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How to Create An Ad That Sells

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

Each year advertising associations pass out award after award for ad "design" excellence.

I would ask you this question, "Would you rather have an award-winning ad... or an ad that sells?

If you happen to be new to business, the answer is the latter. An Ad That Sells!

Ads that sell get the customers attention and create action. That attention usually is the result of a good headline. Here are some rules of thumb I use when writing headlines.

Headline: It all starts here. If you don't have a headline or some message that makes the reader want to go on and read the rest of the ad it's over for you. Your customer will be moving on to the next ad.

Think: Does the headline create a thought process in the reader? If it's a tire ad, does it make me want to get up, go to the garage and check my tires?

Benefit: Does the headline have a benefit that will help me or solve my problem?

What's The Question? If your headline asks a question, is it a legitimate question? Don't use "stupid" questions like, "Do you really enjoy paying more for car insurance?" That's stupid, it insults your customer.

How-To? Customers answer ads for three reasons,

1.the product solves a problem,

2. makes our lives easier

3. or saves time and money.

If you can find a customer who needs some "know-how" you'll have a sale.

Subhead: The function of a good subhead is to create a transition between the headline and the body of the text. Check newspaper stories. You have an attention-grabbing headline, then some smaller text with more "teaser text" to lead you into the main text of the story.

Your ads and brochures should use the same techniques. Don't have a headline, then an illustration, then body text, without some sub text to gently lead the reader.

Keep long headlines together: Don't break up long headlines with illustrations or graphics, it makes the message harder to pick up.

Talk to your customer: Pretend your headline is talking to a single individual not the entire North American Continent.

Relate to the target market: You may place ads in different mediums that will be read by different target markets.

Make sure the headline is talking to the correct target group. An auto ad in Sports Illustrated would be different than the same ad in Vogue.

No Headline? Never run an ad without a powerful headline.

Don't get too creative: Headlines should be horizontal. Slanted or vertical headlines have not shown any increase in ad response. Keep it simple. Remember, it's the message, not the messenger.

Remember the 6 Reasons Why People Buy: 1. Security: Monetary gain, freedom, from financial worry. 2. Self-Preservation: -safety and health for self and family. 3. Convenience - Comfort, more desirable use of time. 4. Avoidance of Worry - Ease of mind, increase "comfort zone" confidence. 5. Recognition from others: - Social status, respectability, the wish to be admired. 6. Self-Improvement: Spiritual development, hunger for knowledge, intellectual stimulation.

Make sure your headline addresses one or more of these "hot buttons."

Test Your Headlines: If possible, test one or more of the previous "hot buttons" in different media. Find the one that produces the best result.

Use quotes when possible: You will increase attention by 28% by using a quote over a conventional headline.

How Long Is Long? Keep headlines to seventeen words or less.


Use upper and lower case for easier readability.

Be Careful with Reversed Type: Reversed type in white letters on a black background. It's ok for some ads.

The rule here is...Don't use reverse type in type sizes smaller than 18 point.

Twenty-four point or more is better. Small, reversed type is very hard to read.

Remember, it's the message not the messenger.

Use a good attention getting headline mixed with a good product message to the right target market on a consistent basis and watch your business grow.

Based in Bozeman, MT, Tom Egelhoff is the author of, “The Small-Town Advertising Handbook: How To Say More And Spend Less,” and "How to Market, Advertise and Promote Your Business or Service in Your Own Backyard."

He is also a seminar and workshop presenter and trainer. He may be reached at 406-580-1104. Have a business question for Tom? Click HERE to get Tom's advice for free.

Listen in on Tom's Saturday weekly radio show "Open For Business" on AM 1450 KMMS Radio, Bozeman.

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