Writing for Print Ads – Say Less

Posted by on Feb 24, 2014 in Business Writing | 0 comments

Writing for Print Ads – Say Less

Have you ever heard that phrase “less is more?” I have. That’s why I’m mentioning it. If I hadn’t, I’d probably have started with something completely different. That aside, “less is more,” is a pretty stupid thing to say. Because less is clearly less. I mean, even if you have two poisonous snakebites and your hiking partner has four poisonous snakebites, you’re probably more likely to survive, but you still have fewer snakebites. Less is never more. Otherwise mathematics falls apart and society collapses.

What we’re trying to say here is “less is occasionally better.” This is critical to remember when you’re writing for print advertisements. People read articles for the words. They look at advertisements to see big glossy pictures of good-looking people enjoying a nutritious breakfast in an unsettlingly clean kitchen or a hawk flying over a crystal clear mountain lake. Then for some reason they think…

“Oh wow, that’s a pretty scene, I’d better invest in some new tires!”

Remember that your words are simply a bit of information on the periphery of the real draw – the picture. If your advertisement is too wordy, the reader will probably just see it as an uninteresting article and skip right over it. Truthfully, it’s the biggest mistake that most startup businesses make. A print ad is not the place to tell the entire history of your plucky little company and every one of the nine hundred services you offer. It’s the place to put an engrossing image, a catchy tag line, and only the most crucial information.

When writing for advertising copy it’s easy to panic and think you’re not getting your money’s worth. I mean, you’re paying for a whole page – you have to let the public know about your landscaping services, and your botanical knowledge, and how great you are at building retaining walls, and oh yeah, there was that time we painted a lounge chair, and right, right, once Brad stepped on a really pesky spider and the client was thrilled! What if people DON’T FIND OUT ABOUT IT?

Want proof that you don’t need to do that? I’m going to flip through the last magazine I got and count the words in the first ten advertisements I see. (Ones that actually include text) And no, it’s not a dirty magazine unless you’re some oddball who’s obsessed with illustrations of kettlebell workouts.

*Note, the words I’m counting are simply in the text. I’m not including those odd little disclaimers at the bottom.

Product — Words

1) Truck — 47
2) Protein Supplement — 99
3) Hair Product — 104
4) Garage Door — 58
5) Workout Drink — 17
6) Almonds — 44
7) Luxury Car — 75
8) Vitamins — 95
9) Whey Supplement — 80
10) GPS system — 38

So what’s the average number of words for these ten randomly selected cross-genre advertisements?

Average words — 66

Now obviously that’s a small sample size, and if you’ll look at the supplement companies, they’ll trend more toward wordier advertisements simply because showing a bottle of powder isn’t quite as effective as a picture of a truck towing the moon through downtown Kansas City. In their particular industry, you have to explain that your product has some crazy new molecular breakthrough that will allow you to deadlift two more pounds. Thus, they tend to need more words.

But chances are, you don’t.

So think about it – if you only had sixty-six words to use, what would you do to highlight your business or the business you’ve been hired to write for? Here are some tips.

1) Sum up what the business does in a simple tag line. It doesn’t have to be the catchiest thing in the damn world as long as the reader knows what your business or product is. If you sell dirt and your tag line is “We know dirt,” you’ve done your job. And you’ve only used three words. People will read it and think, “Hey, these guys know their dirt. If I ever need dirt, I know who to call.”

2) Succinctly describe what’s unique about the business or product. If the dirt you’re selling is nitrogen enhanced, mention that. If your dirt is of better quality and yet cheaper than your competitors, mention that. If the best thing about your dirt is that it makes one hell of a pile, well I guess uh… mention that. What you don’t need to do is go on about the nitrogen enhancement process, or that you buy cheap from a wholesaler just outside of Toledo. It’s not a critical piece of information in relation to whether the customer will eventually make a purchase. They don’t care WHY the dirt is uh… dirt cheap, (sorry, I had to) they just care that it is.

3) Casually mention the great things the reader COULD do with the product. “Imagine a summer salad of organic vegetables grown entirely in your own backyard. With Mudd Brothers Dirt, you don’t have to imagine anymore.” It’s the same thing with any business. Get people thinking about the amazing future that awaits if that future includes your product. But don’t go overboard. Don’t start talking about the ripped abs, modeling contract, and extravagant yachts they can expect from eating vegetables grown in Mudd Brothers Dirt. Unless that’s your whole strategy. “It all started with Mudd Brothers Dirt!” (Why do I have the sinking feeling I just came up with a marketing campaign I’ll see during the next Super Bowl, sigh, and tell no one in particular, “That was my idea.” Then someone will snicker and I’ll yell “What? You don’t believe me? Check my blog last February, jagoff! That’s it, let’s fight. C’mon. C’mon. Let’s go Snickerin’ Sam!”)
*Sorry, I was a little drunk in those parentheses.

4) Give ‘em the website. That’s the place to mention the nitrogen infusion process and give a shout out to Stacey in Toledo. The key is to get them intrigued enough by your advertisement to voluntarily go get the rest of the information on their own.

And the great thing – it’s not as hard as you’d think to do those four things in sixty-six words. It’s all about choosing the right words and the correct message.

In other words, “less is occasionally better.”

You hearing me there hair product?

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