Ad and marketing creatives

Writing Sizzling Ad Copy

Steve Hall is the force behind Adrants, the opinionated, must-read blog for the advertising industry that dishes up a daily helping of news, trends, research and gossip, all seasoned with a heaping tablespoon of attitude. An industry veteran, Steve has a sharp eye for what works -- and what belly flops. We asked him for his thoughts on copywriting.

VT: What's the problem with a lot of ad copy?

Steve: So many people try too hard to be cute, witty, funny, overly insightful or overly literate. The latest Dow Chemical campaign is a good example. It's a 90 second commercial but for 89 seconds you have no idea what they're talking about -- until you see the logo at the end. It's just endless fluffery and puffery. All you think is, I don't know what they're talking about. It's as if someone created a beautiful, elegant painting when all you needed was a "turn left" sign.

The spot's over-engineered and overworked. And it suffers from the notion that all advertising has to be entertaining -- if it's not entertaining, people aren't going to watch it. I don't fully believe that. Obviously there's a lot a commercial is competing with. But sometimes you just want to know, "who are you?" and "what are you selling?" and "why should I buy you?"

VT: What's the solution?

Steve: Most commercials don't answer those questions or give that information. My response: Be clear. There's too much over-engineering going on. It's confusing. Maybe it's because I see so much stuff, I'm like, don't fool with me, just tell me. This doesn't mean you can't have fun. Check out this great example from Papa John Pizza.

VT: How do you get copywriting right?

Steve: Remember the old saw that a picture is worth thousand words? It really is. Some of the best ads are a well-chosen image or a well-chosen photograph and maybe a word or two. But, of course, those one or two words must be eloquently and precisely chosen. Check out these latest spots from Bombay Sapphire to see what I mean.

VT: What else gets in the way of effective ads?

Steve: A lot of times a client insists on an ad saying too much. An ad can only do one thing well. That's the hardest thing to tell a marketer. After all, an ad is simply a device to attract someone's attention. It aims to get you to consider the brand further or do something -- feel a certain way, call an 800 number, enter a contest. You can only put so much in it.

For everything else we have brochures and websites. If we could fit everything into an ad, we wouldn't need brochures and websites. We wouldn't need sales people, either, because the ad would say everything. But that's not the case, of course; it just doesn't work that way.

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Comments from our users:

Thursday July 13th 2006, 9:40 AM
Comment by: Robert P.
Makes complete sense.
Tuesday July 18th 2006, 6:17 PM
Comment by: steve O.
Working for a small credit union with a faily verticle clientele it has been increasingly difficult to reach individuals on an emotional level, trying to get a person to react, in any way, to selected messages. I am wondering whether or not it is this OVER-artistic advertising that could be causing the public to become even further desensiticed, and, in effect, creating a vicious cause and effect cycle that will require even crazier antics to have any message to sink past the noise? What is everyone's opinion?
Thursday August 31st 2006, 2:11 PM
Comment by: mary anne E.
This is very interesting.

Do you know anyone that could help with some advertising ideas?


Thursday May 21st 2009, 5:05 PM
Comment by: Bryan S. (State Center, IA)
Steve is spot-on here.

As a copywriter for a small agency, most of my best work is usually just a few words. My ego always tells me everything I type is golden, but reality tells me to keep panning for the nuggets.

For example, a postcard for a flea market/antique mall simply said "Everyone collects SOMETHING" superimposed over an admittedly disturbing image of doll's heads lined up on a shelf. Talk about impact! Those three words said more to our client and his target audience than the pages upon pages of raw earth I had been piling on his desk for weeks.

Less is almost always more!
Saturday May 23rd 2009, 6:59 PM
Comment by: Richard B. (Redondo Beach, CA)
I suggest to clients that they stop thinking about what their product/service has to offer customers and instead look at it from their customer's point-of-view. What is your customer's pain and what solution are you offering them? Specifically, how is your service/product going to solve my problem?

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