How to Make Advertisement That Sells
Updated: Nov 9
Communicating with a 5-year-old
“I know that half of my advertising money is wasted, the problem is I have no idea which half.”
- John Wanamaker
If you want to build a business that will grow, scale, and thrive there will at one point or another be advertising necessary.
Even though we write a lot about sales as well, advertising and marketing are the first lines to interact with the customer. Good sales come from good marketing. Good marketing needs good advertising in the first place. Advertisements exist because they should help to sell products and to bring revenue into your business.
Here exactly we have the problem:
Most advertising you see fails to hit its target - which is selling the product.
Why most Advertising is wasting money
Just look into your own trash can at home - how much mail advertising gets in there day by day?
Or what about the advertising break during a movie on TV, what do you do? Are you muting the TV, going to the toilet, grabbing yourself something to eat? And how many Facebook or other Online advertisements do you see and just swipe away or scroll further to get it out of your sight? But all those ads were not designed to be ignored, muted, or thrown away!
In fact, they were even expensive productions from smart people with extensive resources.
And yet they all failed to do one thing, and thereby the only one thing they even exist:
To get people to act.
Just look at your own situation, when was the last time you received a marketing e-mail and it made you buy immediately? Or when did you ever hear an Ad on the radio and right away rushed into the store to buy that product? That is what advertising should make you do, and I think we do not have to emphasize any further that by far most of it utterly fails to meet this goal.
But some of these ads are clever, creative, funny, and entertaining. Just look at those million-dollar Super Bowl commercials with Hollywood stars, huge production costs, and theatrical sceneries and scripts. They impress us and make a great visual impact, but still, hardly any of them will make us buy. The reason is simple and just:
Advertising however in its essence is not meant to be funny or entertaining.
It also does not help to be creative or have a genius plot in it. Advertising has to sell. Period. And if it fails to do that, it really belongs to the trash where most of it ultimately ends anyway. The legendary David Ogilvy himself says that 99% of advertising out there does not sell much of anything. And he is very right with it. But how can YOU make it better?
To make sure that you will do a better job than one that will end up in the trash, let's look at some ways to generate advertising that does what it is supposed to do, which is to sell.
Before starting to write catchy slogans or design a fancy press release, we first have to decide how our product will be positioned in the market. Often the positioning will be based on the competitive situation in your market. If someone else is already offering the fastest delivery in your industry, it will not make a lot of sense to advertise your product with quick delivery as this “mental position” in the customer’s mind is already taken. We thus have to find a spot that is not yet taken in the market from the customer’s perspective and where our product can also deliver on its promises.
Especially in the consumer goods market, this can get tricky: Should Schweppes be positioned as a soft drink or as something to mix your drinks with? Is Palmolive a product for dry skin or something to get your hands really clean? Seemingly small details can make a huge difference in these cases. Pay attention to your positioning statements as they will determine the following ad copy and its potential for success later on. Go for the wrong positioning, and the chances of your advertising becoming successful will be slim to none.
If you are advertising online, the search volumes of keywords or the click prices for digital ads on Meta or Google ads can give you clues about the competitive landscape and which positions in the market might be more attractive than others.
Who is it for?
When you have decided how you want to position your product, it is time to find the right target audience.
In his book This Is Marketing, Seth Goding explains that there can’t be one product for all people. In fact, there is not even one product for most people.
Instead, every product has a clear customer base. It differentiates between the people who resonate with its message, and the rest whom it is not for.
Some people “get” the idea and like it, while the majority will just pass by and ignore the offering. Others might even be offended by what you offer these days, but this doesn’t matter as long as there is a group of people interested in what you have to offer. Some people might be more in the mood to buy or were currently looking for such a product. The reasons can be manifold, but ultimately some people will be interested in your products and the majority will not.
This does not mean there is something wrong with the product, it just is not for them.
In the same manner, there will always be some people who absolutely love the product, regardless of how useless it might be perceived by some.
Consider the following examples:
Why would anyone pay more than 100.000$ for a gas-guzzling full-size SUV to be stuck in traffic when they are living in a city area where there are bike lanes and public transport available to them at almost no cost? To a lot of people, this doesn't make sense on any level.
And rationally, it also does not make any sense. Yet in every major city around the world you visit, especially the streets in the inner city are filled with such massive vehicles.
Some people even get angry and say we should ban cars from city centers, especially such big cars. But there are enough people willing to pay a lot of money to drive around in crowded streets in city centers with such a vehicle, as sales numbers of such cars have constantly risen over the last years.
Whatever side you choose or if you are indifferent about it, the message is pretty clear:
There is a group of people who love such vehicles, and who are willing to pay large sums of money to drive them around.
Even if others get outraged or hate them for it, it doesn’t matter to the buyer of such a car.
Others don’t have to agree with this group. It is not for them. And as long as there is plenty of money available for such a product, the market will continue to exist.
But SUVs are not the only example. Why would anyone pay a premium price for clothing or spirits drinks like Vodka, just because they are launched by a famous rapper or singer?
If these people are great performers and musicians, what potential benefit could they bring to the table for someone buying clothes or having a drink? Why should someone pay more than 200$ for a T-shirt that costs only a few dollars to make because a brand logo is imprinted on it? Or why should you pay 60$ for a bottle of vodka, which was only white-labeled by a famous rapper and produced by a large overseas factory anyway?
From a rational perspective, none of this makes sense. And many people also abandon such products, rightfully saying they are not worth the money that is asked of them.
Yet there are countless others who are waiting in line to get their hands on such merchandise, who proudly wear it and show off it in public. The majority of people have yet to learn what to do with such products or why such a thing would even exist.
However, the majority is not who is targeted by such a product in the first place.
There are dozens of people waiting to get their hands on such fan articles, and they are happy to pay whatever price is asked. Maybe it gives them a sense of belonging, maybe it makes them feel special. Whatever it is, it is clearly made for this distinct group of people.
And for the others who think such a product is ridiculous - it is not for you.
Before starting any advertising or marketing activities, first research exactly what your product is and what characteristics it has. Find people who resonate with the message. Who is it for? Even the best-selling books with raving fans from the most popular authors on Amazon will have some 1-star reviews. While there are millions who love the content, a few of the readers will be disappointed, offended, or whatever.
This does not mean the book is bad. It simply means this book is not for them.
You have to direct your advertisements to reach the right people in the right places and at the right time. If you get this step right, all other details can be adjusted sooner or later.
But if you get it wrong, then even the best offering and ad copy won't be able to help.
So tell me - who is your product for?
A clear message
If some commercials have a budget of several millions, famous people on board, and a great storyline almost like a small movie, why should they so utterly fail to make people buy?
Just look at the Superbowl ads we mentioned in the introduction from which some have even become world famous and very well-known. If there is so much effort into a TV spot why would people not buy it? The first thing we have to acknowledge as marketers is this: people don't care either about your product or your brand. How shocking!
And if they don't even care about you, then they will care even a lot less about your expensive ad budget or about some fancy pictures in their face. Why? Because busy people are overloaded with information and offers from all sides. You know busy people, those who you want to market to - they are very picky about who to do business with and what to spend their valuable time and attention on. Moreover, the younger generation in particular has to face steadily rising costs of living expenses, and an extreme rise in prices for homes and rent. This automatically leads to tighter budgets in many households.
Now imagine being bombarded with commercial messages all day, having only a few bucks left in the bank account already and then some marketer comes along and expects you to buy a product you have never heard of because there was this nice commercial before your YouTube video, which you skipped after 5 seconds anyway.
And here we have the answer to why only so few marketing campaigns really generate a profit. What we as marketers do in the first place is we send a message.
And we want that message to click with our audience and connect with them.
We want to get people on their smartphones and order in our webshop what we have to offer.
The problem is, what message is a beautiful scenery with dramatically playing actors supposed to tell us?
What is a funny conversation with a great joke going to help me in my life?
Why should anyone get up and spend their hard-earned money just because of seeing this ad?
If you look at most commercials today, they first of all tell people about the company above all else. We have 100.000 employees. We have sold carpets for more than 50 years.
We produce everything in our own 50.000 sq ft factory in Tennessee.
Guess how much the customer will care about your number of employees or the size of your factory?
How many times did your advertisement mention the customer, or even more importantly, what the customer gets in return for buying your product? Most advertising is an accumulation of we, we, we. And not we, the people but rather we, the company.
What do you honestly think, how many people will care about the size of your factory?
How many will be impressed by your number of employees? How many will be interested in how long you are in business?
It seems hard to believe for a lot of people in marketing and business owners alike, but people really don't care about you. Not a bit. Customers care about themselves.
About their situation. If what you offer them can really benefit them. If this impression is not created in the first few seconds of your ad, then your ad will automatically be blocked out subconsciously by the people watching it. Therefore the first and most important factor in any advertising is to answer these two questions:
Is the message clear, will our audience understand it?
Do we really highlight the benefits that people will get out of buying our product?
For example, suppose you try to sell a new App, and your Ad shows people having fun, traveling to great places and fancy scenery. Even if the best professionals in the world produce your commercial and it costs you millions, your customer will probably be thinking: “What the heck is that supposed to mean now?” or have a similar opinion on it, and do not even consider downloading the app.
This is the reason so many fancy Superbowl Ads might be great pieces of art, drama, and acting - but will completely fail to do the one thing advertising is supposed to do: sell a product.
Fancy commercials will leave people confused at best, when they actually should get them to act. If the message is not understood, there is no chance of getting people to buy even if you offer massive benefits, great prices, and tons of value with your product.
But what exactly makes a message clear?
And how can you be sure your messages will be understood?
Communicating With A 5-year Old
In college and university classes you get taught to express yourself in fancy, complicated words and long, convoluted sentences. Academics in general tend to use special words to make sentences complicated and feel superior if not everybody understands their language.
As many marketing people have at least some level of academic degree, this behavior will backfire on your ad results and conversion rates. Advertising is about your customer, not boosting your ego. Your communication needs to be so clear and easy to understand, even a 5-year-old could make sense of it.
In advertising, your message will have to speak directly to the customer.
And as (thankfully) not everybody on this planet is an academic, your language will have to be simple and concise. One of the world's most famous leaders and speakers was Winston Churchill. Amongst many other things like fighting Hitler and bringing the British people to war with the Nazis, he was also famous for using very simple words in his speeches:
“Never was so much owed by so many to so few”, “This was their finest hour”, or “Never, never, never give up” are just some of his most famous sentences he used to effectively bring his messages across and persuade an entire nation to grab their arms and resist the tyranny that had already conquered an entire continent.
He could have used many other words and long, complicated sentences for these speeches. Actually, all other politicians did just that at this time. They used complicated expressions and long sentences to communicate. Churchill instead made it a habit to use as few words as possible for a speech. It is easy to make complicated things sound even more complicated. But it takes a genius to communicate a broad context and deep understanding of a topic into one precise sentence.
If you need 10 minutes to bring your point across in an ad, this will not get you any fans and many people will end up being confused at best, or ignorant at worst.
In marketing as in any form of communication, people have to easily understand what it is about and what they can get out of listening to you. Any words that you use in your advertising have to be so simple they could be understood by a 5-year-old with ease.
Or imagine a chimpanzee has to understand it. Remember, our customers are busy and their attention span is short. Expect the lowest grade of attention for your advertising and the lowest amount of brain capacity available in a human being, and then they still have to understand it.
That is what makes effective communication, not highly skilled words no one understands.
Complicated words will kill even your best and most expensive advertising efforts.
Apple made one of the best examples of simple communication in advertising. While all other manufacturers of mp3 players (which were a LOT back in the days) advertised the megabytes and the technical data of their product, Apple outperformed them all with one single sentence:
One thousand songs in your pocket.
That was all the information needed for people to buy the iPod over any other mp3 player on the market. The product became a top seller right away.
How many people really understand what a megabyte is or what it means? How many songs can fit on a Megabyte, and in what quality? Such facts lead to more and more questions and stir up confusion, while one simple sentence can make it all work out perfectly.
Clear marketing messages focus on the end result for the customer, not some fancy product detail or data.
Nobody is interested in having 4 gigabytes of RAM, but everybody wants to get their work done faster.
Nobody wants 300 horsepower, but everybody wants a car that accelerates really fast and presses you into the seat.
Nobody wants to hear about portfolio diversification, but everybody wants to know that their investments will be secured if something goes wrong.
To communicate clearly, it is essential to lead the customer on a guided path to why your product will make their lives easier and better. You can show examples, and use testimonials to enhance your message. But in every case make sure the customer will understand what he is buying, why, and what it will do for them.
The benefits of a product have to be understood and not communicated in the form of technical data. Maybe you have more Terabytes on your hard drive, but most people will have no clue what this really means for them. And those few who do, still have no clear picture in their mind of what their life could and will look like if they can use it.
This is what your ads will do first and foremost: paint pictures in the customer's head.
Pictures of them using your product, of an easier and better life because they bought from you. The better and clearer the picture the customers can see for themselves, the more impact your advertising will have. So involve people directly, speak in their language, and focus on their situation. If you understand their needs and open up their hearts, they will open up their wallets for you.
Length Of Your Ad Copy
Before we get too much into copywriting directly, first and foremost you need a strategic outlook to what your ad should look like. And a large part of that will be determined by the length of your ad copy.
Thankfully, there are scientific numbers we can count on and use for our purpose.
Amongst marketers, there has been a discussion going on for decades if a long copy is better than a short copy. As people are admittedly getting busier and busier, it might sound logical to many marketers that you should keep your copy nice and short - after all, no one in this busy world will have the time to read a long copy, right?
It makes sense if you think about it but let's look at the facts. There have been thousands of tests and studies done on what creates more sales and what makes a better response rate, either long copy or short copy. All the big names in the advertising industry like Claude Hopkins or David Oglivy agree, fully aligned with the results of all those studies and tests, that long copy outsells short copy by far.
It might sound like a paradox in a busy world like ours, but there is no doubt that if you really want to generate sales, you will have to write longer ad copy. Of course, the copy has to be well-written and direct the customer on his path to the desired product.
It makes no sense to just fill your ad copy with useless expressions in order to make it longer, believing this would now get people to act. Provide a clear message, don't use fancy vocabulary, and provide many reasons to buy from you for those who need it. Focus on benefits, build desire, convince people, and ultimately make them take action.
Compare it to your own situation when buying a product that you are looking for:
Salesperson A spends two hours with you.
You both talk about family values and you generally have a great conversation about all aspects of life.
Salesperson B just explains the technical details of the product and leaves you alone to decide after 10 minutes.
Who would you rather buy from?
The answer is obviously salesperson A, because during this long time, he used all his best sales pitches, listened to your situation, pushed every possible button in your subconscious mind, and mentioned every possible benefit for you and especially your situation. Plus with all that additional information, we have a better feeling to make our decision.
Your ad copy will be no different. After all, a good ad does exactly the same work as a good salesperson would - only in a written format. Actually, your ad should be a written version of a sales conversation.
The more arguments for your product are mentioned in it, the better. What people often misunderstand is that people do not have to read the whole advertisement to buy.
If your headline is great - maybe some people will grab the phone and place an order just after reading the headline. Nobody will feel stopped in their tracks because there is more copy to go, those who are convinced earlier will drop out sooner.
The remaining ad copy is for those who are not yet convinced. And this will be the majority of people. Therefore longer ad copy gives them still more arguments to buy and has a better chance of getting people to act than short copy. With a longer text you can mention one benefit after the other, and take the customer along a perfectly aligned route of persuasion.
Some people need less information to make a decision, some will need more. With a longer ad copy, you satisfy both parties. With shorter Ad copy, you will only sell to those who are easily convinced - which is a very small minority.
Some might argue that most of the research this is based on comes from direct marketing and that the Internet might be different. Again the data for selling online brings the same results, as tests from institutions like MarketingExperiments.com showed.
Additionally, a longer copy on our website will even provide other benefits like improving your search engine ranking. All blogs are based on just that - lots of content. With a long and good ad copy, you can now reap the benefits at once.
The Importance of Color in advertising
There have been several experiments on the color preferences of consumers all over the world. The findings were pretty much the same in every country, culture, or religion.
What do you think is the color people like most? What effects would you guess are there when the colors of things get changed? To make it short, here are the results of which colors are most liked by consumers, starting with the most preferred color at place 1.:
This is the order in which colors are preferred by consumers, with blue being the most popular, followed by red and green. Not all marketing people are aware of this, however.
So make sure if you let some outside designers or agencies design your ad material that those preferences are taken into consideration and the design of your ads and materials will fit the desired conditions. Colors have strong psychological effects on human behavior, as countless studies and tests have shown throughout the last decades. For example, pink walls in prisons lead to demonstrably less violence among inmates.
Or if a school's classroom is painted red, the students are hyped up, while classrooms painted in blue make them more relaxed. Blue ceilings in offices also lead to increased productivity as it suppresses serotonin, which makes us sleepy and tired.
Color has such a strong impact on us, that it even changes the perceived weight of objects.
In a test people had to lift boxes, one painted in black and the other one in light green.
Not only did people mention unanimously that the black box was heavier than the green one, but they also concluded that there has to be more capacity and load inside the black box compared to the green box.
This was especially interesting because both boxes were exactly the same size and had the exact same weight - the only difference was the color! Hence if you want to make your packaging look bigger, or better or attempt to show that there is more inside your product, just paint its packaging black.
What if we use more than one color?
So color definitely not only determines whether or not we like things, but it also affects our perception. In the case of your advertising, however, there will probably be more than one color necessary for the ad itself. After all, it will be hard to make something totally blue and blue only, even if it would be the most preferred color amongst consumers according to research.
In an experiment done by Daniel Starch, the subjects were shown paired colors to determine what combinations were preferred the most. The results showed that generally more saturated colors (or of more purity) had better results than those with low value, or less lightness. Thus the more blue the tests contained, the better they were perceived while those with more yellow and orange had a lower ranking. Here is the ranking for color combinations among consumers, again starting with the most preferred at number one:
Blue and Yellow
Blue and Red
Red and Green
Purple and Orange
Red and Orange
What that means for you is that it will certainly be beneficial to raise the effectiveness of your advertising by simply using the colors that consumers naturally prefer. It always makes sense to use proven and tested research, instead of going for the gut feeling of either yourself or your graphic designer.
Why do you see almost all special offers in commercials priced at something like 8,99? Or 5,97? What difference does it make to price something for 50$ straight, or for 49,97$? Do you believe people will really care about saving those 3 cents?
Of course, there is much more to it.
The way you price your products will have a psychological impact on your customers and their buying behavior. It is not the difference of saving one or two cents, it is the subjective perception of the object and the perceived feeling of the deal in general that changes with the pricing numbers.
It is called the odd-even pricing theory. By using it, you can control whether or not your product will be perceived as something high-class and exclusive or as a bargain and a good deal. Pay close attention to these details because again these small numbers have an enormous psychological impact on our buying behavior!
You see this tactic in use everywhere, from retail to restaurants to car sales. According to the theory, prices with an odd number at the end are perceived as a better deal than a round number with the next whole dollar. That makes 19,97$ look like a better deal than paying 20$ straight out. Just as paying 95 cents for a can of soda seems okay, but 1$ for it? I don't think I need some Soda right now.
Successful companies like Walmart have used this tactic to perfection with their famous offerings ending on 97 cents. If the world's largest retailer uses it excessively, there has to be a clear benefit to it. And as a marketer, such minor differences can have a big impact on the success or failure of your campaigns.
While odd numbers create a feeling of making a good deal or bargain prices, full and rounded numbers have just the opposite effect.
This so-called prestige pricing makes objects seem to be of superior quality, exclusivity, and status. Contrary to what we have observed with making a bargain, paying 10.000$ for a watch suggests a higher quality of it than paying 9.990$ for it. Have you ever noticed that ordinary cars like a Chevy get advertised at 29.990$ while a Bentley costs 250.000$? Now you know why.
Especially today in our busy world with so many advertising messages day by day, we get conditioned into believing those little tricks with numbers. After enough years, such numbers become a deeply rooted paradigm in people's perception and have a strong impact on their buying behavior. It absolutely works.
Just look at any discount store offering bargain prices, wanting people to believe in making a good deal if they shop there - and you will see all prices ending with numbers like .95, .97, or .99.
And then compare those numbers to any store with luxury brands. Take a walk down famous luxury shopping streets like Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive and you will see everything priced in full, rounded numbers. One pricing suggests a bargain and great value, the other suggests luxury and prestige - all just from the numbers.
So how come we humans are so massively influenced by those minor differences with numbers? From a psychological perspective, it is explained in a way that odd numbers give us the impression that the price of the product has been carefully calculated and really meets the lowest possible price. And the numbers after the comma tend to be ignored, rather than rounded up. And so we believe those prices indicate a bargain because someone really did a precise calculation and now offers the best price he can.
Other tests have been done by sending out a mail catalog for clothing with the exact same products, but different endings of the prices in .99, .88, or .00.
The result was an 8 percent higher order rate from the catalog with .99 numbers. For exactly the same clothing! The only difference was the pricing.
Another study from Rutgers University made a test showing the test persons a dress priced at 49,99$, and another group a dress priced at 50.00$. The subjects had no doubt that the dress for 49,99$ was obviously made of lower quality, while the 50,00$ dress was rated to be of superior quality. Why is this interesting? It was exactly the same dress!
This leaves us with one critical question: how are your products priced?
Make Buying Easy
When the customer wants to give you his money, by all means accept it.
Your goal is achieved, you have convinced the prospect that your product is great and they want to buy right now! Now just sit back, relax, and watch the order come in, right?
The worst thing to do now is to make it difficult for people to buy. And yet this happens so many times if you look at the advertising and their buying processes displayed all around us. Too many ads only feature the company logo, or in the worst case not even that.
Maybe you have convinced the buyer with an ad, but he has no idea who your company is or how to approach you. He might look on Google for your brand, but will he also find you?
And more importantly: what will he find about you?
In too many sales funnels there are now many obstacles built into the process. Enter your name, email, credit card details, your address, your firstborn child, etc. Every one of these fields can be a reason why someone would abandon their cart with you.
Sure, payment details are necessary.
But all else should only be asked if it is absolutely important for doing business with that customer - otherwise, you just create additional obstacles for paying customers. In other cases, companies make the checkout seem so daunting people don't want to move forward even if they like the product.
People always take the path of least resistance, and if you put a lot of resistance in their way when they are buying from you by adding just those obstacles like no phone number or other contact details, you make it easier to just walk away. This is what people will do in such cases. You might therefore lose sales over unnecessary details during the checkout process.
You will have to take the opposite approach and make buying so easy a small child could do it, in order to make your advertising a success. Even the best advertising will fail to deliver the results if people shy away from the actual buying process. If you get this part wrong, all the money spent, the brilliant ad copy, and the focus on benefits for the customer will all be wasted.
Thus make sure when you have great advertising in place that generates results, make your buying process as easy as you can. Make sure you provide all necessary details about your business such as a phone number, web address, street directions, and if needed parking advice. Mention also in the sales process that ordering is easy - and give the customer a guide on what steps to take next to order.
Tell them exactly how to get to your product at every step along the way. Take their hand and comfortably lead through the experience. Make it exciting, entertaining, or even fun if you can. Celebrate the buying experience! Then ensure that your business accepts all possible payment options the customer could have. Customers want to give you their money at this point, so make it simple for them to pay and for you to receive the money!
Therefore accept all kinds of personal checks, credit cards, mail orders, phone orders, and of course you have to provide a toll-free number for people to call.
Last but not least, also offer installment payments (ideally in the form of the amortized price, if you used this tactic) because these also are proven to boost response rates at around 15%.
The Most Powerful Secret In Advertising
And guess what makes the most powerful advertising secret of them all?
It is the combination of all of those elements we introduced in this article.
Armed with this knowledge, you already know more about the psychological effects of marketing than most marketing agents out there. This is already a massively powerful arsenal at your disposal - use it wisely! Never forget, that the sole purpose why marketing exists is to generate a sale. We don't want to impress people, we don't want to create a better image.
Marketing for any business owner at the start should have the sole purpose of generating more sales. And this can only be achieved if you really make the best use of all the material you have. And now you have a lot! There are countless studies, articles, and tons of research out there. A time invested in these details can pay you big dividends.