Great Advertising

Great Advertising Is a Matter of Knowing Your Vowels

Mike Armour

All businesses have one thing in common. They must have customers. And finding enough customers relies primarily on effective marketing and advertising.

Unfortunately, most encore entrepreneurs do not come into business ownership with a strong background in either discipline. They may have never written an advertisement in their life. Now their lifeblood depends on successful ad campaigns.

Let me show you, therefore, how the five vowels — A, E, I, O, and U — can serve as a roadmap for writing powerful and compelling advertising.

A — Arrest Attention

The first thing that any piece of advertising must do is grab attention. We live in a world of unending distraction. Nothing seems to hold our attention for more than a brief moment.

And in the midst of this distraction, we are bombarded daily with thousands of advertising messages. As a result, our minds have become adept at tuning them out. In fact, we don't even notice most of them.

Above all else, then, you must ensure that your ad breaks through this distraction immediately and seizes attention. You can do this in a variety of ways. With a captivating headline. A striking picture. Strong color contrasts to the surrounding context. Or in the case of an email, a subject line that provokes instant curiosity.

Whatever technique you choose, always remember this one thing: until you have people's attention, nothing else in your ad matters.

E — Engage Interest

Merely grabbing someone's attention is not enough. Now you must hold it. Therefore, the second duty of your ad copy and layout is to draw people into the heart of your message. A common way to do this is by pairing an attention-grabbing headline with a captivating subheadline.

The headline may highlight a problem or pressing concern that the reader is likely to have. The subheadline then promises a solution to this issue. The key is that there must be a natural flow from the attention-grabbing element of your ad to the element which engages interest. If this connection is not apparent, the reader is likely to feel duped and move on to something else.

At the same time, the subheadline does not describe the solution. It simply offers assurance that a solution does exist and that it will be found by reading further. In short, the purpose of the subheadline is to make the reader want to read the next part of the ad, where the solution is laid out.

I — Inform and Illustrate

Now we are into the meat of your ad's content. Here you're going to inform readers about your product or service and how it benefits them. And the critical word here is "benefits." At this point your reader is less interested in the features of your product and more interested in its benefits.

In writing this section, your goal is to make these benefits so irresistible that you trigger a pronounced desire for what you offer. Often you will do this with illustrations, which is why the "I" stands for both "inform" and "illustrate."

The illustrations may be written examples of how others have benefited from what you offer, or perhaps testimonials from satisfied users. If your display space is large enough, the illustration may be actual photographs demonstrating the benefit. At times, indeed, a well-chosen photograph can do double duty by both grabbing attention and illustrating benefit.

Whatever else this section of your ad accomplishes, it must help readers picture themselves gaining the benefit which your ad promises.

In addition, this portion of your ad should identify one or more added values that the reader will receive by doing business with you. The reader should see at least one thing which sets you apart from your competition. Do you offer lower prices? A deeper discount? Higher quality? Wider selections? Quicker delivery? More personal attention? Better warranties? More responsive customer service?

You can't highlight all of your competitive advantages, of course. But work in a phrase or two that points to distinctive value which customers gain by bringing their business to you. Keep in mind, however, that in this section you are primarily promoting benefits. So make the value you offer sound like another benefit.

O — Offer a Compelling Opportunity

If your ad has succeeded in generating the reader's interest in your product (and hopefully a desire to have it), the next step is to translate this interest into a buying decision. Your goal is to intensify the reader's interest with a compelling offer which makes what you sell even more irresistible.

This compelling offer is what will move the reader from a decision to buy to a decision to buy from you. You began laying the groundwork for this decision in the previous section, where you touched on your competitive advantage. In this section you may want to highlight this advantage by tying it to other elements of your offer.

Let's say that you previously mentioned your quality products. Your offer might then say something to this effect: "Now enjoy this quality at an unprecedented low price."

However, don't think of your compelling offer only in terms of price. There are many other ways to help the reader make a buying decision in your favor. One method is the familiar "and we will also add" approach seen in many television commercials. That is, offer some bonus which is enticing to the reader. Other options are to offer free shipping or a risk-free trial or no-cost installation.

In offering a compelling opportunity, you have one outcome in mind. Namely, you want the reader to see doing business with you as an absolute no-brainer.

U — Urge Immediate Action

Having persuaded readers to buy in the Inform and Illustrate section, and having persuaded them to buy from you in the Compelling Opportunity section, your final goal is to persuade them to buy NOW. You do this by building a sense of urgency under their buying decision.

An effective way to do this is by letting readers know that your offer is available for a very short period of time. Or that supplies are limited. Or that the offer will not be repeated. Another way is to make your offer available to only a predetermined number of customers.

Even at this point in the add you're still battling the distractions that plague your reader. The same distractions that you must break through to get their initial attention will also give them reason to postpone their purchase. This is why urgency is such a vital element in your advertising message.

A Universal Template

Effective ads follow the exact sequence that I've outlined above. With small ads, each element may be represented by only a phrase or a handful of words. But each of these elements plays an essential role. Do your best to include all of them.

Moreover, while we have focused on ads in print, the same principles hold for ads on radio or television. You would use these same principles with flyers, email marketing, door knockers, internet ads, direct-mail promotions, and to a lesser extent even billboards.

What I have given you is a universal advertising template. You must simply adjust it to the specific medium that's carrying your message.

With a radio ad, for instance, the opening sentence replaces the attention-grabbing headline. For television the first image on the screen plays this role. In an internet ad (which may impose severe character restrictions) the attention-grabbing headline and the interest-engaging subheadline may need to be combined into a single statement.

Regardless of the medium, follow the A-E-I-O-U template as closely as possible. Once you've memorized what these five letters stand for, you're equipped to start writing advertising that brings a steady stream of new customers to your door.

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