Tips for Creating Remarkable Ads


To the Entrepreneur,

Occasionally, I find myself entirely at a loss for words.

For example, a few years ago, the president of Phillips Publishing asked me to help out his group publishers and marketing managers by fielding their inquiries regarding copywriting.

In the early 1990s, the renowned Bob King was president of Phillips, a kind man with one of the most astute business minds I’ve ever encountered.
I recall that the first thing his team asked me was, “How do you know the difference between good sales copy and bad copy?”

So you can imagine my bewilderment: these were executives with marketing degrees from prestigious colleges and marketing A-listers who employed copywriters daily. Reviewed our work and told us what to change, and all they cared about was… “What are the hallmarks of effective sales copy?”

I felt my brain spin. You don’t know it,” I said, “You feel it.” I was taken aback and spoke the first thing that came to mind.

I outlined how the vast majority of purchases made in the United States are not motivated by reasoning but rather by the desire to fulfill an underlying emotional need. To be effective, sales copy must tap into the reader’s deepest needs or concerns and show how reading the manuscript and purchasing the goods would satisfy or calm those desires or fears.

So, I said, I don’t just think my way through writing, editing, and reviewing; I feel it, making sure the “tingle factor” grows with each line until I can hardly wait to place an order.

I described how each sales pitch functions like a link in a chain, leading directly to the reader’s pain point. And then take him there by way of a series of hyperlinked steps.

I demonstrated that the chain’s strength is contingent upon the weakest link and that the reader is no longer engaged once the “tingle factor” is gone. How the link in the chain weakens if he finds what you’re saying implausibly? And how the link in the chain weakens if your confusion causes him to lose focus.

Even if you ensure every link in the chain is indestructible, I said, your sales copy is only as good as its weakest. The higher your response rate and order frequency, the more enticing each segment must be. Even the most solid parts of my copy can be improved by using this method.

In my opinion, it was a satisfactory response. That’s still the case. I strongly advise you to read your text aloud to understand how it sounds and how it might make the prospect feel.

As I observed the expressions on the young men’s faces, however, I realized that I had posed more questions than I had answered. They required a more concrete demonstration of my commitment. They needed a list of things to check for and some basic procedures.

So, to update my answer from a decade ago, here are 21 tips for recognizing compelling sales copy that you can use to boost the success rate of your advertisements, direct mail pieces, and online promos.

I HATE RULES, and this is not one of them. But these are fantastic “non-rules” — suggestions that have paid off for me repeatedly in my 30+ years in the direct response trenches — and that I’m convinced will boost your ad language as well…

Rule #1 Is Actually to Make Yourself a Person.

When a firm gives us information, we view it with skepticism, if not outright suspicion. We seek the counsel of experts who have our best interests at heart. Furthermore, we appreciate input from those who have successfully navigated the challenges we now face.

The persuasiveness of your sales communications will increase dramatically if you put a friendly and highly qualified human face on copy and use that person’s voice.

Rule #2 Break: Talking to Your Prospect Eye-to-Eye

In this case, you can apply not one but two adages:

First, conversate with your audience rather than write about how “we” age. How “we” face different medical issues and share our experiences with the reader… She has a bright future ahead of her… and, most significantly, her emotional state.
Make as many references to “YOU” as you can in the body of the essay. Remember that your potential customer could care less about you, your business, and your goods. The prospect is keen on meeting with you.

B) Address the audience directly: yes, x million Americans do have heart attacks annually. But when you put it like that, you’re not referring to her at all but to x million other people.

Try to put yourself in the numbers: “As an American over 40, your chances are one in x of having a heart attack this year.” Wow. I’m listening to you now!

Third Non-Rule: Make It Individual:
First, I usually close my eyes and pretend I’m conversing with a friend on the issue. What should I say to break the ice? To say what? Just what would he say? I don’t know what I’d reply.

I wouldn’t say, “We want to help you…” because that implies a group effort; instead, I’d say, “Here – let me help you…”

Rule #4: Try to Put Yourself in Your Prospect’s Shoes.

Gary Bencivenga masterfully executed this in his timeless “Lies, Lies, Lies!” package with the “Why we investors are fed up…” deck. When the prospect heard his name, he immediately stopped thinking of the person speaking to him as a salesman and instead saw “a regular guy” – someone like himself.

Share some similarities with the reader. Show him that you understand because you’ve been in his shoes. Share a minor flaw or annoyance that you may have in common. Putting yourself in the reader’s shoes will win his respect and establish credibility.

Non-Rule #5: Know Your Enemy by Name and Face.

Why has the reader been unable to resolve or satisfy this need? Have the other options he’s tried not worked? Were the so-called “experts” who counseled him mistaken? Is he being manipulated on purpose?

Make use of this deep well of feeling. Instead of worrying about how unjust banks are, try giving it a little more twist. Tell the reader about the things that greedy bankers do. Alternatively, he may talk about how heartless drug company executives coerce his doctor into providing expensive, perhaps harmful, and ineffective medications.

Non-Rule #6: Always Provide Evidence.

Never assume anything your reader knows to be true. Always provide evidence to make him believe your claims. Tools that best establish credibility could include:

Check out numbers from dependable places.
Credentials of the Experts
User reviews
Evidence from a respected publication, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, etc., that backs up your claims.
Rule breaker number seven: It’s OK to make a statement everyone knows is true.
No, I’m not recommending that you lie about your product’s capabilities. However, I frequently resort to an exaggerated statement to emphasize how strongly my client feels about a subject.

For example, I once composed the following for a health campaign:

It has been said that “some surgeons are so greedy, they’ll gladly cut a hole right through you – just to get to your wallet!”

Was that the case? Who can say? There was no anecdotal evidence in my back pocket about a surgeon who had sliced through a patient to retrieve his wallet. However, I knew many of my readers had undergone unneeded surgical operations like hysterectomies or mastectomies. I knew that sentence would get them all invested emotionally and on my side.

Rule #8 Not to Follow: Use Colloquial Language

I make an effort to communicate with potential clients in their native tongue. That’s right; I’ve been known to hang on to various portions of speech. Anyway, so what? I’m not trying to impress an English teacher; I want to communicate.

When critics pointed out errors in Winston Churchill’s prepared speeches, he famously said, “A dangling participle is something up with which I will not put.”

Rule #9 that isn’t: All Jargon is NOT Evil.

Many trainers advise their clients to avoid using technical or professional jargon. Baloney. I find it helpful to utilize verbiage selectively in several of my writings, such as…

A) I respect the reader’s intelligence by using jargon whose meaning is familiar to him, as with investors and medical patients.

B) An expert’s knowledge is highlighted when he or she uses jargon sparingly in conversation. Expertise. Professionals in specific fields, such as medicine and finance, must be fluent in particular terminology. However, if the term is unfamiliar, I will define it briefly and move on.

Rule #10: Figurative Language Is Awesome!
I was warned early on to avoid overused cliches such as adages, proverbs, aphorisms, and analogies. If so, why? You would likely hear several such metaphors and similes in a face-to-face meeting with a prospect.

Do these well-known expressions not immediately communicate, “Hey, I’m not a salesman; I’m just like you!”? Doesn’t that put a smile on your prospect’s face? And don’t the vast majority of them convey with a single word what would take us two or three?

An excellent figure of speech should be worth at least as much as a hundred words, if not more. Yes, try new things out. If using a figure of speech expedites your communication or emphasizes a point, and you are confident that your audience will understand what you intend without any explanation, then by all means!

Cliché after cliché in your work could be a slippery slope. Your customer may even complain that your promotion is a complete failure. It’s possible, but it’s a close call! You may feel as clueless as a sack of hammers.

On the other hand, if you pick your moments to use idioms wisely, they could become your lifeblood. Who can say? Perhaps you will become more prosperous than Midas!

The Eleventh Commandment: Make Use of the Seventy-Five Most Effective Words and Phrases in the English Language

Feel free to use the following in any of your headlines, subheadings, or body copy at no cost to you:

To Sum It Up:
Unique Instance
How to…
How I …
Now Present
Newly Arriving
One Last Shot
As Never Before
As soon as possible
Never Send Funds
The Real Story Behind…
And, of course, the winner of all winners… YOU!
Furthermore, there are some phrases and words that are cowards. The weaklings and pansies of the literary world. “Can” … “could” … Is it possible that you “should”… “might” … “may” … The word “ought to,”… goals-oriented, “seeks to,” “may,” or “might”… First, let me say that “in my opinion”… You should never let any of these sissies near your copy, and they should all be banned.
The benefits of your product need to be communicated to the customer. Call the legal eagle or compliance officer and haggle if they raise any objections.


YOU WRITE, “When interest rates go up, these investments are going to skyrocket.”

Compliance Version: “These investments may or may not experience a dramatic increase in value as interest rates rise.”

PROMISE: “When interest rates go up, these investments will skyrocket.”

Squint (Non-Rule No. 12):

When I squint, I can’t make out the letters or words, but I can make out the pattern the paragraphs create.

My eyes scan the page, and I wonder, “At first glance, does this feel easy to read and inviting? Or is it covered with long, dense paragraphs that will only discourage my reader?”

Then I …

Intervene to make paragraphs shorter, even one-liner paragraphs if necessary…
Insert breaks when they are desperately needed, such as a sidebar or an indented paragraph.
Try to find ways to break up large chunks of text into smaller, more manageable pieces (like these).
I prefer to use bullets, numbers, letters, etc., to highlight benefits, steps in a procedure, or other vital points.

You can put out terrifying possibilities if you want to…

Fluoride has been proven to damage chromosomes and inhibit enzymes necessary for repairing DNA, both of which contribute to accelerated aging.
Brain poisoning: Laboratory subjects given low doses of fluoride for a year exhibited beta-amyloid deposition and increased aluminum uptake, both hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, fluoride has been linked to a decline in IQ in five separate studies conducted in China.
… And there are billboard perks, like the following intriguing details from a recent ad for Your Money Report:

Doing this one thing might make the difference between hefty earnings and a terrible loss, and it’s the number one secret of landlords who get RICH. xxth page
How About Some Money Flipping? AVOID THAT! This ingenious plan allows you to amass wealth without purchasing or managing any real estate whatsoever. But it can lead to a lawsuit — or worse! Essential suggestions: on page xx
Stay Away from These “Landlord Landmines!” 3 Simple Strategies to Save Money on Rent. xxth page
… Or, you could make a tag. On the cover, the series “7 Guilty Secrets Drug Companies Do NOT Want You to Know” was promoted as an incentive to read the article.

First and foremost, the pharmaceutical industry is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people annually. Many of the most often given pharmaceuticals today are not only ineffective but also exceedingly harmful, maiming and murdering as many people annually as were killed in the whole Vietnam War.
The ultra-wealthy U.S. pharma industry, one of the most profitable enterprises in the country, is responsible for pushing potentially lethal and inefficient treatments on naïve doctors and patients using fabricated research, skewed reporting, and outright lying.

Go for Accuracy and Force: Non-Rule No. 13
Many authorities advise employing concise language. Create content aimed at an eighth-grader prospect.

A small but vocal subset of “rule addicts” advocates teaching pupils to count the number of letters in each paragraph, divide by the number of words, and then check to see that the average word length is no more than five.


What I do is…

If a shorter word can convey the same meaning and tone as a longer one, I’ll use the shorter one.
I can’t bear it when people use big words when little ones will do: “facilitate” when “help” or “ease” would do just as well. To “compensate” instead of “pay,” A “person,” “guy,” or “gal” is referred to as an “individual” in this context. Or “ample” when “enough” will do!

In my experience, persons who write or speak in this way are usually trying to conceal something. Such as great insecurity. Or the simple truth that they are completely misinformed.

To paraphrase the timeless counsel of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well:

So, “beware of the long word that is no better than the short word:” “numerous” (many), “facilitate” (ease), “individual” (man or woman), “remainder” (rest), “initial” (first), “implement” (do), “sufficient” (enough), “attempt” (tried), “referred to as” (called), and countless more.

But if a lengthier word — or even a whole sentence — is needed to express my meaning accurately or to evoke the feeling I want, then that’s the word I’ll use.

Rule #14 is a non-rule: Use brief sentences.
This is where I fall short the most; I have a habit of rambling on too long. Utilize hyphens, ellipses, and other methods to connect them, resulting in phrases so long that the prospect has to read them twice. Oops, I did it again.

On preliminary drafts, I don’t give it a lot of thought. When I’m at my most overwhelmed, that’s when I try to write everything down. When I edit, I strive to remove run-ons.
The timeless counsel of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style guides my revisions:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

Commas Should Be Counted (No. 15)

In my writing, commas serve as red flags. Perhaps their presence helps a practical purpose, such as demonstrating my command of standard punctuation to the proofreader.

However, the presence of commas usually serves as an alarming warning that a sentence is run-on. A worst-case scenario is if they shout, “HEY, BOZO! You wrote this sentence UPSIDE DOWN!”

Think about…

Clayton “wrote his example with nothing but the best of intentions.”

The omission of that comma in the previous phrase should serve as a significant red flag. Do you think it would be easier on the eyes if I just said…

Claims that “Clayton wrote his example with only the finest of intentions.”

Use transitional words to launch paragraphs (Non-Rule No. 16):

Every section of excellent copy should provide information and “sell” the reader on the idea presented inside.

I discovered early on that beginning paragraphs with conjunctions like “and” and “but” helped me keep the reader engaged. “Plus” … “But” … The word “furthermore”… The term “moreover”… The phrase “what’s more”… “And there’s more:”… “Even worse,” for instance.

I prefer the positive tone of “and” over the more neutral “but.” The word “but” has a negative connotation. I am constantly looking for “buts” and trying to switch them out for “and” wherever appropriate.

Alternative Rule #17: Find Quick Wins to Sustain Your Progress.

I tend to utilize contractions frequently. In the end, that’s how humans communicate! The only time I ever use “does not” instead of “doesn’t” is if the “not” is essential to the sense of the sentence. And if necessary, I’ll emphasize it by underlining it, making it bold, or doing all three.

Rule No. 18 Is Not To Apply:

Your text is littered with landmines called generalizations. That would be a surefire way to meet your end.

Rather than promising your prospect “you’ll save time,” be specific about how much he will save. Say instead, “You SAVE $99 by calling in the next 10 minutes!” instead of “Buy now and save!”

I read each paragraph with an eye for opportunities to flesh out the problems and promises.

Excluded Guideline #19: Ask Yourself

Some people believe that asking a question of the potential customer in your headline or body text is a bad idea. “After all,” they argue, “declarative sentences are strong; questions are weak. And besides, how do you know how the prospect will answer?”

However, inquiries aren’t always indicative of a lack of strength. Sometimes they’re speculative, but they nonetheless make a bold proclamation. I once posed this question in a headline for Louis Navallier, who enjoyed uninterrupted mail delivery for over a year.
So what if you get rich FAST, right?

The ad copy continued:

I have experience making money both slowly and quickly. Listen to me: Quick is best!

That couldn’t have been a severe query. It was a defiant outburst from investors tired of being urged to slow down.

In the pre-head of a recent Your Money Report direct mail item, I penned…

CEOs that inflate their company’s profits raise eyebrows.
Are you sick and tired of stockbrokers who recommend bad investments and prosper while you fail to do so?

Are you waiting impatiently for the profits Wall Street always promises but never gives?
It’s time for you to say “it’s time” like millions of other Americans have and start reaping the financial benefits.

Thank you, Wall Street, for absolutely nothing
No, I’d instead handle it on my own.

If you ask the right questions, you can show that you understand and sympathize with the response. As I demonstrated in this postscript, they help illustrate the terrible alternative. Intended for a financial newsletter…

P.S. So what if I am? What if I told you I could protect you from a tech stock market crash and possibly turn a profit for you? When you look back on this offer and realize how much money you could have made if you had just answered “YES,” how will you feel?
For both of our sakes, please get in touch with me right now. If I cannot assist you, my services are free of charge. If I am successful, you can laugh at the bank.

When in doubt, remove it: non-rule number 20
After finishing a draft, I often find that the most effective introduction is hidden in the middle of the text. We could get going much quicker if the first page or two were moved or deleted.

Overuse of the exact phrase is another one of my flaws. When I write, I often repeat myself or develop multiple variations on the same essential line. Finding this redundant language and consolidating various graphs concisely and effectively is an excellent task for a second draft.

Non-Rule #21: Don’t Follow the Procedures!

You shouldn’t avoid employing a method just because it’s considered unacceptable. As you write, explore all the possible avenues that present themselves to you. Discover all the back roads. Don’t let your inner left-brained naysayer put an end to a potentially fantastic idea before you’ve had a chance to explore it thoroughly. Even if you decide it doesn’t work, you still gain knowledge from the experience. And if it does work, you will have achieved a significant advancement.

I do hope this is useful.

To date, Clayton Makepeace has helped his clients bring in over 3 million new consumers, treble their earnings, and generate over $1 billion in direct mail and online sales.

Through his daily e-letter, The Total Package, he teaches aspiring authors, company owners, and advertising pros his tried-and-true methods for increasing reader reaction. Learn More.

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