Secrets of the Old Advertising Pros

People sometimes debate about what is the world’s oldest profession, but whatever your opinion, advertising could certainly be in the discussion. If you define advertising as the art of persuasion, humans have been doing that for millennia. Even when primitive humans were painting pictures on the walls of caves 30,000 years ago, it’s possible they were trying to persuade others of their skill at hunting, or the quality of the spears they made. Actually, men and women have been trying to persuade the opposite sex of their attractiveness for an even longer time.

Advertising has been around forever, it seems. These days it’s become more important, as companies face steep competition to get their message heard among all the background noise of our information saturated culture.

Even though newer forms of media are appearing all the time, and the advertising landscape is constantly changing, there are some classic principles that have worked through the ages, and they still work today. Let’s look at 12 of these principles, based on the work of classic advertising copywriters from the golden age of direct mail and print advertising in the early to mid 20th century.

Newspaper pages with antique advertising. Woman’s fashion magazine Le Petit Echo de la Mode from 1919

. What emotion do you want to produce? Before you write a single word of a marketing plan or ad campaign, decide what emotion you want to produce in the reader or viewer. Is it pride? Happiness? Fear? Successful ad campaigns focus on the emotions of the audience.

. Show people using your product. People need to know how your product or service works right away, so you should always get that message across immediately.

. Use short, punchy words. No jargon allowed. No long words. Keep it simple, and you’ll get your message across.

. Satisfy a desire. Everybody wants something, and if you can fit your message to a strong desire in your audience, you’ll have a winning campaign.

. Create a character. Think of the iconic characters like Ronald McDonald, Tony the Tiger, the Michelin Man. If you can create a character who embodies the benefits of your product or service, it will stick in people’s minds.

. Talk about a benefit. What’s so great about your product? Answer that question in your advertising, and you’ll be successful.

. Give it drama. People love drama. Frame your advertising as a story, give it drama, and you’ll get people’s attention a lot more than if you just spew out a lot of dry product details or data.

. Write to one person. The best advertising is person-to-person. You must write to the audience as if it’s one person sitting across from you at a table. Make it conversational, personal, and emotional. That’s how you develop a message that resonates.

. Tell them why your product is the right one. You have to separate your product or service from every competitor on the market. What’s best about it? What does it do better, faster, cheaper than any other product? You’ll stick in the customer’s mind if you emphasize the differences between your product and its competitors.

. Soothe their anxiety. We live in an age of anxiety, and if you can soothe anxiety, people will welcome that message. Does your product or service make people safer? It’s okay in that case to play on their fears in your advertising, because then you can offer them a solution for their fear and anxiety. This doesn’t just work for products that make people’s lives safer. There are all sorts of anxieties — a company that sells educational videos could ease parents’ anxieties about their children’s academic skills. If you think about it long enough, you can probably identify an anxiety that every product or service will cure.

. Make it worth their while. People are busy these days, and in order to get their attention, you have to make it worth their while to give you their time. Offer a deal, a discount, a free gift, a solution to their most pressing problem — there has to be a payoff for the audience for taking the time to listen to you.

. Make it personal. Of course, you can’t send out personal messages to millions of people, but do whatever you can to make your message different than junk mail or SPAM. People hate to be treated like a number, or just another entry in a database. Use different packaging, conversational language, unusual colors — anything to make your advertising look more personal.

. Don’t fall in love with your creativity. Finally, no matter how brilliant you think you are, remember that the point of advertising to motivate an audience to buy. The flashiest, wittiest, hippest, or most entertaining advertising is useless if it doesn’t accomplish the goal of getting people to act on your message. Focus on sales, and be ruthless about editing your work if it doesn’t get results.

It’s a challenge to get your message out in today’s media environment, but if you follow these classic advertising tips, you’ll have a better chance of succeeding.