad and you'll get results. John (P.S. - I go to Sedro Wooley just for the cocoanut pancakes at that cafe on main street. Have you tried them?)

  • Professional Yoga Therapist 
Bellingham, Washington 
Holley Bennett
    Posted by Holley Bennett, Bellingham, Washington | Feb 12, 2009

    THANKS for taking the time to share this information with the network.... I can use your suggestions!