Ad copywriting tip: Tell an interesting story

Some of the best advertisements are built around a story.

This is an advanced copywriting technique and takes a deft hand to pull off, so I don’t recommend it to novice copywriters. But when you can do it convincingly, it’s a thing of beauty.

Here’s an ad I ran across while rifling through some folders this morning. This is probably too small to read, but you can click on it to download a PDF image of the entire ad.

print ad copywriting

Let’s take a look at a few things that make this ad work.

First, the headline is newsy and intriguing. It introduces the idea of losing a lot of weight, but it teases you with the promise of an interesting story. A headline is supposed to draw you in and make you read the body copy, so this sort of headline does its job well.

Notice the specificity of the headline. It’s not just a housewife, but an Atlanta housewife. She didn’t merely lose weight; she lost 73 pounds.

Second, note the simple layout of the text. It’s intended to look like an article in the magazine where the ad appeared. While most ads should stand out, this sort of ad is intended to blend in. Why? Because it’s aimed at people who are reading the magazine and looking for interesting stories.

This type of ad is usually called an “advertorial.” It calls for a newsy tone, long copy, and minimal design.

Third, (assuming you’ve read the entire ad above) note how the explanation about why the Atlanta housewife was almost arrested is only revealed after you read about two-thirds of the text. The writer didn’t want to satisfy curiosity about this too soon. This helps to keep readers reading.

Fourth, the call to action is saved for the end. This is no surprise to those experienced at story ads, but it’s something many copywriters would screw up. The trend today is to spit out the call to action immediately, and that works in many circumstances. However, it would kill a story ad like this. You have to hook the reader, tell the story, and only then ask for the order. It takes faith in the format.

Fifth, the copy is written in the first person. Normally, you avoid this in typical copywriting since you want to put the focus on the reader. In a story ad, though, the copy is personal and works like a testimonial. It’s like a friend talking to you.

Story ads are not appropriate for every product or publication. But if you have the chance to write one, keep these ideas in mind. This type of ad can be fun and highly satisfying.

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5 Responses to “Ad copywriting tip: Tell an interesting story”

  1. Jay Ehret on September 19th, 2008 7:37 am

    Great ad, Dean. I think Joe Sugarman would proud. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ted Grigg on September 20th, 2008 11:20 pm

    We used to call these “editorial ads” in the old days, didn’t we?

    I think they are under utilized.

    Most publications get real aggressive about pasting the word “Advertisement” in large, bold type at the top of the page in the middle. I prefer to put it in small type at the side as your example shows. But placing it at the bottom on the right would be even better if you could get away with it.

    It’s a trick to get the art department to lay these out so they look like a regular news report or editorial (per your example). The layout is critical to success. And it goes without saying that the copy should read as an objective article to get the best response.

  3. Dean Rieck on September 21st, 2008 1:25 pm

    Ted: You’re right. There are often hurdles to leap to create and run an ad like this. You have to convince the client it works. The copywriter has to write it in the correct style. The designer must lay it out in a simple form. And the publisher often has to be convinced to run it.

    But when you have all cylinders firing, it does work.

  4. Dan Williams on April 1st, 2011 2:31 pm

    Have had great success with professionally written advertorials in our insurance agency….despite the printed banner of “paid advertisement” across the top. Many new clients..when asked…refer to reading the “article” as why they decided to call. Maybe they are sucked into the copy and forget all about the disclaimer ??

  5. Dean Rieck on April 1st, 2011 2:47 pm

    Dan: Advertorials can work great. I created a mailer in this format I’ve used with several clients. With one client, it doubled response over another mailer where we had already boosted response by 700%. The “reader” format pulls people in and seems more relevant than “ad” copy.

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