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Increase Your Advertising Response by 10 Times!

“Increase Your Advertising Response by 10 Times!”

Oftentimes copy in advertising does not attract attention or motivate the reader to action. This article offers some proven advice to increase your response rates for print advertising mediums. Includes strategies for headlines, setting up fulfillment procedures, and follow-up with prospects.

All my ads say the same thing: call, write, or come in. If a customer hasn’t done any of these, we didn’t get his business. At one point the advertisement has to stimulate this response, or the ad fails. The process of writing every ad starts exactly the same way: write your objectives in the upper right hand corner of a blank sheet of paper. Nothing kills off an ad more than having no objective. It should say one or more of the above: call, write, come in. This is a reminder that the response you are seeking is the reason for your ad. Draft your entire ad with your objectives in mind. Every line, every word, every graphic — does it increase your response?The importance of writing the objective of the ad can best be demonstrated by example. I was once called in for a consultation by a large real estate company whose sales were slipping. We spent a good deal of time reviewing the listings for houses in the real estate sections of the local newspapers. When I asked the owner the objective of the very expensive 1/3-page ads he ran day after day, month after month, he told me quite sincerely: To sell houses. When I asked him the purpose of the individual listings within these ads, again he replied: To sell a house.

He was partly right: he had forgotten even more about selling houses than he thought. The objective of the ad was not to sell a house. No one sees a four-line listing and buys a house. The objective of each listing was to generate a phone call. The objective of the entire ad was to generate phone calls. I’ve never known anyone to see a listing for a house in a newspaper and send a down payment. They see the ad and — if it works — they pick up the phone. Rule number one: The objective of an ad is generally not to sell the product. The objective is to generate phone calls.


So I proposed a format change in each listing. Call now, the new ads said. Call for an immediate appointment. For information call! And we gave the phone number in a multitude of places. After customers read our ads, with all the boxes saying Call now and the phone number showing repeatedly, my client’s phone calls tripled the very first week. That’s the value of first writing the objective of the ad, then writing the ad to fulfill the objective. (This lesson was much more expensive for him than for you.)

An axiom in writing direct mail copy also holds true for advertisements, even more so: AIDA. Attract attention, generate Interest, stimulate the Desire, and ask for Action. You have about two or three seconds to entice the reader to stop, look at your ad, and read your headline. Which brings us to the second rule of making an effective ad: The headline is by far the most important line in the ad. Use a headline that will stop the reader dead in the page, capture his attention, and force him to read the rest of the ad. The headline is the ad for your ad.

If you work on writing your ad for twenty five hours, make sure to spend ten of them on the headline. Ten hours on one line? You bet, it can be worth it. The difference between effectiveness of an ad with a poor headline and one with a great headline can be ten times. Ten times! Imagine that you take out an ad and get 100 responses. Then, keeping all the other elements of the ad the same, you just change the headline, and now you get 1,000 responses. That’s the difference.

Don’t write just one or two headlines and pick one. Don’t write a dozen. Write 80 or 100. Yes, that’s what I do. Write even more if none look good. Ask friends to write snappy headlines. Better yet, tell them they’ll have the pleasure of seeing their words in print in a magazine if you select their headline to use. If that doesn’t work, offer to pay them if their headline is used.


The most powerful headline you can write contains your biggest reader benefit. One of the best ways to write a benefit-oriented headline for your direct marketing ad is to ask: What is the biggest benefit of using this product? In the answer lies the headline of your ad. For example, if you are selling lawn mowers and yours is the fastest cutting, cuts the widest path, or has the most horsepower (these are features) you might write in the headline: Mow your lawn in half the time!

What is it that makes your product unique and different? This is called your Unique Selling Proposition or USP, and can be an effective headline if you can show it as a reader benefit. Benefits are an effective way to merchandise your product or service in an ad. A headline that shows the biggest benefit is your first choice, and the safest way to write a headline.

“How To”

Another safe — yet effective — headline style is the “How to” format. How to prepare over 80 meals in under 20 minutes! How to buy any airline ticket at a 50% discount. How to make terrific dinners using only one pot. If your product lends itself to the how-to-do-it market, even people with mild curiosity will read the ad if it shouts “How to!” How to specify printing to get the lowest price. How to set type without a computer. (Whoa! remember those days?) Effective? You bet.

Attention Arrester

An attention-arresting headline makes an incredible statement. This is called “teaser copy” when its placed on the outside of an envelope. Use copy that stirs the reader’s interest to such a degree it forces him or her to read the rest of the ad. Make your headline soooo irresistible people have to read the body copy to see how you support it.

A perfect example is our lawnmower ad, with the headline, This lawnmower makes cutting the grass so fast and easy, I bought it for my wife! The copy that follows says how she is a professional landscaper, and I bought her this mower to make her job easier. Since it’s an unusual juxtaposition for a man to buy a lawnmower for his wife, it will attract attention and dare people to read or not read the rest of the ad.


Another great formula for success in an ad headline is New! New is always exciting. New Feature makes Benefit, Benefit, Benefit. This formula is an effective and safe way to write a headline. Everyone likes a new model just introduced, or a newly improved old model.


This is the best. Some words really are magic in advertising. The word free in the headline (or in the subhead) beats anything else in attracting attention and keeping people interested. For additional value also include it in the first line of the copy, and again in the close. This is probably the best word you can use in a headline.

A free offer increases response. Although overplayed and overused, this remains one of the most effective ways to generate a response to an ad. Just be careful to make sure you get qualified responses when offering something for free. Don’t wind up sending out mountains of free merchandise or literature and getting back no sales. Ugh. When making free offers make sure you are advertising to the correct market, and your audience has the money and the authority to purchase your product.

Think of the brilliance of this: a moving company offers in their headline: Free booklet shows you how to pack your house and valuables for moving. It offers a (1) free book that (2) directly benefits their ideal audience: people who are moving. I’m sure it produces a ton of the highest quality and most well-qualified leads. The formula for the safest, most successfu
l ad headline is simple: Free booklet offers benefit, benefit, benefit. Stated two other ways: Free booklet offers how to get benefit, benefit, benefit; or free item shows you benefit, benefit, benefit.

Another example: suppose you are a printer. Attractive headlines may be, Free booklet shows you how to specify printing to get lower costs. Free brochure shows you how to select paper. Free brochure shows you how to specify correct PMS colors. Free booklet shows low cost folding options. These headlines sound so good, I’d like to get these guides myself. If you already have a promotional mailer printed, Free booklet shows you how to buy printing at a 10% discount would be perfect headline for your ad — just include a 10% off coupon with the piece.

Can you find some “how-to” or useful information related to your service or product that potential customers will want? For example, if you sell typography, the free offer of a type chart on acetate or film showing character height and leading is always an excellent choice. Or a photo percentage calculating wheel. These low cost free offers fulfill the requirements of:

    1. they are only needed by your perfect audience, those who specify and buy type;


  • they are low in cost, and ship inexpensively;



  • they have a high perceived value;



  • they have a useful and long life; and



  • they stay in your prospects view all the time.



One of the lowest cost ways to raise your response rate is to create a free gift of useful value. Probably the most inexpensive way to do this is to create free literature. Create a data sheet that is informative, contains “how-to” information, or explains something practical about your industry, product, or service.

Make your material as useful as you can, so your free gift has a high value to your audience. In your ad, make your offer sound so great customers will feel they are missing something if they don’t call right away to get it. Use Free! liberally throughout your ad. If you create a gift of lasting value, customers will call you for years to use your services. As a lead generation device an informational product is an excellent marketing tool. Probably the best.

When drafting your ad, kindly remember you aren’t in a contest to see who can be the most unusual, or win an award for being the most different. You just want to make money and create a good solid ad built on a traditional format that has been proven time and time again. It will pay for itself by generating maximum response (our objective). Ads that draw the greatest number of qualified responses have the best chance of success. This is your objective, and the basis for a short ad campaign on a limited budget. If you have a long-running campaign, you can be more flexible in your style and content. If you have an unlimited budget, let’s talk.

Get that one extra reader in 100 who was going to whiz right by your ad to stop and read your headline, read the ad, pick up a pencil, or the phone, or come in. The headline is the most important line in your ad — don’t be satisfied with a good one. Make sure it’s a smashing great one. Make a free offer specific to your audience, and make it sound sensational. Don’t forget to track the results of each ad to its source. But that’s another article.

About the Writer: Jeffrey Dobkin is a direct mail copywriter and a direct marketing consultant. His new book, How to Market a Product for Under $500, due out this spring, is a step-by-step action plan for marketing a product or service for under $500. To order call 800-333-8247. To speak to Mr. Dobkin, call 610/642-1000.

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