John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
How to write better ads

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1. Your ad should be about your customer. Too many ads tell me too much about a product or a company or a service, and not enough about why I should care.

2. Your ad should have a single focus. There is the temptation to include “supporting” features and benefits as copy points. This dilutes both your message and your memorability.

3. The best advertising concepts are visual. People scan before they read. If you don’t catch them when they’re scanning, you won’t catch them at all.

4. Visuals that must be read are confusing. Phrases do not improve because they are written on a prescription pad, computer monitor, calendar, or traffic sign. At any rate, if your visual demands reading, whatever writing it has should serve as the headline. Having a typeset headline and a legible visual is doubly confusing.

5. If the sole appeal is one of irrelevance, it is not creative. It is irrelevant.

6. The second-best word is “you.” The best word is the customer’s name.

7. Your best tool is empathy. It is tempting to affect a sophomoric breeziness toward the sufferings that afflict your customers. They are not amused. Hemorrhoids hurt like Hell.

8. Rosser Reeves held that an ad must attract, intrigue, and persuade. Attract with the visual or the design, intrigue with the headline or the concept, and persuade with the copy. If your ad fails to attract, it is ignored. If your ad fails to intrigue, it is glanced at, then ignored. If your ad fails to persuade, it is noticed, read, then ignored. Advertising may be many things, but it must not be ignored.

9. If your headline can be used for a different product, but it is still clever, then it is probably word play. This can work if it’s relevant and fresh. Usually, word play is too clever by half and not nearly relevant enough or fresh enough. A lot of good word play was done in the 70s and 80s. Another tip-off that a headline might be word play is if it works without a visual.

10. It’s okay to be pragmatic. If the offer is 50% off room nights booked between now and December 30, then there is nothing wrong with a headline that reads: “Save 50% on room nights until December 30.” There is also nothing wrong with spending a half-day trying to beat this line. You might be able to. I don’t believe I ever have.

11. Writing should be energetic, intelligent, and honest. You cannot bore someone into a purchase any more than you can dumb someone into one. You can cheat someone into a purchase, but that is poor morality as well as poor marketing.

12. Racism, sexism, and other us-against-them motifs are not funny. It is no more acceptable to poke fun at a middle-aged white man than it is to poke fun at a young black lesbian. It makes no difference that you, personally, are either a middle-aged white man or a young black lesbian. On reflection, it’s questionable whether poking fun at anybody helps sell anything.

13. There is a difference between race and racism, sex and sexism. It is foolish, for example, to make a pantyhose ad gender-neutral. Be aware of cases in which neutering the character of your copy will degrade its effectiveness.

14. Copy points should be supported. “It’s portable” should be something like “You can slip it into your shirt pocket” or “You can move four with a full-sized pick-up truck.”

15. Don’t weasel. If you must qualify a point, either qualify it as little as possible or spell out specific qualifications. “Compatible with all the most-popular smartphones on the market” should become “Compatible with most smartphones” or, preferably, “Compatible with Android 4.0+ and iOS 6.0+.”

16. Characteristics, features, or benefits should not be brought into things in an indirect manner. There are always more facts than you have room for. The desire to make every point leads to unsupported odds and ends drifting into your copy. “A tasty treat that’s high in calcium and vitamin D, for healthy bones.” If good taste is a competitive differentiator, then it deserves individual attention. If it's not, cut it. If you don’t know whether or not it's a differentiator, find out.

17. There is a tendency to string adjectives (and other parts of speech) together in threes. “Delicious, nutritious, and fun-to-eat.” “Luxury, performance, and style.” The latter are adjectival nouns. Anyway, sometimes this word-trio has rhythm. On the rare occasions when that rhythm fits, fine. Otherwise, consider that each point, if well-taken, probably deserves its own explanation.

18. The following phrases are fluff, and the more of them you can edit out the better: “as a matter of fact,” “in fact,” “for instance,” “contrary to,” “furthermore,” “in addition,” and “not just (whatever) but (whatever else).”

19. Puns should be exceptionally good or horrifically bad. Or deleted.

20. So far as possible, make your copy grammatical – but don’t be fussy about it. Verb agreement and tense agreement are two common errors that should be corrected.

21. Beginning a sentence with “and” is questionable. That is not to say that it is wrong to begin a sentence with a conjunction, at least in advertising. Just question it, that’s all.

22. Copywriters have an affection for the clever last line. If it works gracefully, and if it is relevant, then it is a small reward to your audience for completing its task. Often, though, a clever last line is nothing more than the copywriter showing off. Not every ad needs a clever last line, any more than every animal needs horns. A call to action makes an effective last line.

23. It takes about 15 seconds to pick up the phone and check whether or not that phone number works. Do it.
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Advertising copywriting mentorship
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