26 March 2014

How to write a good advertisement


Many people hate advertising because it is irrelevant, shrill or poorly thought-through. Writing ads that attract, inform and motivate our audiences is an important skill, but it is nothing new. 

The TV series "Mad Men" celebrates the heady days of advertising in the 1960s, but modern advertising came of age much earlier. Vance Packard's book, "The Hidden Persuaders" (Amazon) explored how advertisers tap into human motivations and weaknesses. It was first published in 1957.

Even earlier, in 1942, Victor O. Schwab wrote the seminal work "How to write a good advertisement" (Amazon). Republished many times, the work is a classic of logic and commonsense. Fundamental lessons include focusing on the benefits to the buyer, not on the strengths of the company or even the features of the product or service.

Schwab was a very creative writer, as illustrated by this poem his book:


I see that you’ve spent quite a big wad of dough
To tell me the things you think I should know.
How your plant is so big, so fine, and so strong;
And your founder had whiskers so handsomely long.
So he started the business in old ’92!
How tremendously interesting that is… to you.
He built up the thing with the blood of his life?
(I’ll run home like mad, tell that to my wife!)

Your machinery’s modern and oh so complete;
Your “rep” is so flawless; your workers so neat.
Your motto is “Quality”… capital “Q” –
No wonder I’m tired of “Your” and of “You”!
So tell me quick and tell me true
(Or else, my love, to hell with you!)
Less – “how this product came to be”;
More – what the damn thing does for me!

Will it save me money or time or work;
Or hike up my pay with a welcome jerk?
What drudgery, worry, or loss will it cut?
Can it yank me out of a personal rut?

Perhaps it can make my appearance so swell
That my telephone calls will wear out the bell;
And thus it might win me a lot of fine friends –
(And one never knows where such a thing ends!)

I wonder how much it could do for my health?
Could it show me a way to acquire some wealth –
Better things for myself, for the kids and the wife,
Or how to quit work somewhat early in life?

So tell me quick and tell me true
(Or else, my love, to hell with you!)
Less – “how this product came to be”;
More – what the damn thing does for me!

Too much to read? Here's Jeff Waite reading out the passage:

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