How to write an ad with a proven, professional ad writing formula that stands the test of time without being salesy

Fundamental marketing messages ought to begin with pain. What pain is the prospect in? What is the problem that is driving her crazy? What is she looking to relieve? Is it back pain? Is it pesky bugs running around his house? Is it finding qualified employees for her business? What is it she looks to solve? This is where your marketing message starts. By addressing the pain and calling it out at the start of the ad, the ad writer is almost calling out people by name. It implicitly states, “Attention! Those who have back pain. Here’s how bad it hurts…” And then the ad describes the pain to the person reading or watching the ad.

Pain → Agitate → Solve

Calling attention to those people who suffer from the back pain is the start. With luck, the ad writer has the attention of the correct people the ad is designed for. (If you don’t suffer back pain, you likely will not pay attention to the ad because it clearly isn’t for you.) With this few seconds’ worth of attention the ad writer earned, he now has to agitate the problem a little more. He has to make them feel that pain a little deeper to really acknowledge the problem. So, he places the ad’s focus there, compounding the pain. The ad will say something like, “Back pain is terrible. But isn’t it worse when you have lower back pain, and you cannot stand up straight? Then you’re hunched over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, unable to stand like a normal person? And worse — you have extreme pain shooting down your left leg, which makes walking extremely difficult.” That’s agitating the pain stated in the ad. Note that it doesn’t have to be much agitation. In Television ads, it may be three seconds worth of agitation, but it is there.

Finally, after the pain and its agitation, there is Solve. The ad writer solves the pain the person and prospect are in. The product being sold is the solution: the consultation; the free kit; the Flex Seal sealant; the Disney vacation package; the upgraded home; new windows; a new kitchen; it doesn’t matter what the product or service is. The product or service is designed to solve problems and pain. This is the reason why so many products are called solutions. It might be business cliche, but marketers call them that for great reasons. Businesses exist to solve problems. Period.

It is interesting to note that most mass market, consumer products follow this exact formula when sold on TV. The ad producers will usually show the pain part of the ad in black and white to give it a sadder hue. They’ll explain the pain, agitate it, and then place the glorious solution in color for all to see. It isn’t new. It is a winning formula used over and over and over again to sell products. Also, the pain portion of the ad need not be physical pain. It can be minor nuisance pain, like a knotted garden hose or a shoe pile strewn about the master bedroom closet or French fries falling through the space between the car seat and the console. What are these? These are problems to be solved that consumers deal with on a daily basis.

As Seen on TV products follow the timeless, winning ad writing formula: pain → agitate → solve. It is vitally important to never start with the product or solution you’re offering. You never start with the product or solution because people don’t pay attention to products the first time they hear them. People pay attention to the pain they’re currently experiencing. We call them pain points for a reason. No matter how successful a company or a person is, we’ve all got pain points that need addressed. We’re only human; we cannot help ourselves. We all seek immediate relief from pain. If you’ve got lower back pain, you’re always paying attention to it until it gets resolved. If you’ve got marriage or serious relationship pain, you pay attention to it until you get some help. If you’ve got tax pain, you pay attention to it until you find a good solution for it. When we lead with the pain the prospect is in, we earn their attention.

When writing ads, it is very easy to get hung-up on its likability. You ask yourself whether you like the ad. You ask your boss and the team whether they like the ad. You ask the client whether they like the ad. And yet the only opinion that matters is whether the target market responds to the ad. No one else’s opinion matters. It is on you to get this. Does the ad do what you want it do to? Yes or no? The only way to find out is to test it. Test, test, test. Keep your winners; discard your losers.

Worse, it is so easy to complicate the hell out of the ad. Ads do not need to be complex. Do you remember the last time you responded to a complex ad? Try to not make the mistake of saying that your market is smarter, better, faster, or other superlative. This is not to say that all markets are the same — they aren’t. But markets respond best to simple ads, not wildly complex ones. What’s the typical response to complex ads? Huh!? If Huh?! is the response you seek to your advertising, then you shouldn’t be in advertising. We want people to take action off of our ads. We want them to download the PDF. We want them to click on the ad. We want them to pick up the phone and call (yes, still). We want them to qualify themselves as a good lead for our salesforce.

Finally, try not fall into the trap that so many people fall into: letting the merchant have the final say on the ad vs. letting the data have the final say after some market testing. Unfortunately, with ads and copywriting, everyone has an opinion on whether something will work. (They also have an uncle who wrote ads 29 years ago who has an opinion as to whether an ad will work.) Not everyone’s opinion matters. Not everyone has earned the right to have an opinion on this matter. And, as often happens, just because the merchant is paying for the ad copy and the ad run, they think their opinion matters the most and therefore they ought to have final say. Usually, in matters of commerce, this is not a problem: he who has the gold makes the rules. Everybody knows that.

Only with modern advertising, we can generate data through early market testing to determine whether the ad is a winner — there’s no need for strong opinions as to whether something is good. Why wouldn’t you let the data generated from market testing decide for you? If we let the data decide for us, there’s no need to let egos and the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion or Whim dictate winning ad copy and artwork.

I’m a sales, marketing and tech Pro who creates content designed to help people solve problems and shift perspectives.

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