Using The Persuasion Diagram To Make A Radio Ad

Let’s create an ad using the Persuasion Diagram from What I Know About Writing Ads I Learned In High School.

Elite-Web-Logo-280This ad is for Elite Exterminating in Corpus Christi, Texas. Our objective is to promote their monthly in-home roach treatment. After interviewing the client, we are able to quickly determine most of the elements to fill in the Persuasion Diagram.

Use this outline to create persuasive advertising in any medium.

Use this outline to create persuasive advertising in any medium.

The Persuasive Proposition: roaches will keep coming back until you call Elite Exterminating.

Point One: Once they establish a presence in your home they’re nearly impossible to remove.

Point Two: You only see a few of the thousands of roaches in your home. Elite Exterminating will kill them all.

Point Three: Elite Exterminating is committed to complete customer satisfaction.

Call To Action: Pick up the phone and dial 853-8570.

Make ‘Em FEEL The Roach Infestation

We need a vivid first mental image for our Attention-Getting Headline. We need to make sure people who have seen roaches in their home pay attention. With a little creativity we come up with:

Attention-Getting Headline: Sometimes late at night you’ll hear their filthy little feet scuffling across the floor.

OK. We have all of the major parts. Using the sequence shown in the diagram, let’s put the pieces together.

Sometimes late at night you’ll hear their filthy little feet scuffling across the floor.

Roaches will keep coming back until you call Elite Exterminating.

Once they establish a presence in your home they’re nearly impossible to get rid of.

You only see a few of the thousands of roaches in your home. Elite Exterminating will kill them all.

Elite Exterminating is committed to complete customer satisfaction.

Roaches will keep coming back until you call Elite Exterminating.

Pick up the phone and dial 853-8570.

This ad isn’t done, but even in this bare bones form you can read the sentences out loud and can quickly judge whether or not this strategy is valid. Our incomplete example already sounds as if it will get the attention of homeowners with roaches, and guide them to call.

The Editing Step

Let’s flesh out the skeleton a bit, and re-write some of the minor points to make our ad compelling.

Sometimes late at night you’ll hear their filthy little feet scuffling across the floor linoleum. You move a soap bottle from under the sink, and you think you see something ducking down the drain opening. And you know that your home has been invaded.

They’re roaches. You could try the powders, the sprays, and you’ll find that they roaches will just keep coming back until you finally call Elite Exterminating the full service pest control and termite company.

They’re filthy, disgusting, and once they establish a presence in your home they’re nearly impossible to get rid of.

You only see a few of the thousands of roaches in your home. Elite Exterminating will kill them all the roaches you see, and the thousands of roaches you’ll never see.

Elite Exterminating, the full service pest control and termite company serving all of Texas and is committed to complete customer satisfaction.

Roaches will keep coming back until you call Elite Exterminating. One call. No more roaches. Elite Exterminating: Pick up the phone and dial 853-8570.

If we swap the second and third paragraphs the sequence will flow better. Here’s the final script. Produced with the appropriate sound effects, our radio ad is done.

It’s Radio Ready

“Sometimes late at night you’ll hear their filthy little feet scuffling across the linoleum. You move a soap bottle from under the sink, and you think you see something ducking down the drain opening. And you’ll know that your home has been invaded. They’re filthy, disgusting, and once they establish a presence in your home they’re nearly impossible to get rid of. They’re roaches. You could try the powders… the sprays… and you’ll find that they just keep coming back. Until you finally call Elite Exterminating, the full service pest control and termite company. Elite Exterminating will kill the roaches you see, and the thousands of roaches you’ll never see. Call Elite Exterminating now at eight five three, eighty-three seventy. Eight five three, Eighty-three seventy. Eilte Exterminating, the full-service pest control and termite company proudly serving all of Texas and committed to complete customer satisfaction. One call… no more roaches. Elite Exterminating: eight five three, eighty-three seventy.”


I wrote and produced this ad in 2003. Reviewing it now it’s obvious to me that the wordy and somewhat passive “Once they establish a presence in your home they’re nearly impossible to get rid of” would have been stronger as “Once you’ve got roaches they’re nearly impossible to get rid of.

And yes, Mrs. Jacobson, I do remember that you told us not to end a sentence with a preposition. (A silly rule, up with which I shall not put). Please understand that my objective is persuasion, which tends to work more effectively when I write the way people speak.

Next time, we’ll use the Persuasion Diagram to create a newspaper ad.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Need help applying the persuasion diagram to the story you need to tell? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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What I Know About Writing Ads, I Learned In High School

Carol Jacobson, who inspired and guided several crops of reporters, novelists, and advertising copywriters.

Carol Jacobson, who inspired and guided several crops of reporters, novelists, and advertising copywriters.

On August 23, 1969 the late Carol Jacobson began teaching us how to write effective advertising.

By us, I mean the English composition class of Alamo High School, Alamo, North Dakota.

Oh, she didn’t call it effective advertising. She called it “writing.”

Carol Jacobson believed that people who could write a persuasive essay could write anything. I’ve been using the structure she taught us to create advertising copy for the last three decades.

Mrs. Jacobson used a diagram similar to this one:

Use this outline to create persuasive advertising in any medium.

Use this outline to create persuasive advertising in any medium.


The Attention-Getting Headline, sometimes called the First Mental Image, is what draws you into the ad.

Once you have the prospect’s attention, lead up to the Persuasive Proposition.

Mrs. Jacobson called this part the thesis. Sometimes it’s called the Value Proposition. Rosser Reeves called it the Unique Selling Proposition.

Regardless of what it’s called, this is the main point of our ad. This is the one thought that we want to stick in people’s minds.

We usually use three points (or benefits) to convince our prospect of the validity of our Persuasive Proposition. For some reason three is a magic number. Any fewer, the proposition appears weak. Any more and you run the risk of a long and boring list.

Exception: If you’re targeting Transactional Shoppers, and are showing off items included in your big sale, three groups of three items is magic. “They come in red, blue, and yellow; with zippered front, buttons, or pullover; and are available in medium, large, and extra large.”)

Finally, the Call To Action tells your prospect what you want her to do next.

Get familiar with this diagram. You can use it to create effective advertising copy for radio, for newspapers, for flyers, for sales letters, for television ads.

Next time we’ll use the diagram to create actual ads – the perfect bait when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Need help applying the persuasion diagram to the story you need to tell? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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Trends and Cycles and Advertising In Them

Trend graph.

Trend graph.

Originally published August 12, 2008.

Some trends are cyclical. Some are obvious. Sometimes both. Most are also predictable.

Are all trends cyclical? Hardly.

In the 90s, as growing demand and sophisticated technology converged to create the Internet, providing service to local subscribers was a great growth business. Look at the incredible growth of AOL, Compuserve, and hundreds of local ISPs throughout the country.

Today, however, Internet service is a commodity. There’s no hope of a repeat of the dramatic growth curve of the last two decades.

Trend, yes. No cycle.

But the housing boom of the last few years? That was an obvious trend, with an equally obvious cyclical behavior. Equity growth can’t continue at double digit rates indefinitely. By the time cab drivers and school teachers are buying second homes as investment properties, the boom is about over.

Trend? Definitely. Cycle? Equally definite.

We’ve seen this cycle before, haven’t we?

We’ve seen what happens after a real estate crash. We all remember 1992.

In each phase of each cycle, some businesses will benefit, and others will be damaged. Real estate brokers and mortgage lenders did very well during the real estate boom. They won’t be doing well in the immediate future. Bankruptcy attorneys and payday loan companies will, however.

While the housing bubble was rising, anyone hanging out a shingle got business. Advertising? That was a totally unnecessary expense.

Now that the bubble has burst, how many brokers have left the industry? How many have laid off their staff, and are again operating out of their homes?

Suppose you had been the one.

The one real estate broker in town who had realized that markets don’t go up forever. Suppose that you’d started building your image as a problem solver, as the company who can get it done, back when times were good. Who would stressed sellers turn to today to help them get their overpriced homes off the market?

The time to build image, to create Top-Of-Mind-Awareness, is before someone needs your services.

When times are good, people may choose you because of your reputation. They may choose you as a result of your advertising. But, sometimes, you may simply be the beneficiary of so many people in the market that you’re tripping over them.

That was a fair description of the recent real estate market in this country. It’s about to be the description of the state of personal finance, too.

Trend? Yup. Cyclical? Obviously. Predictable? You tell me.

And, much like real estate brokering, and mortgage lending in the early years of this decade, do you suspect a dramatic increase in the number of bankruptcy attorneys and payday loan companies?

Yes. It’s a safe bet (but probably a poor metaphor, huh?)

So, what’s ahead for bankruptcy attorneys and payday loan companies? A year or so of so much business they’ll trip over it. Followed by lean times when the “market correction” has played out.

What’s my advice?

Don’t depend on your Yellow Pages ads.

Oh, they’re working well right now. By the time someone is in trouble and needs your services, they’ll open the directory and search for any headline that promises them relief from their particular pain. When people open the Yellow Pages they’ve already decided to buy. But since they have no familiarity with you, and no preference for anyone, it’s a crap shoot whom they’ll buy from.

When the onslaught of people in financial trouble diminishes (as all trends do), you’re going to have to start competing with other bankruptcy attorneys or payday loan companies for the small amount of business that’s left. You’re going to need an image in people’s minds if you expect them to pick you. You can’t build image in a directory listing.

Start now in other media.

Give compelling reasons that people who need your services should choose you. Start now when cash is flowing and investments in your future are less painful. Start now, because it takes time to influence the way people think, and you’ll need that time when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about how economic trends affect advertising? Drop Chuck a note at[email protected]. Or call him at 304-523-0163.


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Advertising Observations From My Hotel Room

Originally published February 10, 2006
Some people when they visit a new community look for the typical “touristy” kinds of things. Others wonder if there’s a casino nearby. I study the local ads.

This week I’ve traveled through four major southern cities. As you might expect, I have some advertising observations to share.

Example Number One:
Earlier this week I dropped in to visit a radio station because I’m a friend of the program director and morning disc jockey.

While we were catching up, he played an ad for me that had a strong character espousing the client. The character was hammering away the copy points in a way that was nearly impossible to ignore.

The client wants it re-done with a “regular announcer.”

I told him that it was too bad that the client was intent on making the ad less attention getting and less memorable.

When clients insist on making an ad sound like or look like an ad (ie. “professional”) they are effectively insisting that their ad be just like all the others.

Estimates are that Americans ignore nearly 3,500 advertising impressions a day. Shouldn’t we be working to make our ads less like everyone elses?

And please note that I’m not suggesting being different for the sake of difference. As the great jazz bassist and composer Charlie Mingus said “Anybody can play weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

Example Number Two:
Ads that have attorneys screaming, “I’ll FIGHT for YOU. I’ll get you the money you deserve for your pain and suffering.” are probably running in most markets across the country. Does the same guy produce them all? They all appear to have the same script.

This is transactional marketing taken to an extreme.

Sobering thought: these ads must be producing results for the lawyers to keep running them in prime time.

Example Number Three:
You can’t build a positive image by piggybacking on someone else’s slogan. In a single community over the last thirty days I’ve witnessed “Got Insurance?” “Got Real Estate?” “Got Teeth?”

Honestly, what do you think of these variations on “Got Milk?”

Are you driven to do business with them?

Do you get the feeling that these various businesses are able to solve your problems?

Or do you suspect that they have nothing to offer, and are trying to cash in on someone else’s notoriety?

Example Number Four:
Why do the graphic artists who compose yellow pages ads insist on putting the client’s logo as the headline? I have the Memphis Bell South yellow pages open in front of me as I write this. I’m looking under landscaping.

Here are the headlines.

Bob Hollandsworth Landscape
Complete Lawn & Landscaping Service
Designscapes By D
Growth Spurts Landscape And Irrigation
Landscape Creations, Inc.
Paradise Allscapes
Tee Time Landscape
Total Yards Landscaping

Yes, I’m aware that these are the names of the businesses. That’s the point.

It appears each of these companies is proud of their name. Unfortunately, as a shopper, I want to know what they can do for me. I’ll fix ‘em for making me do all the work. I’ll ignore ‘em.

Now, among all of these easily-forgettable ads are two that hint at the ability to help me.

When Skies Are Blue, We Rain – Blue Skies Irrigation

From Concept To Completion, Your One-Source Solution For A Beautiful Landscape – Pugh’s Landscaping.

Better, but I still have to think about them in order to see the advantage to me, the buyer.

Therefore, the winner is clearly:

Give Your Yard An Exciting New Look – Germantown Landscape Company


At last, a clear promise of benefit. I now know what’s in it for me.

Take a peek at your yellow pages ads. If the headline is your company’s name, you’re wasting money.

Final Example And Observation:
You probably shouldn’t assume that everyone knows how to find your store. “The oldest, ugliest building on Tanner Road” doesn’t mean anything to anyone who doesn’t know which section of Tanner Road to look in to find your store.

Cleverness like this can actually cost you business. If you make shoppers solve a puzzle in order to respond to your ads, they’ll take the easy way out and file you permanently under “ignore,” which doesn’t work well when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

” href=””>Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about making your ads stand out and get noticed? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-523-0163.


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A Priest, A Rabbi, And A Minister Walk Into A Bar

Originally published December 2, 2005

Most people are convinced that advertising is easy. Most believe that they could do a better job than the ads which inundate them daily. Perhaps they could.

Some of them become advertising salespeople. Sadly, they are predictable. Their first predictable bright idea is to write ads using sex appeal. Their second predictable idea is usually to write ads using humor.

So, the typical rookie radio or television salesperson staples a typical newspaper ad to a typical Broadcast Production Order form, checks the box to indicate “Spec spot” (that is, to be produced under the speculation that the customer may buy it), and under instructions to the copywriter writes “Make it funny.”

Make it funny?


Attach an eighth page listing of all the tire sizes on sale at Bob’s Tire Barn to the affor-mentioned Broadcast Production Order form, and tell the copywriter to MAKE IT FUNNY?

“A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar…”

What’s the last thing the joke teller does before he starts this story? He looks to the left, and then to the right to make sure he’s not about to be overheard. What’s funny to some people is likely to be offensive to a significant number of others.

And yet, advertisers and account executives keep telling ad writers to be funny, and ad writers keep trying to be.

In radio or television the producer can direct the talent to inject “tones of voice” in order to cue people that something other than serious will follow. Those amusement signals are nearly impossible to do in newspapers or magazines.

Fortunately, funny in print isn’t attempted as often as in other media. Unfortunately, about one ad in ten attempts it anyway. You’ll usually see the humor in the headline. That prevents the first line of copy from expanding and elaborating on the attention-getting headline.


People can see funny faster than they can hear it, which is why we’re likely to see sight gags used in television. The major problem is the generic nature of gags. They seldom have any relevance to the product being advertised. Sight gags are bad advertising. They lead to the reason advertisers are perpetually tearing their hair out: people remembering the gag but unable to remember the product or the advertiser.


Where television tends to be gag oriented, radio tends to be joke oriented, and like gags, jokes are seldom relevant. There’s no association between the set up or the punch line of the joke and the message the seller wants desperately to plant in the mind of the listener.

The joke draws attention to itself. It draws attention away from the advertiser’s product.

The funnier it is, the sooner it will irritate on repetition, (which assumes that it was ever funny in the first place). That’s why people say “Stop me if you’ve heard this one…”

No joke is universally funny.

A sizable percentage of the population won’t be amused. Trust me, the words “childish” and “stupid” come up frequently when real people critique “humorous” ads.

Real people get confused by messages that aren’t expressed simply. Real people get offended by things that may not strike them as particularly funny. Even professional comedians tell jokes that they consider hilarious while the audience sits silently on their hands. Real people become annoyed at someone who tries to be funny, and fails.


There’s a difference between humor which appeals to men, and that which appeals to women. International advertising agency J. Walter Thompson interviewed pairs of female friends in eight countries and concluded that male humor is based on competition and impressing people around them. Women use jokes to achieve intimacy and to make people feel at ease. Men prefer gags with a punch line. Women laugh at stories that relate to their everyday lives.

Diana Coulson, director of strategic planning at J. Walter Thompson, Paris, said:

“The key thing that emerged was that women’s main source of humor is from the everyday, the little issues, stuff they observe and that happens to them. They can find humor in a household chore, or something silly that somebody says to them at work. Men use humor in a much more competitive way. Men want to be funny to show off and to get people to admire them. It’s all about scoring points, whereas with women humor is much more a way of creating an attachment, bonding and getting intimacy with people. They are instinctively enhancing their relationships.”

Humm. So men and women find different things funny? Who’d have thought?

Humor can backfire. According to marketing consultant Martin Wales:

“One laser eye surgery company was using humor in its ads, you can see them if you get redirected here. The competition capitalized on it by suggesting that there’s nothing funny about eye surgery.”

In most major cities sizable portions of the people who live there come from other countries. Humor frequently doesn’t translate from one sub-culture to another. Instead of being funny these ads are confusing. They’re frequently offensive. Worse yet, no matter how much attention they draw, these ads seldom sell enough product. Following the “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” campaign, William J. McEwen, Author of Married to the Brand wrote in the Gallup Management Journal:

“In a recent move that surprised relatively few industry analysts, Taco Bell announced that it was firing the advertising agency responsible for its award-winning TV commercials of the past few years. According to the company, the advertising that had built strong recognition as well as profitable merchandising opportunities for the Taco Bell Chihuahua was apparently unable to move product sales. Taco Bell sales have been reportedly flat — a situation clearly unacceptable to its management and to its stockholders..”

Then there’s humor’s short shelf-life. You’re going to have to replace funny ads much more frequently because of the burn out factor.

But you know the biggest reason jokes and gags fail? Their primary job is to persuade someone to purchase something from the company paying for the ad. And as we already mentioned, any attempt at communication that draws attention away from the core message is beyond stupid. When it’s your money being wasted, it’s criminal.

The father of modern copywriting, Claude Hopkins, understood the purpose of advertising very well. In 1923 Hopkins explained:

“Don’t lessen respect for your self or your article by any attempt at frivolity. People do not patronize a clown. There are two things about which men should not joke. One is business, one is home.”

John Caples, author of Tested Advertising Methods, observed:

“The two most influential books in the world have no humor in them: the Bible and the Sears Catalog!”

Jay Conrad Levinson, author of the Guerilla Marketing series of business books said:

“Marketing is not a stage for humor. If you use humor in your marketing, people will recall your funny joke, but not your compelling offer. If you use humor, your campaign will be funny the first and maybe the second time. After that, the humor will be grating and will hinder the very concept that makes marketing successful – repetition.”

But, with a contrary opinion comes David Ogilvy.

“I think this was true in Hopkins day, and I have reason to believe that it remained true until recently, but the latest wave of factor-analysis reveals that humor can now sell. This came as a great relief to me; I had always hated myself for rejecting the funny commercials submitted for my approval.

“But I must warn you that very, very few writers can write funny commercials which ARE funny. Unless you are one of the few, don’t try.”

Four famous advertising men with interesting, and slightly contradictory opinions. Are there facts? Surprisingly, considering how many multiple tens of millions of dollars are spent on humorous advertising, there’s precious little research done on it. At the least, every ad using humor should be tested against a serious ad to see which pulls better response.

One such study was published in Journalism Quarterly in 1989. Bob T.W. Wu, Kenneth E. Crocker, and Martha Rogers did in a test of print ads for facial tissue and for athletic shoes. They found no difference in appeal or persuasiveness, but found “the attitude toward the ad” was higher for the humorous version than for the serious one.

Did you catch that? People found the product no more appealing. They were not persuaded to switch brands. The only reported that they found the AD more entertaining.

Our objective is not to entertain, it’s to sell.

Can humor sell your product?



Most businesses should not use humor in their advertising. On the other hand, I willingly admit humor can be used quite effectively to sell product. Not jokes, but humor. A joke is only funny the first time. Humor is appreciated every time a listener hears it.

A humorous touch can engage, and involve, the prospective customer. An ad that shows the advertiser’s sense of humor (or charm, or personality, or playfulness, or likability) frequently resonates in the hearts and minds of the public. When that happens, advertising gains credibility, and sales usually trend significantly up.

The major problem is that at any given time there are only, what? Maybe a dozen people who can make humor work? Humorous ads are difficult to write well. It’s even harder for that well-written script to survive the treatment of producers, directors, and actors.

What about your product, and the way it connects with the self-image of the consumer. High involvement products tend to have a longer purchase cycle. Prospective customers are more likely to search for hard facts. They won’t find those facts in a humorous ad. Unknown, expensive, or potentially embarrassing products won’t sell well with humor, either.

Fun advertising has a much easier job selling snack foods, beers, sodas, cigarettes, movies, and music than it does in selling high ticket items. Fun advertising tends to work best with inexpensive disposable products that are themselves “fun.”

Should you use humor in your advertising?

Probably not. You’ll likely do far better when you stop trying to entertain and focus on offering benefits and spelling out value. (Note: I’m trying hard to talk you out of it).

However, if you insist, here are some things that might mitigate the damage.

  • No sight gags. No jokes. Use humor to be friendly, rather than funny. When humor is subtle it’s usually more effective and suffers from less burnout than something more overt.
  • Use humor to attract customers, and make sure it doesn’t distract from the product. Use humor to reinforce and support your basic premise. Make it relevant to the product you’re selling.
  • Before you attempt humor, be sure you know your customers. Research if it’s available, personal observation always.
  • Do not use humor to attempt to deceive your customer. Humor intensifies people’s reactions. When they find you’ve not been truthful, you can expect outright hostility.
  • Don’t over-analyze humor. It’s either funny or it’s not. The best humor comes from the edge, where it can easily be offensive.
  • At the same time, don’t rush your first idea into the marketplace. Sleep on it.
  • Be thought provoking. Engage your customers’ imaginations. Let your customer experience “getting it.”
  • Be careful not to let prospective customers see themselves as the butt of your joke. Vonage’s “People do stupid things” campaign wouldn’t work as “You do stupid things.”
  • Use humor about situations, not people. Whoever they are and wherever they come from, people will usually identify with a situation.

And above all, never lose sight of your purpose in advertising. Your purpose isn’t entertainment. Your purpose is to sell the product. Will humor motivate people to buy? Then do it. If it won’t, then don’t use it when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about writing ad copy, with or without humor? Call Chuck at 304-523-0163. Or “E” him at [email protected].

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Five Advertising Lessons From The Personals

Originally published June 17, 2005

Classified Ad

Personals Ad

Is any advertising more closely monitored by the advertiser than a “personals” ad? I don’t believe so. If ever an advertiser wanted results, and wanted them now, this is it.

Personals ads demonstrate some of the best, and the worst, techniques in advertising. Let’s look at these examples and see what we can apply to advertising in general.

1. Stop trying to reach everyone

Personals ads immediately need to focus on prospects, and eliminate non-prospects.

All too often, business advertisers try to make their ads appeal to “everyone.” If you’re a single woman posting in the personals, though, you don’t want responses from everyone. Other women are probably of no interest to you. You likely don’t want to hear from married men, either. If your objective is dating, it’s pointless to attempt to reach people that aren’t potential dates.

Trying to reach everyone is a fool’s strategy in business, too. You probably don’t have any interest in people who can’t afford what you have to sell. You also aren’t likely to want to reach the idly curious. As a business your objective is to reach people who could become good customers.

Make your ads speak directly to those people.

2. Your Headline Is Critical

Get your prospect’s attention. Get it immediately. If you don’t get your prospect’s attention, will he even notice the rest of your ad?

“Relationship wanted” will never get as much attention as “North Texas filly looking for stable mate.”

Draw the business parallel. Your retail ad shouldn’t say “We want your business.” Instead, it should say
“Everything you need to make your garden grow is waiting for you at Mineral Wells Hardware.”

3. Make me want to learn more

The objective of personals advertising is to find someone to date. The objective of mass media advertising is to find new customers for your business. In neither case will you benefit from skimping on the descriptions.

“Single woman desires long term relationship.” is less likely to get the attention of gentlemen reading the ads than is “Witty, flirtatious, and outgoing. I smile easily and enjoy laughing, am open-minded, honest, and like to talk about ideas. I would like to get to know a man who is confident of who he is and what he wants out of life. I’m single, have never been married, but like the idea of finding my soul mate.”

By the same token, “Bedding plants in stock” is weak when compared to “Brighten your yard with salvia, iceplant, petunias, and pansies. Color your flower beds with all the hues of spring, ready to take home today from the Nolan River Nursery.”

4. Tell potential customers what you give them that your competitors can’t

Nobody spends advertising dollars in hopes of being ignored, and yet every day business owners manage to fade into obscurity by making their ads sound exactly like other ads.

Consider an all-too-typical personals listing: “I love sunsets, long romantic walks by the ocean, and candlelight dinners.”

No kidding? Is there a woman alive who doesn’t like sunsets, long romantic walks by the ocean and candlelight dinners? This will not make anyone stand out as worthy of attention.

By the same token, does there exist any business that doesn’t offer helpful, courteous service and years of experience? Helpful courteous service doesn’t make you special. It’s the minimum entry-level behavior that customers expect.

Statements like “helpful, courteous service” make your ads fade into background as noise. Your store ad could just as well say that you “love sunsets and long romantic walks.

When your ads sound like everyone else’s, you’re not likely to be noticed, let alone be remembered.

5. Tell me what’s in it for me

If you met a stranger who opened the conversation with “I want to tell you all about myself,” how much interest would you have in talking to that stranger?

Here’s the personals ad which takes that posture: “I’m looking for a long term relationship. Honest men only. I’m tired of fakes and game players. And if you are looking for someone to hang on your every word, keep on looking. No mama’s boys need apply.”

Think she gets many replies?

No, I don’t suppose so. The business equivalent is: “We need to sell one hundred cars to meet our sales goals, so we’re going to be making the best deals we can remember. Limited to items in stock. Limit one per household. Not valid with other offers. You must take delivery from dealer stock before close of business Friday.”

“We, us, our.” “We” again. Aren’t we something? Just ask us. Bleh.

Stop talking about you, and what you want from me. Start telling me why I should want to do business with you.

Here’s a better example from the personals: “Would you like to spend some time with someone who’s optimistic and fun to be around? I hope you’re comfortable in jeans, you know what you want, and aren’t afraid to show it. You’ll find me open-minded, non-judgmental, and loyal.”

Much more effective, isn’t it?

In the business community you’ll get substantially better results when you drop the “we / us / our” verbiage, and replace it with “you.” “Have you ever noticed that you walk a little bit taller and you even feel better, when you know you look good? We promise that you’ll turn heads when you’ve had your hair cut at the Singing Scissors Salon.”

Use these five rules as a starting point. Study the personals, and take note of those that get your attention. The basic principles will make good business ads, too.

Whether their purpose is personal or business, good ads don’t scream for attention, they seduce – a crucial skill when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about writing secucing headlines and emotional appeals? Call Chuck at 304-523-0163, or write [email protected].

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A Good Ad

Big and Tall Clothing Sign

Big and Tall Clothing Sign

For years I’ve said (and I have not been kidding) that the problem with most advertising is it’s written by the advertiser.

A typical small business ad makes a major feature of the name of the business. In newspaper the tendency is to make the business name the biggest thing in the layout. On radio the rule seems to be insert the name every ten seconds. Television? Put the name full screen for the last five seconds of the ad and make sure people know directions to the store.

But, for just a minute, let’s pretend that your business is a big and tall men’s clothing store, and that I’m a prospective customer.

We can assume that I don’t have any interest in having you try to sell me things I don’t want. We can further assume that I don’t want to pay more than a fair price, and that I wish to be treated as if I’m important. Those are just the generic concerns.

Suppose that I’m six feet eight inches tall. I now have additional concerns: I don’t want to shop for clothes that don’t fit. I don’t want to find clothing designed for a much smaller man, even if it has been manufactured in my size.

Let’s look at your ad and see what it says.

Your name is the headline. You have a photo of your family, who apparently do double duty as your staff. Your ad tells me how long you’ve been in business, your address, phone number, your hours of operation, and a list of the product lines you carry.

What your ad has not addressed is any of my issues. Actually, your ad hasn’t said anything to catch my attention. I find this amazing. You’re trying to attract me, and other people like me, but you insist on talking about yourself.

And suppose, for just a minute, that I’ve decided I need a couple of white business shirts with French cuffs. Suppose that I see your ad, come to your store, and discover that you only stock casual clothing for big and tall men. When I discover you don’t have what I want, and walk out, you’ll probably claim the ad “brought in the wrong people.”

Don't set me up for embarrassment.  Do you carry my neck size?  Say so in your ad.

Don't set me up for embarrassment. Do you carry my neck size? Say so in your ad.

You only got lookers instead of buyers?

Hummm. Does this happen to you a lot?

Of course, even bad ads will usually produce some business. If you have clothing that is in high demand, and there are enough big and tall men, some of them will respond to your ad and will probably buy something before they leave.

Of course, a great many more will be spreading their business among your competitors, because their ads are interchangeable with yours.

Or maybe they just chose the store with the most convenient location.

Advertising is too expensive to waste.

As expensive as advertising is, shouldn’t we strive for the greatest possible return on investment?

Your self centered ads are not persuasive. I don’t care that you’re the biggest, the oldest, the most popular, or that you will not be undersold. I, your prospect want you to talk to me. I want better advertising, more salient advertising from you.

Let’s consider what makes an ad effective.

  • A good ad is about the customer.
  • A good ad speaks directly to a specific group of people, in language they use, about concerns those people have recognized.
  • A good ad sells benefits, and explains exactly what each benefit does for your prospect. It is honest, and believable.
  • A good ad is built on a simple concept, conveys its message clearly, and leaves one easily remembered thought in the mind of the prospect. It makes the prospect remember the product, or the advertiser, instead of the ad.
  • A good ad is distinctive, and easily recognizable. It helps to build a positive image for the advertiser.
  • A good ad conveys a sense of urgency. It has a clear call to action and tells the prospect what to do next.
  • Suppose, instead of making your name the headline, you ran an ad that with a headline that said “Are you as tall as Larry Byrd, and can’t find shirts long enough to stay in your pants when you reach for the top shelf?

    I know, I know. You’re going to tell me you can’t run an ad like that, because when you talk to the tall men, you don’t let the big men know you have shirts for them, too, and as much as you’re spending for this ad you’re not going to leave anyone out.

    So, here’s my question. Who you think is reacting to your current ad? Who feels it’s speaking to them? (Hint: announcing you stock both big and tall men’s clothing doesn’t mean you’ve said anything of interest to either).

    Are you ready to kick your advertising into high gear?

    Then talk to me, your prospect. Talk about the things I think are important. Talk about exactly how you’re going to help me.

    And please stop thinking that the only “benefit” I care about is price. You must have more to offer than low price when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Got questions about articulating your value, and making sure people know it? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-208-7654.

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    The Worth of a Dali

    Today’s post will be interactive. Let’s open with a photo of a Salvador Dali painting.

    Salvador Dali Painting

    Salvador Dali Painting for Dr. Maxwell Maltz

    In the space below, using 1,000 words or less, please write the message this image conveys, in as much detail as possible.

    You have a few minutes. I’ll wait.

    Your answer here:




    Time’s Up. Pencils Down

    Show of hands. Who among you wrote “This painting summarizes the life work of Dr. Maxwell Maltz?

    No one? But that’s what the painting’s owner says it means. How can that be that none of us “got it?” Isn’t a picture worth a thousand words? Confucius told us that.

    Or did he?

    There is no mention of the value of an illustration in the Analects of Confucius, nor in the Five Classics.

    Hummm. Maybe it wasn’t Confucius.

    Xing Lu? Sun Tsu maybe? Or perhaps it was just some anonymous Chinese author steeped in antiquity.

    Uh, no.

    In the December 8, 1921 issue of Printer’s Ink, Fred R. Barnard coined the phrase “One look is worth a thousand words,” to promote the use of images in streetcar ads.

    Five years later, also in Printer’s Ink, Barnard wrote “One picture is worth ten thousand words.” Barnard is quoted in The Home Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Familiar Phrases as admitting he made up the saying, and called it “a Chinese proverb, so that people would take it seriously.”

    It didn’t take long for our popular culture to credit Confucius as the author.

    But discrediting the source doesn’t invalidate the idea.

    Let’s consider the “one picture” concept at work. The painting depicted a few paragraphs ago was created by Salvador Dali for his close friend, the late Dr. Maxwell Maltz, creator of Psycho Cybernetics.

    According to Maltz:

    When the great artist Salvador Dali wanted to express his feelings about Pyscho Cybernetics, and thank me for my influence on his life, he painted a magnificent picture: a figure of a man coming out of the dark shadows into the bright sunlight, sharing this space with a sailboat being guided toward its destination. He summarized my books and lectures into a single powerful painting. I was again awestruck at the way a single picture can do the work of thousands of words.” (Emphasis mine).

    And yet, none of us wrote anything close to “This painting summarizes the life work of Dr. Maxwell Maltz.”

    A Picture Is Not Worth A Thousand Words.

    Perhaps you’d be kind enough to show me a picture that clearly and unequivocally says something as simple as “no.” Every two-year-old knows how to convey “no.” He says it.

    Back to the Maltz quote. It came from Zero Resistance Selling, a book posthumously accredited to Dr. Maltz and five co-writers. He also supposedly said:

    Pictures, horrible pictures, sold the American public on demanding the Viet Nam war be ended. Pictures, terrible pictures, of poorly fed, emaciated, mistreated children inspire us to donate millions of dollars to organizations that feed, clothe, medicate and educate the deprived children of the world. Pictures of exotic, beautiful, romantic beaches and oceans make Hawaii the dream vacation of thousands of people, who then scrimp and save and budget and plan for years for the trip of a lifetime. The picture of Michael Dukakis, clumsily perched on a tank, did much to nip his Presidential campaign in the bud. Pictures of beautiful people sell millions of dollars of perfumes, cosmetics, and clothing. Evidence abounds demonstrating the power of pictures.” *

    Take one of those shots of Vietnamese orphans, show it to any group of people, and see whether even a single individual says “This photograph is a powerful argument on why the U.S. should get out of Viet Nam.”

    Visuals can be powerful in conveying very coarse, very raw emotion, but pictures can only reinforce the message already conveyed by the words.

    Show me a picture that can accurately convey the ideas of Robert Frost, John Lennon, or Thomas Jefferson.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference

    – Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken


    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world

    You may say that I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will live as one

    – John Lennon, Imagine


    We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

    – Thomas Jefferson, the American Declaration of Independence

    In A Thousand Words

    In a thousand words we can state the Pythagorean Theorem, The Lord’s Prayer, Archimedes Principle, The Ten Commandments, the Gettysburg address, Alfred Lord Tennison’s Crossing The Bar, the Boy Scout Oath, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, and still have 174 words left over.

    No, a picture is not worth a thousand words. It’s not even close.

    If your objective is persuasion, hire a copywriter.  When it comes to fishing for customers, words are the stronger bait.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

    Chuck McKay

    Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Questions about selling more through the power of words may be directed to [email protected]. Or call Chuck at 760-813-5474.


    A follow up to this essay is available.


    If you know someone who would find this article useful, please share it.

    * I don’t believe Dr. Maltz ever said this. Michael Dukakis run for the Presidency, for instance, references an event which happened thirteen years after the Doctor’s death. For that matter, I’m not convinced the quote about the Dali painting originated with Dr. Maltz, either.

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    The Invisible Ad

    Has there ever been a kid who didn’t dream of becoming invisible?

    To pass unnoticed before people’s very eyes? To come and go with no accountability?

    There could be some very real advantages to being invisible – provided you’re not an advertising message.

    Invisibility in Advertising is the Kiss of Death

    An advertisement is judged for its ability to persuade a prospective customer to purchase goods or services. Ads that don’t get noticed don’t persuade anyone.

    How does one make an ad invisible? One loads it full of clichés.

    A cliché is a saying that’s been so overused that it no longer holds any meaning for anyone.

    Suppose this was the advice you were given to improve your advertising:

    “Therefore you should avoid clichés like the plague, especially those which could not stand the test of time. Knuckle down, keep your nose to the grindstone, your shoulder to the wheel, and your eyes on the prize as you leave no stone unturned. Of course, if you can get your act together these weak hackneyed phrases could be a blessing in disguise. But, half the battle defies conventional wisdom. Wrack your brain for short and sweet expressions that reveal the unvarnished truth about this particular wild goose chase.”

    Could you follow this advice? Of course not.

    Do you remember anything from it? (No fair peeking).

    The preceding paragraph didn’t say anything. You saw the words, you heard them in your head, but none of them were strong enough to create a visual image. There was nothing even slightly memorable in those eighty-six words.

    The whole paragraph is invisible.

    Are Your Ads Invisible?

  • Are you still offering the perfect gift for everyone on your list?
  • Something for everyone?
  • Friendly, courteous service?
  • Are you running an inventory reduction sale?
  • Prices too low to advertise?
  • For a limited time only?
  • Do you treat me like family?
  • Go the extra mile?
  • Offer over 37 years of experience?
  • Invisible ads. No one will even notice them, let alone remember anything you told them.

    The easy cure is to stop sounding like an ad and start sounding like a person. Actually SAY something. Make me an offer. Express it with one human voice. Say it in everyday language.

    People don’t dislike advertising, they dislike ads that say nothing they can relate to. They dislike ads that sound like ads.

    A Quick and Simple Advertising Test

    Get 12 inches away from another person – any other person. Maintain eye contact while you recite your ad.

    If anything you say embarrasses you or makes you feel silly, strike that line from your copy.

    If you’re running ads that look like ads, sound like ads, and are loaded to the gills with clichés, you’re wasting your money. Let me repeat that: you are expending capital and getting nothing in return.

    My business can’t afford that.

    Can you afford to make the bait invisible when you’re fishing for customers?

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Got questions about making your ads highly visible? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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    You Can’t Bore People Into Paying Attention

    Yellow Pages

    Yellow Pages

    I’m uncomfortable with most clever or creative advertising. Clever and/or creative is dangerous, because it’s too easy to get sucked into the creativity, and forget that our purpose is communication and persuasion.


    If your attention is drawn to the cleverness of the ad, rather than to the product, it’s a bad ad.

    Today, however, that same warning applies to dull ads. Our purpose is communication and persuasion. You’ll do neither by boring people.

    About a week ago I received a phone call from a representative of a nationwide yellow pages publisher, who said “Hi, Chuck. I’ve been handling Abraham’s yellow pages advertising since he first opened his business fifteen years ago. When I called him today he gave me your number and said I should deal with you. His ad is ready to go.”

    I asked him to fax me a copy. When he did, I rejected the ad, and told him I’d submit a different one later that day.

    Chuck,” he said, “this ad’s ready to go. You don’t understand yellow pages. What’s important in yellow pages is size and position. The bigger the ad and the closer to the front of the category the more likely it is to be read.”

    A Larger Ad Will Be Noticed

    Is he wrong? No, not completely. When all other factors are equal (as they never are in real life) a larger ad will be noticed more easily than a smaller ad. And there is some evidence that being listed earlier in the category improves the odds of being noticed, too.

    However, a bad ad won’t be read regardless of size or postion. Adding color won’t ad to your persuasive ability, and getting noticed does not directly lead to persuading anyone to buy. Size, position, or color don’t communicate a message.

    You’ll recognize a bad ad by it’s focus.

    Bad ads are about the advertiser. Good ads are about the customer. A bad ad says “This three stone diamond pendant is only $299 just in time for Mother’s Day.” A good ad says “She’ll kiss you like you’ve never been kissed before.”

    What’s the most important part of any ad? The headline. It draws attention and naturally leads the reader into the rest of the ad. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

    The ad which had been faxed to me used my client’s logo as the headline. Can’t you just see a potential customer’s eyes glazing over as she sees page after page of yellow pages ads with business name after business name as the focal points of those ads? Unfortunately this kind of design is all too common in the yellow pages.

    Think about this: people go to listing media when they have a problem to solve. They go to the business category that seems most likely to address their problem. Page after page of business names makes the customer do all of the work. And make no mistake, trying to figure out whether your business can help IS work.

    The name of your business doesn’t say anything of interest to a customer searching for a solution to her problem.

    Make it easy for a prospective customer.

    Make your headline promise a big benefit, which will naturally pull the reader’s eyes to the rest of the ad. Once the customer is confidant that you understand her immediate need, include your name, address, and phone number – at the bottom, where they belong.

    How does this story end? I re-wrote the ad.

    The headline now promises a benefit to the reader. The information that the client had been “serving the community for fifteen years” was replaced with body copy and an illustration which expands on that promise. Finally the client’s logo was reduced to a reasonable size, and his address and phone number were placed at the bottom of the ad, where they become the last thing a potential customer reads.

    If she’s been persuaded, she’ll now pick up the phone and call.  Is there a better outcome when you’re fishing for customers?

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Got questions about making Yellow Pages advertising more effective? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-523-0163.



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