How to Create Ad Copy That Sells | 116 & West
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4.21.23 | read time: 5 min

Creating Ad Copy That Sells

116 & West

“Long-form copy is more difficult.” FALSE.

TBH, ad copy is one of the most challenging types of copy to write. It also happens to be my favorite. What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment. The fewer words I have to express something, the more important every word becomes. The task is to say more with less. Being as concise as possible while getting a message across can be difficult to achieve, but when I do, victory is mine.

What is ad copywriting?

A big challenge of ad copywriting is that you must quickly capture the audience with only a few words. Think about what you’ve seen on billboards, display ads, social media ads, etc. You have just a few seconds to make a splash, and with our shorter attention spans these days, we now have the attention span of a goldfish, so the task has gotten more challenging over time. Since people lose concentration after only 8 seconds, your copy must be enticing enough to capture attention immediately.

When writing, it is important to keep in mind the overarching goals of ad copy. As with any copy, you need to identify the target audience and purpose of your copy. Next, write with the intention of eliciting emotion. Make the audience think and feel; if it is a digital ad, respond to the call to action (CTA). Now, let’s get writing.

In praise of handwriting

When I start on an ad copy project, I first sketch my ideas down on paper. Old school, I know. But hear me out. Studies have shown that writing by hand forces you to slow down. For me, every word is written with intention. When I write by hand, I don’t delete what I deem are bad ideas either. Since it’s not as free-flowing, I tend to keep a clean page when I type. This is not the case with a pen.

Brainstorm. Find the hook. What is this product’s or service, or brand’s value? Uncover it by writing (on paper). It’s science:

“Such mindful writing rests the brain, unlocking potential creativity,” says neuroscientist Claudia Aguirre. “Recent neuroscientific research has uncovered a distinct neural pathway that is only activated when we physically draw out our letters.”

So use paper. Write and rewrite. No ideas are bad. Let the creativity flow.

Feeling frustrated and want to throw things? Come back to it. Go for a walk. Let your brain rest. Coming back to a piece of writing with fresh eyes can make a world of difference.

How do you write compelling ad copy?

Now that you’ve gotten your ideas out, it’s time to refine, refine, refine. Every word is important when you’re writing short ad copy. Our goal is concise and catchy copy.

Good ad copy doesn’t need an explanation. Your target audience shouldn’t have to strain or work hard to understand the message.

Good copy is a disruption. We all lead busy lives, so copy needs to catch the reader’s eye long enough that they sit up and pay attention. Remember, we’re goldfish. Though the process of writing ad copy can be arduous, the end goal should make it look easy.

One of my favorite authors, Ann Handley, has a saying, “be specific enough to be believable, but universal enough to be credible.” In a nutshell, don’t use jargon, and don’t be vague. The art of good ad copy is in its simplicity.

Finally, keep in mind what you are asking your audience to do. Is it to take action? Feel something? Write based on the end goal for the user and the medium. If it is a digital ad, have a clear CTA.

Writing about something you don’t like

As a writer, you often have to write about subjects you aren’t passionate about. It’s just part of the deal. Writing about anything is easy because I love writing and am naturally curious. But I still struggle, so this section is for you if you do too.

I’m fortunate to say that I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to write about something that misaligned with my values, but I have had to write about things that were, let’s say, not my favorite.

The ad copy process

Let’s walk through a scenario where I am asked to write ad copy for a product that isn’t my cup of tea: Crocs.

I have a personal hatred towards Crocs. No time to get into the details, but suffice it to say it’s deep-rooted. Let’s say Crocs, against their better judgment, hired me to write a tagline for their limited edition line (featuring celebrities and select brands). For the purposes of this exercise, let’s make it even more challenging, and it’s a line of Crocs representing a food that makes me nauseous. Okay, so Crocs calls me and says, “Hey Erin, can you write an ad for that disgusting sand-covered marshmallow treat, Peeps?” (yes, they exist). How do I, as a copywriter, do this without barfing?

First, I have to get into the mindset of someone who likes Crocs. Shudder at the thought, but here we go. People like Crocs because they are comfortable. They make a statement, like any piece of fashion. They say to the world, “I like to be comfortable yet fashionable,” and if they are from a collaboration collection, “I support this brand, cause, or celebrity.” There is a contingent of people who love Peeps (as aforementioned, I am not one of them); they are bright, colorful, and a harbinger of spring.

The hook of this product is its color and silliness, and likely the nostalgia of eating Peeps as a child around Easter. Off the top of my head, I came up with three taglines:

Peep our newest collab.
No, they don’t get bigger in the microwave.
Put all your eggs in this basket.

I overcome writing copy for a product that isn’t my favorite by playing with language and getting into the target audience’s mind. Or feet covered by Peeps. It’s that simple.

That’s all, folks

Want to know more copy tips and tricks? Let a gal know. I’m not afraid of a challenge.

Picking up what I’m putting down? Get in touch and let’s work together.