Use our simple five-step formula to turn under-performing lead generation advertisements into high powered sales tools.

Bill King and son, Stephen, were facing a dilemma, common to many business people. They had a great product on their hands. Something handymen and tradesmen would jump at. But they were having trouble launching it into the marketplace. As the product’s Australian distributors, the Kings had hit a brick wall. Hardware store owners were reluctant to stock the product, because it was new and, in their eyes, untried. As part of a coordinated marketing program, we set about writing an advertisement to achieve two objectives:

  1. Encourage consumers to trial the product (an alternative to sandpaper, called FlexiFile)
  2. Convince hardware store owners to purchase stocks of FlexiFile.

In this article, we look at the process for creating such an advertisement. And we show you how you can apply the same methodology to create your own high powered print advertisements.

One step or two?

Before you begin to create an advertisement for your product or service, there is an important decision to be made. Is it reasonable to expect the person who reads your advertisement to purchase your product purely on the basis of the information supplied? Or is the purpose of the advertisement to solicit an ‘expression of interest’? If you are selling a simple and inexpensive product, you may be able to make a sale ‘off-the-page’ in one simple step. However, if your product is complex or expensive, your sales process may need to consist of two or more steps. With a two-step campaign, your advertisement is what we call a ‘lead generation’ ad. In other words, it is designed to introduce prospects to a sales process – rather than to make a sale at that first point of contact. A lead generation advertisement would normally offer readers a free information package, report or sample. This ‘expression of interest’ would then be followed up with either a direct mail campaign, or a telephone or face-to-face presentation.

It’s as easy as AICDC!

There’s a simple, five-step process to creating a powerful advert. We call it AICDC – short for Attention, Interest, Conviction, Desire, Close. If you adhere to this simple process you will find it remarkably easy to create highly effective advertisements.

Grab their attention!

The most critical component of an ad is its headline. It’s the job of the headline to grab the reader’s attention – stopping her in her tracks. If your headline doesn’t capture the reader’s attention in a split second, she will simply turn the page without reading your advertisement. Try this simple test yourself. Flick through a newspaper or magazine and take note of what catches your eye. Your eyes will automatically skip over those articles that don’t interest you, and pause where something demands your attention. Your headline should make a big claim, in bold, no-nonsense language. This claim doesn’t necessarily have to be believable – in fact, the more incredible it sounds, the better – but it must be relevant to the reader. Of course, it must also be truthful. The FlexiFile headline makes such a claim: Miracle abrasive renders sandpaper obsolete! The inference here is immediately obvious. Anyone using sandpaper is doing things the hard way. There’s a better alternative. To find out what it is, the reader must read on. Ideally, your headline should take up at least 25% of your advert’s space. And the best headline is one that promises a clear customer benefit. The headline on the advertisement above does exactly this. Headlines that trumpet a technological or scientific breakthrough tend also to generate an excellent response. You’ll notice that the producers of television ‘infomercials’ favour products that can be promoted as ‘new technology’ (as well as those that are demonstrable). How many times have you seen a commercial for an exciting new ‘widget’ and found yourself fumbling for your credit card? In the FlexiFile advert, the breakthrough factor is emphasised through words such as ‘miracle’ and ‘revolutionary’. The following are two more examples of headlines that have generated enormous volumes of new business for our clients: Rest easy … that bastard’s pinching someone else’s hog! (Promoting a locking device for Harley Davidson motorcycles.) The world’s greatest marketing blunders – and how to avoid them in your business. (Promoting a business seminar.) A headline is generally reinforced by a sub-heading, as in the FlexiFile example: Amazing new FlexiFile is guaranteed to never clog – and to outlast ordinary sandpaper by up to three times! Often, the sub-heading will pre-empt the offer – providing the reader with an additional incentive to read on. Responsibility for attracting readers’ attention is often shared by the photograph or illustration. The role of a picture is simply to amplify the message transmitted by the headline. Before and after photos are particularly effective. If you have a product that lends itself to such a comparison, go for it! You’ll notice that both advertisements featured in this article make use of before and after photographs.

Building interest

While your headline/picture combination captures the attention of the reader, the responsibility rests with the first two paragraphs of your advertisement to secure her interest. We often accomplish this with a problem-solution formula, as in the FlexiFile example: Until now, sanding has been a frustrating and time-consuming exercise. This is because ordinary sandpaper is simply not made to last. Within minutes, it starts to clog and lose its abrasive surface, and soon falls apart. (Problem). And the solution? FlexiFile is an advanced silicone carbide sanding sheet that’s guaranteed never to clog.

Convince your readers

Use the remainder of your copy, known as the body copy, to build a compelling sales argument. To put it another way, this is your body of evidence. As a barrister is required to prove his case point by point in a court of law, you must be able to justify the bold claim you made in your headline. Describe the features and benefits of the product or service, and offer evidence to support your claims. When writing your advertisement, try to emulate the style of a newspaper report. The aim is not to trick readers into thinking it’s news. It’s simply that this is the format that most people are familiar and comfortable with. Newsy text also sounds more credible. Keep sentences short and interesting, with the most important points in the first few paragraphs. Don’t waffle, or get bogged down in technicalities. Use simple, layman’s language. And never insult the reader’s intelligence, by stating the obvious. Some copywriters try to be too clever or subtle, and end up simply confusing the reader. Write your copy to sell your product or service, not to win advertising awards. In a two-step campaign, it is important to remember to sell your offer (information package, etc) in your advertisement, not your actual product or service. You’ll get plenty of opportunity to do this if your advertisement is successful.

Stimulate desire

Desire is your emotional argument. This is the mental picture that you create to make the reader feel good about using your product or service. It’s like a virtual ‘test-drive’. We also call this technique, future pasting, because the reader is ‘teleported’ to a situation in the future. Stimulate desire by painting a word picture of the reader using and enjoying your product at some stage in the future. E.g. You’ll leave this seminar empowered with ideas to multiply the profitability of your business.

Closing your case

The close should be a simple, call to action. In the case of FlexiFile, it was a coupon, offering the reader the opportunity to obtain a free sample of FlexiFile from her local hardware store. (To encourage retailers to participate in this campaign, FlexiFile sold them sample packs and then purchased the coupons collected at the normal retail mark-up.) In a two-step advertisement the offer can take any number of forms. It may be a free product information pack, or a subscription to your company’s newsletter, even an invitation to a seminar or executive briefing.

How did AICDC work for FlexiFile?

From its first insertion in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane’s only Sunday newspaper) the FlexiFile advertisement motivated around 1,000 people to visit hardware stores around Queensland and request the free sample on offer. Similar results were then replicated with placements of this advertisement in select national magazines. As well as effectively ‘making a market’ for FlexiFile, the success of this campaign converted some retailers, who had previously opted not to carry FlexiFile, into enthusiastic stockists. FlexiFile had arrived! And it was all thanks to the simple, but effective principles of AICDC. While creativity does undoubtedly play a role, we have proved time and time again that the production of a successful advertisement is more science than art. And, as you can see, this is a science that anyone can master.