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How to Write Effective Advertising Copy

Updated on June 19, 2013
Howard has worked as a corporate copy editor and publicity writer. He now does freelance editing, writing and proofreading.
Howard has worked as a corporate copy editor and publicity writer. He now does freelance editing, writing and proofreading. | Source

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Ad-vert-ise v. to persuade others to take a specific action.

The word advertise contains two Latin roots. Vertere means ‘to turn around or change’. Ad is a prefix meaning ‘towards’.

Thirty years ago, writers wrote ad copy while graphics artists did layout. Those lines have become increasingly blurred as one person or department tries to do both. I offer reminders here for both the mechanics of writing and graphic layout, since everyone is weaker in one than the other.

The psychology of persuasion

Effective advertising copy is one of the most challenging kinds of writing. It needs to attract the reader at the beginning, hold attention throughout, and instill conviction by the end. No amount of wordsmithing will rescue a faulty concept.

  • Envision a specific individual as you begin to write. Edit later to be more inclusive if necessary.
  • Hook your reader’s attention with the first line.
  • Make a claim and substantiate it with fact.
  • Conclude with a pithy, memorable and actionable objective—just one.

Mechanics of writing

A publicity manager is often hired for certain graphics layout software requirements. It is harder to qualify writing skills, though. The result is bad ad copy on very nice layouts. Keep the following writing skills in mind.

  • Keep paragraphs short. Divide longer ones.
  • Keep sentences short and simple.
  • Minimize dependent clauses. Make them independent.
  • Rewrite to eliminate any possible ambiguity in grammar or phrasing.
  • Use as few coordinating conjunctions as possible.
  • Cut or replace empty words. Use colorful vocabulary instead.
  • Remove doublets. Slash redundancy. Use synonyms to add meaning while cutting word count.
  • Write in the active voice. Passives have no place.
  • Be sparing with the following punctuation [! , :] and parentheses. Study the proper use of em-dashes. Avoid semicolons.

Advertising skills poll

Which aspect of advertising is most challenging for you?

See results

Graphic layout

As word processors become more capable, copy writers increasingly do graphic layout themselves. It is essential to target the medium.

  • Use bulleted or numbered lists instead of strings separated by commas.
  • Add subheadings to break up longer ad copy.
  • Use white space generously. This is a natural byproduct of bullets, subheadings and short paragraphs.
  • Use blocks of color for sidebars. HubPages, for example, allows silver and blue for certain capsule types that can “float” to the right.


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    • CarNoobz profile image

      CarNoobz 5 years ago from USA

      And isn't it sad that so many of us who make money by writing -- I'm talking about me, not you -- need to have grammar explained to us? LOL

      Ah, you gotta love that Internet =)

    • Howard S. profile image

      Howard S. 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

      @CarNoobz: I know what you mean. I thought about explaining grammar for those who may have forgotten. But realized it could never look like ad copy that way! I chose one audience.

    • CarNoobz profile image

      CarNoobz 5 years ago from USA

      Excellent advice, Howard. I've been doing some freelancing, and there's always a need for solid advertising copy. I'll definitely refer to this one again in the future.

      A couple of those bullet, it's been a long time since I was in English class! hahaha! I have to do some research just to understand the tips. lol

    • Howard S. profile image

      Howard S. 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

      Peg, the problem with semicolons (properly used) is that they can almost always be replaced with periods. Simple is better advertising copy. Sooo, I just removed two from this piece. It is almost too choppy now, better for advertising than as an article.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Thanks for the helpful tips, Howard. Each of us are advertisers in a certain sense here on HubPages. I found the part about punctuation quite helpful. I'm guilty of using semi colons too often AND conjunctions. lol