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12 Techniques That’ll Turn Good Ads Into Great Ones

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Insider reveals what really worked, what didn’t
Here’s a secret about writing copy that sells: There’s no secret. You can increase your chances of getting the phone ringing hot by listening to the folks who’ve reviewed tens of thousands of ads targeted at businesses and consumers.

Lift response, readership and recall
Copy that sells is clean, easy to read, uncluttered and interactive (it has a response device like a phone number), Phil Sawyer, VP, Starch Communications, told the MarketingSherpa b2b lead summit. Again and again, he’s found similarities in copy and ads that sell. The results of these tests can’t tell you everything, but they can tell you what bad ads (those that don’t sell) have in common. That’s money in the bank for any marketer under pressure to lift ROI.

Here are some of the insider tips that’ll lift response, readership and recall:

  • Why bury your contact info? You see it in every trade pub and newspaper, contact numbers and Web sites in teeny weeny print at the bottom of the ad. That’s the last thing even the most dedicated prospect reads. You can lift response by increasing font size or using contrasting colors. Or try something radical, like moving the contact details up in your copy.
  • Busy-busy ruins response. It’s tempting to appeal to a wide range of readers with a variety of photos or images, etc. But the best b2b ads Sawyer reviewed — the ones that best attracted and held attention — had only one photo. The worst? Many competing images. And photos nearly always outscore illustrations or drawings.
  • Color me pretty. It’s rare to see monochromatic ads score well. So try using high contrasting colors, and err on the side of caution by using colors that rate well — dark blue or golden yellow, for example.
  • No headline, no link. No matter how great an ad or image, Sawyer recommends against omitting a headline. It’s the “bridge” that takes the reader into the copy. Without it, they drown, response falls. Splash.
    Keep that bridge short. Because headlines sell, there’s often a temptation to make them longer. Like any bridge, interest falls off after a while. The best? Nine words or fewer and two lines long.Make it easy to read
  • No blurry photos/images. Again, anything that makes an ad or photo hard to see or read cools response.
  • Watch the justification. Justifying the left margins helps the reader find the beginning of your copy. But copy that’s centered or justified on both sides is harder to read.
  • Be wary of funky fonts. Weird typeface, including stuff that looks like a ransom note, or copy at an angle, also deters readers.
  • Capitalize lightly. Try this: Read a paragraph of copy where every word’s been capitalized. It slows you down. The choice: Use capitals sparingly or see response fall.Negatives hurt response
  • Be kind to your models. Have you seen ads where the layout severs an arm or amputates the model’s head? Well, anything like this savages response. The best response? Photos of smiling people looking squarely at the camera.
  • Avoid negative stimuli. Showing angry people or using copy that inflames can depress response. It’s human nature; people prefer pleasant images and ideas.
  • Follow the eyes. Before you hit the print button on your next ad or lay out, watch a few people read it and follow their eyes. A photo of a soaring tower above the body copy may take the readers’ eyes up the page, away from the copy, where they may fly away to the next page.

Adapted from presentation by Sawyer, SVP, Starch Communications, NOP World
Reprinted with permission from

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