Articles on Psychological Marketing
Say After You've Got Their Attention:
This is the third part of our series of articles on creating effective print advertising. While many of the ideas are also applicable to electronic ads, the focus here is on the common display ads used by many businesses.
So far in the series we've looked at advertising's "stop signs," the headline and picture. Ten times as many people read headlines as go on to read the body copy. Said another way, the average headline and picture fail to persuade readers to consider the rest of the ad nine out of ten times! The picture and headline must perform TWO jobs -- stop the readers, and then get them to read the rest of the ad.
Most often your real message is in the body copy. When they do look at your message, you'd better have something to say that they like. What? Your promise to satisfy some of their needs, wants, fears or desires. How you do that is the focus of this column.
One important note. Many companies are engaged in business-to-business advertising. These rules still apply. Why? Because you're selling to a person, not a company. And that person has motivations he/she is trying to satisfy. Some are corporate (e.g. "I've got to get the best price") and some are personal (e.g. "If I do good on this deal, I've got that promotion.") The best ads will appeal to both types of motivations of the corporate buyer signing the contract.
Here are some tips to remember as you begin to write your copy.
(1) The purpose of your ad is not to sell your product. It's purpose is to sell your message. Interest, explain, enlighten, and benefit. That is what good copy should do for the reader. (The only time when an ad has the primary role of selling products is in mail-order catalogs, Internet websites, or for products/services which cannot be directly pitched to the buyer in a one-on-one setting.) If you keep in mind that it is unrealistic to expect a hundred or fewer words to do the entire job of selling your product, you won't feel so pressured as you write the copy. Your ad should just get them in the door. Let your salespeople close the deal.
(2) Your body copy has two jobs --interest readers so they will want to look at the product in person, and help them remember the product's name and why they liked it. Researchers often find that people will remember an advertisement, but be unable to remember which product or brand of product it advertised! (Think of all the TV ads you like but you can't remember the product.) That's money down the drain. Worse, if people erroneously remember it was your competitor's brand, you've provided them with free advertising!
How do you help them remember your brand? First, try to create a memorable image in the minds of your readers which involves your product's name -- not just "beer," but "Miller beer." Use your ad as a "branding" iron on the reader's mind. Second, use repetition. Tie your product's brand name to its promise several times in the ad. Make it the last thing the reader sees.
(3) Give your first paragraph impact. An ad is composed of a series of steps leading toward the goal of selling its message. The purpose of each "step" in the ad is to move the reader to the next level in the persuasion process. In step one, the headline and/or picture stop readers, and in step two they convey a message that entices readers to look at the body copy. In step three the first paragraph of the body copy must lure the reader deeper into the text where the pitch is kept.
To entice the reader, design your first paragraph more like a headline. The first sentences should promise excitement, interest, amazement, romance, power, wealth, etc. -- in other words, stimulating one of their "hot button" motivations (needs, wants, fears, or desires), then promising to satisfy it. ("You'll never be embarrassed again with new, potent Viagra." "You'll never leave another party alone with Shalimar in your purse.") The first paragraph sucks the reader into the second, and so on.
Here are a few ideas to remember as you write your opening lines.
a) Stimulate the reader's "hot button" motivation, such as love, security, romance, greed, ego, and so on. Be sure your words stimulate the specific motivator which you've decided is best satisfied by your product. (Most perfume ads really sell romance, not perfume.) A perfume ad stimulating a greed motivation probably wouldn't be as effective.)
b) Use short, common words. Don't make the reader reach for the meaning of any word or of the paragraph. (The great English statesman and writer, Winston Churchill, once said, "Old words are best; and old words, when they are short words, are best of all.")
c) Use words with emotional associations to help create an emotional reaction. (e.g., love, embarrassment, pride.)
d) Don't be coy. If you're trying to create a romantic tone, use words that immediately convey romance. Don't make the reader guess at the situation.
e) Make it interesting. Make the reader want to read the next paragraph. If the reader thinks the material might be entertaining, educational, stimulating, or inspiring, that serves as a value-added component of the message making it more likely to be read.
f) Keep it short. No more than two or three sentences. Don't scare the reader off by the size of the first block of type.
g) Use the "active voice," rather than the "passive voice" in your sentence construction -- people doing things, not having things done to them.
(4) Tell a story. Most people love stories, especially stories about people. Readers' Digest prospered on such stories. Your product or service has a human component, even if it is just the spit valve in a B-flat coronet. Consider stories about how your product or service helped an individual person or family. If you make a product which is nearly impossible to tie into a "helping" theme (such as if you make bomb casings), then look inside your company. Find an appealing human interest story among your employees or subcontractors. If necessary, make up a story (just don't call it "true.")
A proven writing technique to capture and hold the readers' attention is the three part story structure. First, introduce the character(s) and their problem (which is identical to the readers' problem.) Make the characters appealing so the reader will want to identify with them. Second, get them in trouble -- everything goes wrong, leaving them in despair. Third, let them take action to rescue themselves by using your product. It's important they do it; don't let someone else do it for them.
This three-part (or three act) story structure seems to be the most psychologically satisfying to readers, and has been for at least 2500 years. Your story doesn't need to be elaborate or long. What readers want is some sort of narrative that will entertain them. The entertainment they get from the story is their "payoff" for giving you their time and attention. The payoff for you is that your company and product are humanized, improving your image and making it more likely that the reader will remember your brand name, and do so in a positive way.
(5) Explain how to do a task. America is a nation of doers. From fixing cars and screen doors to fixing our health and business plans, we like to do things, and do them pretty well. Ads which promise information about how to do something will get attention and readership. Even if we don't need it now, we'll save the ad because we may need to know how to do it later. Most families have an ad for a soap powder on their laundry room wall because it shows how to get ten common stains out of clothing. It's been there for years -- imagine how cheap the company's "per impression" cost was for the hundreds of thousands of people who taped it to the wall.
(6) Make your ad copy a letter. People like to read personal letters, especially if they're written to other people and we can "sneak" a glance at them. Take advantage of this quirk in human nature by making your ad look like a letter, preferably typewritten for clarity. The headline should indicate it is a "private" letter, such as "A Letter to my True Love," or "Thanks for Getting Me Out of an Embarrassing Jam."
The text should sound like a letter, but make the same points you'd make in a regular ad. Copy which relates a funny or exciting event, reveals emotions, tugs at our heartstrings, tells how the writer avoided disaster, or other personalized content will hold many readers to the end. For example, a furniture store magazine ad might show a letter which begins, "Dear Jim, that new sofa saved my marriage last night. Let me tell you how....." I'll promise you that more women (and men, too) will read that ad than will read an ad listing the features of their sofa.
In short, remember that you are like a safari guide to your readers. Your job in writing the ad's body copy is to point out the sights that will be interesting and useful to them, keep them moving down the right path, and make them happy they took the trip. Few successful safari guides have ever adopted the common business approach of "Here it is. Take it or leave it." Make your ads interesting and courteous, clear and concise, then ask readers to visit you, and many will walk in the door.
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(c) Gary Witt, 1999
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