Creating Ads That Work

Advertising is typically the last strategy I recommend to companies.


Because often, it doesn’t work at all. There are simply too many intangible factors that can go awry.

Here’s just one example of an ad you probably don’t remember:


To work perfectly, advertising must hit the marketing messages dead-on. Businesses usually need a lot of help in selecting the right publication to reach their prospective clients or customers.

The right marketing message, design and copywriting must be expertly handled to promote a business properly, the ad must run often enough to build a brand identity and metrics must be set to accurately track results.


Yes, we’ll show you (below) some tips to make advertising work. But first…
Advertising is a quick “hit.” It doesn’t allow your business to develop relationships with those whose problems can be solved with your services or products. In most cases, there are other marketing strategies that are more effective; at the very least these strategies should be blended into basic outreach advertising to ensure the highest-possible ROI.


Are Your Ads Really Working?
If you ask most companies if their ads work, they’ll tell you they simply don’t know. And why is that?

Because these businesses don’t track their results. Here’s a notable exception: I have a former client, the publisher of Here Comes the Guide, an extraordinary guidebook & website for brides and event producers. This company finds that their wedding/event clients mostly get incredible results. Why? Because the directory is targeted, its ads are handled by an in-house, professional design team, its distribution is huge, AND the publishers track their ad traffic. Plus, the book’s suppliers and providers are pre-qualified before they’re allowed to be included. Check out – it’s a really fun website!


How Much Ads Cost
Ad costs can range anywhere from $75 for small, local publications, to $200,000 for large, national magazines like Cosmopolitan. Costs generally depend on the size of the ad, and the distribution of the publication.

Here’s the good news: Small newsletters can evoke a much larger response, and help you reach much better-targeted clients for your local business, than a huge, national publication. Social media can often deliver the same result when handled correctly.


Test it !
Submit an ad to your local organization or association’s newsletter and test that response at a very low cost before you purchase more expensive ad space. This often delivers better results from interested callers because if you network in that organization, the members will often already know you so your ad might really pull for you there, as opposed to a large national publication where none of the readers have ever heard of your company.


More Tips

  • Less is More. This is one of the most common mistakes in ads. Don’t believe me? Pick up the local paper and take a look. Don’t you find your eyeballs drawn to the ads that are easy to read, have ‘teaser’ copy that whets your appetite for more information? Your ad should drive traffic to your website where people can get a deeper level of information, learn about your products, services, your organization’s mission, your positioning and pricing (if relevant).


Here’s a simple, but effective Amnesty International ad with text “Stop the world record of executions”.

  • Unless your other marketing outreach is in place, do NOT take out an ad. If you’re not using other marketing strategies that typically bring in more business faster and lay the groundwork for responding to ad requests, then you need a marketing action plan from an expert who can analyze what tactics work best for your unique business before you start running ads.

  • Build your ad with the 7 most important elements listed in order below, making it easy to read and comprehend. If it’s not a great, well-balanced design, your response rate will suffer. Since you’re probably paying a fair amount of money for the ad space itself, it’s well worth investing in a professional marketer and design team to help. Also, compelling copy is as critical as design. Almost 90% of the time, it’s done wrong. And don’t forget:

→  compelling title
→  great design
→  photo or graphic
→  caption under photo
→  clear, concise body copy that evokes emotional response (bullet points often easier to read)
  contact information, including URL of your website or QR code
  call to action  (i.e.; redeem this coupon, call this extension, etc.)

  • You may wish to set up separate mailboxes for various media. For example, you could direct callers to “extension 101” to track calls from the SF Chronicle, or have your Facebook ad invite visitors to call “extension 102” or click through to a particular landing page so you can determine where responses are actually coming from.

In my experience, most business owners or marketing directors are just guessing or using a hunch about this. But once we set up measurements, they’re usually surprised at where people are actually coming from. More importantly, they can then determine which ad is worth the cost and which is not.

Add up the dollar value in sales, and you’ll know exactly where to spend your money—assuming all other creative in the ad is perfect, that is.

  • Have you used a “tracking sheet”? If you can’t establish separate mailboxes to track your calls, you might keep a tracking sheet next to your phone and just ask people how they heard about you. However, my experience is that people are often confused or just can’t recall, so they’ll say “from your website” or “I don’t remember”.

If you establish an ad that directs prospective clients to your website, but you’ve no idea what generated the original lead, this leads to very inaccurate tracking. Web stats can give you this info, but you’ll need to know how to read them. Give us a call if you need some guidance with that, as it can help with profitability more than you can even imagine.

  • Don’t run an ad just one time! General wisdom says to run an ad 6-12 times (in a monthly publication, like a local newspaper) before you have useful statistics on it’s success. It takes at least that many “inclusions” or number of times running the same ad, before people start to notice or recognize it.

Far too many people base ad decisions on a one time test – but that just doesn’t work. So, unless you can run an ad at least 6 times, don’t waste your money on it. There are a lot of other ads and information competing for our same eyeballs!

  • Facebook ads have different rules, so be sure to get advice from social media experts who’ve tested those ads to know what works and what doesn’t before spending your money.


What Makes a Great Ad?
One that works to bring you business, of course!

Here’s an ad we’ve just created for a terrific DVD copy company in San Francisco. They told me the products they use are superior, and work in any kind of set-top player. This differs radically from their competitors, whose DVDs often don’t play at all. Imagine submitting a film you’ve worked on for nine months to a festival for an award, and having it rejected because it wouldn’t play on the judge’s DVD system. How horrible would that be?

Previous ads for this company just showed images of their DVD cases with bulk-pricing noted—not too imaginative for their very imaginative audience. Here’s what we created to capture the filmmakers’ attention (designed for print, not greatest quality for web, though):


Which one do you think is pulling the best response?

Here’s another great example of an “emotional” response ad that I found online. I just love this one because it’s powerful, to the point, and it uses the emotional-response element beautifully. Most importantly, I’ll bet it was remembered by its target audience – parents.


The ad above is from the ‘Media Campaign’ website. It’s a great example of a compelling message for a public service announcement, with a great photo, good headline, evokes an emotional response, and excellent design.


Want It Right The First Time?
If you want more in-depth suggestions than this article, just send an email request. Or give us a call if you need some creative help: 510-879-7600.

If you want it done right the first time, saving you aggravation, mistakes, time, and cost by letting our expert writing and design teams help. After all, Knowledge is Bliss!