Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fred's Advertising Clinic - Part One: The Formula

Years ago I had quite a chuckle when I saw a poster on the wall of a friend's office. It read, "Mankind's greatest need is to edit another person's copy."

If you've written any sort of copy - from a business letter to a commercial to an article for a science journal - you get the joke. You might write the world's greatest copy (hmm ... sounds like me), but once you submit it to the client or your boss, it's torn to shreds (hmm ... how could they!). Maybe the edits are an improvement; perhaps they're not. The only thing we know for certain is that your copy will be edited.

People who run small businesses, as always, are up against a special challenge. Not only do they have to write their own copy, but they have to edit it too. With a limited budget for advertising time, it's especially important that their commercial copy gets results.

In this series we'll take a look at copy writing as both an art and a science, and explore some techniques for writing great copy.

Unlike many things in life, writing ad copy can be broken down into a formula. This formula has been used by professional writers forever because it works. Are you ready? Here it is:

Attention - Interest - Desire -Action.

It's known throughout the ad world by its acronym, AIDA, and it's a blueprint to effective copy. Just follow the steps in order.

1. Attention - The foundation of all effective ad copy is to get your listener or viewer's attention. So you write a catchy headline, or ask an important question. Amuse them, question them or shock them. How you do it doesn't matter as long as you grab your audience's attention.

2. Interest. Once you've got your audience's attention, your second step is to keep it and build interest in your message. In part, you're building on your attention grabbing lead, and you're setting the audience up for the next step.

3. Desire. This may be the most important step of all, because if you don't build a desire for your product or service, your audience won't want it. I find it's often the hardest part of the formula to write.

4. Action. This is the windup. It's time to get your audience to act, so tell them what they should do. Buy your product. Visit your store. Call for more information. Or cross only when the light is green. If you've done the previous steps well, that's exactly what your audience will do.

In principle it's a very simple formula. But some take years to master it, and others never quite do. That's where good copy writing becomes an art form.

Start practicing the formula now by applying it to daily life situations. Use the AIDA formula as the structure of your next letter or e-mail. Try it on your next sales call, or even with friends and colleagues in everyday conversation. Instead of just talking about last night's game over the water cooler, see if you can instill a desire to attend the next one or watch it on TV. Just follow the formula and see what happens. It's good practice.

Check back for the next article in this series, as we take an in-depth look at step one.

By the way, did you notice this article uses the AIDA formula? I'm sneaky that way. Thanks for reading!

Fred Pagano's Brown Cow Studios offers complete creative and production services. From great copy writing to creative audio production and lots more, let the creative herd at Brown Cow Studios of Boston help grow your business. Send an e-mail to, or visit our web site,


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