August 27


How to write fit for purpose ads

By Quentin Pain

August 27, 2022


How many times do you see an ad and groan? Why? Because it’s not fit for YOUR purpose.

It may be fit for the purpose (audience) it was made, but your groan is the only opinion that matters… to you.

In other words, your opinion is irrelevant, with one caveat… your purpose in looking at the ad. What was it?

As copywriters, our superpowers are empathy and focus, which we can only achieve by knowing our audience.

It’s impossible to write a successful blind ad without those superpowers (and by ‘successful’ I mean an ad that returns a profit, or some other important metric for the client).

If we have no idea who the audience is, but we’ve been told they should be like x, y, or z, then it’s our responsibility to get into the shoes of those people.

Armed with our imagination and intuitiveness, we can then write something that ‘may’ be attractive to that group.

But we’re still not there, we need the ad to be stuck under their collective noses, and that needs a budget.

And with that agreed, the ad written, and a campaign started, we can get down to the serious business of control (aka writing fit for purpose ads).

We’ve now got our first premise: “all ads fail unless we know who we’re writing them for”, so what now?

Well, first you need to understand what a premise is and why it matters. If you haven’t read the 6 part introduction to copywriting on the ICA site, that will help a lot:

Let’s get one thing clear though, the purpose of an ad is to sell. What it sells can be anything (it doesn’t have to be for money, and it doesn’t have to be about a product).

An ad can sell an idea, an emotion, some future happening (or all of those and more), but one thing ALL ads have in common is a call to action (CTA). If there’s no CTA, it’s not an ad (not in the strictest sense anyway).

You might argue that op-ed pieces are a form of advertising, and whilst that can be true (i.e. the intent is to change people’s minds without asking for a commitment of any sort), that’s not what we’re discussing here.

We want people to take action so we can measure that action and start to improve the conversion rate (or we’ll really struggle to keep clients).

How do we get people to take action? Make them an offer they can’t refuse (easy to say, hard to do).

Before we go there, here’s an exercise. Read every ad you see over the next few days and figure out the following (I suggest you keep a diary or journal of this activity – writing it down will help change the neurons in your brain so you start thinking like a pro):

1. Who is the ad aimed at?

2. What problem does it solve?

3. What’s the big idea? (does it even have one?)

4. What does the audience need to believe to take the CTA?

5. Is it an offer they can’t refuse?

So, on to the next part…

Why do we take action? Answer that, and you can sell anything (or so they say…).

Top of the list globally is money. Most of us will do almost anything if there’s a guarantee of money at the end (this is another premise).

This is why almost all scams involve money.

You may think this is obvious (duh!), but it leapfrogs past most people’s internal warning system when done well (until the spell is broken by scandal etc.).

The internet marketing industry is built around it, and by that, I mean anything that is sold with an outrageous promise of riches (which is most of it).

This is usually done through affiliate networks advertising huge commission payments.

Let’s put this in the context of the questions I posed last week. Imagine an ad selling some unique new video software driven by AI.

The ‘killer’ feature promises automatically generated videos from text. You input a script and it generates all the images, clips, music, etc. and glues them together without any intervention from the user (and, perhaps, as the icing on the cake, publishes them automatically and fills them full of Google ads – instamoney).

The cost is advertised at $1997 per year (because almost everything in the IM industry has a 7 on the end of it so you know what this is about even before even reading the content).

The ad leads on the killer feature, then segues into how valuable this is and how you’d be a fool not to take advantage of it (and be grandfathered in for life – the usual stuff).

Having been sold on the big idea (the killer feature and how it ‘changes the world forever’), it ends with an offer you can’t refuse: “Get it FREE for LIFE”.

Here are the questions again from above along with how I’d answer them for this ad:

1. Who is the ad aimed at? Existing IM industry consumers (people who have bought through affiliate links, as well as people who have bought from IM industry celebrities).

2. What problem does it solve? How to get-rich-quick. That’s the IM market’s ultimate goal (even though they often claim the opposite).

3. What’s the big idea? The big idea is always the same: some unique product, feature, or strategy that no one else has ever seen before.

4. What does the audience need to believe? Two things: is it real? Does it work?

5. Can they refuse it? Yes of course, everything can be refused, but hey, if this really does what it claims, and it’s FREE, “why wouldn’t I go for it?”

Is the above fit for purpose? Yes. It fits the IM profile.

To understand (or write) any ad, no matter its context, think deeply about question 2 (“what problem does it solve?”), then make sure the prospect is clear on it.

PS. For kudos points, how would you make this “FREE for LIFE”?

Quentin Pain

About the author

It took me many decades before I realised the power of writing, but once I did, I understood the real value of words. My mission is to pass on all the skills I've learnt to those seeking advancement in the copywriting industry and beyond through the ICA.

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