7 Golden Rules for Writing Effective Ads

7 Golden Rules for Writing Effective Ads

Ads are an integral part of marketing. Ads are the first touch point between a business and a potential customer. Writing an effective ad is an art and a science. A good ad is a result of understanding of the target customers, creativity from the ad copywriter and most importantly, the ad man needs to understand the fundamentals of advertising.

Having a strong foundation in advertising is an asset for any marketer or businessman. To build a strong foundation in the fundamentals of advertising we need to look at history.

Advertising came into existence when there was a possibility of sending the same message to multiple people at once – using technology. The first form of this technology was printing press. Then came the radio, then the TV and then the internet.

The mass media revolution is what has given birth to the concept of advertising. Before that, the only way was to sell at a market place or sell door to door.

Advertising in its core is just salesmanship. A sales message conveyed by a salesman from one prospect to another is replicated in mass in an advertising medium.

Advertising fails for many reasons, but the biggest reason for failure is when the ad copywriter forgets that the message is just salesmanship in print (or other mediums).

The purpose of advertising is to make sales. Let’s make sure we remember that. If anyone advertises for any other reason, that is not called advertising. Some people advertise for boosted their personal ego, get the name out and for other narcissistic reasons. Let’s leave such “advertising” out of the context for now.

The success and failure of an ad copy should be solely scored on the basis of the amount of sales it brings in, in the short term and the long term.

When we think about every word in an ad copy as a word uttered by a salesman in front of a prospect, we will get advertising right.

A salesman that goes from door to door has the luxury to change his pitch based on the target prospect and correct his mistakes. An ad copy is nothing but a super salesman that goes out with a sales message to 1000s of people at once. That’s why the ad should be written with utmost care.

Now that we understand that advertising is just salesmanship, let us try to come up with rules for writing a good ad by imagining how a good salesman would go about spreading his sales message.

All the 7 points I have mentioned here talk about what good ads wouldn’t do that what they would do – because if you remove all the mistakes that are being committed so often, you will end up with a good ad.

  1. Good Ads do not Entertain
  2. Good Ads do not Shout
  3. Good Ads do not Please the Seller
  4. Good Ads do not Shock and Lie
  5. Good Ads do not speak to a Mass of People
  6. Good Ads do not hold back Information
  7. Good Ads do not sell what People Don’t Want

Let’s look at each of these rules in detail:

1. Good Ads do not Entertain

Good ads get attention and then convert that attention into sales. Entertaining content on any media channel also gets attention. Many marketers and advertisers have got too attached to the ‘attention‘ part.

I can go out and scream that a wild tiger is out on the loose and get a lot of attention, however, such attention cannot be converted in sales. I can get the attention of 1/10th of the people with an offer they cannot refuse, and that might help me take home real money.

We have to remember that ads are not solely made for the purpose of getting attention. We need the right attention, from the right people for the right reasons (to make a sale transaction).

Advertisers who have lost touch with this truth have been making ads that entertain. These ads get a lot of attention, but no sales. Such advertisers try to attribute the attention to ‘brand building’, A truly strong brand is never built with advertising alone.

A salesman going from door to door will never try to entertain his prospects. If someone is paying attention but doesn’t look like a prospective buyer, the salesman is not going to waste his time with that person. The same goes for ads in print, tv, radio and in digital mediums.

2. Good Ads do not Shout

Will a salesman shout in a crowded street to sell his goods? Will he shout at the prospect when selling from door to door? Ads that try to grab people’s attention using loudness are no different. They are lame.

Newspaper and magazine ads are run with very big font type. Sometimes ALL CAPS. Radio and TV ads sometimes go up in volume trying to get people’s attention.

As discussed in the previous section, we need the right attention from the right people. Shouting in any form, is a sin in advertising. The loudest man in the room is the weakest.

3. Good Ads do not Please the Seller

Very few business owners and CEOs have put effort into learning advertising and marketing. They see it as a department that can be outsourced to ad agencies. They do not understand marketing inside out. Many people, including many of us, think we know advertising and marketing because we have seen it all our life.

Such businesses outsource the advertising work to ad agencies. But they do not give complete control to the ad agency either. Instead they micro-manage the work. This forces the ad agencies to make an ad that satisfies the ego of the seller, than making sure the ad brings sales. An ad agency should never do that.

If the agency cannot convince the seller that the ad’s priority is to sell more, irrespective of the client’s feelings, then the agency should not take the client in the first place.

4. Good Ads do not Shock and Lie

Just like shouting and entertaining, another tactic used by advertisers to gain raw attention is to publish something that is shocking or sometimes it goes to the extent of lying. As discussed in the previous points, such type of attention is not useful to generate sales and grow the brand.

Imagine a salesman trying to get a prospect’s attention with a small lie. Or with a shocking news. The attention fades away instantly once the prospect learns that the salesman is trying to sell something. Even if the article is going to be of genuine use to the buyer, such an approach drives them away almost instantly.

It takes decades to build a great brand and a day to spoil it.

5. Good Ads do not speak to a Mass of People

When a salesman sells door to door, he talks to one prospect at a time and one prospect alone. Buyers are interested in making their own life better, they do not care about giving business to the seller. Every prospective buyer while reading an ad in the newspaper, watching a commercial on a TV channel or while on the internet is thinking about himself or herself. He is ‘alone‘ when he is reading the ad irrespective of his physical location.

An advertiser has to keep in mind that the ad copy has to talk to a single prospect. Write the ad as if you are writing it for one single customer. Make it as effective as possible. And then replicate it to 1000s of people using technology.

If you have seen my communication on Facebook or on emails, you would have observed that I always talk to YOU and YOU alone. It wouldn’t look like I am talking to 1000s of subscribers and followers, even though I am.

6. Good Ads do not hold back Information

Imagine a door to door salesman who is selling vacuum cleaners. After a demo, the prospect is asking further questions about the device. Would the salesman stay silent? As a general rule, the more the questions that the prospect asks, the better are the chances that the sale will happen.

However, in ads and other marketing communication, marketers say very less assuming that people will not read long ad copies. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is true to some extent that not all would read everything – but the buyers will read.

A buyer who is giving away his/her hard earned money would want to know more and would read every word in the ad copy till the end and still wouldn’t be satisfied with the amount of information.

Time and time again, long ad copies have out-performed short copies and for a very obvious reason – buyers will pay attention, spend their precious time and READ. Because they need to make an informed buying decision.

If you have seen any of my sales pages before, and if you have purchased one of my courses before, you would know what I am talking about.

We cannot write long ad copies only when the medium presents a limitation. Such as a Google Ad copy has space limitations. In such cases, the click should lead to a website or a sales page which gives further information.

7. Good Ads do not sell what People Don’t Want

If business advice can be given in 4 words, that would be: Make something people want. This is also the tagline of the world’s most successful startup incubator, Y Combinator, which has churned out billion dollar companies. Good ads can be good only if the ad appeals to people’s wants and needs.

There is a misconception that if the ad is good enough, it can sell anything. The success of an ad depends more on the product market fit than the effectiveness of the ad itself.

Many companies fail to do market research and fail to understand what people want. They create the product first and then place their hopes on an ad agency to sell their product. They outspend their competition and the campaign still fails. Because even if God was a salesman he cannot sell a fish to a fisherman.


Most marketers and business owners would agree that the surest way to create wealth is to turn advertising into a profit. Advertising is such a critical part of marketing.

But advertising has not been studied in detail for the attention it deserves and the importance that it commands. I hope this article helped you refresh the concepts of effective advertising.

For further reading, I would recommend the book: Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. This post has been inspired by a chapter in this book.