How to Succeed in Advertising: 23 Copywriting Tips for Writing Ads That Sell

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Writing persuasive content is something we live and breathe here at Embryo – but it is no easy feat. Unlike long-form content, with ad copy, there is often a huge limit on words and even more so on advertising space. Then, there’s the fun balancing act of deciding how to stylise your copy, working with a graphic designer to find the perfect image to enhance it, and then figuring out on which distribution channel you’ll most likely find your target audience.

Though we can’t put together a sure-fire copywriting formula for success, we’ve had a root around the internet and some much-loved books by copywriting pros to draw some inspo. We hope that the following quotes will help you out if you ever find yourself in an advertising rut.

Be creative (just don’t lose sight of what you’re selling)

1. “Dullness won’t sell your product, but neither will irrelevant brilliance.” – Bill Bernbach (Editor’s note: No matter the direction your creativity takes you in, make sure you’re writing relevant content, or as the copywriters at Volkswagen once put it, “Call a spade a spade. And a suspension a suspension. Not something like ‘orbital cushioning’.”)

2. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard

3. “Don’t keep sniffing all sides of the same fire hydrant. Run through the whole neighbourhood.” – Luke Sullivan (Editor’s note: In his genius book, “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads”, Sullivan encourages writers to not just churn out the regular run-of-the-mill product copy, but to seek out something novel, and see if there’s any benefit to writing about what nobody else is yet talking about.)

4. “Since so much advertising is vague and general, being specific in your copy sets it apart from other ads and creates interest.” – Bob Bly (Editor’s note: “[Insert company] provides a wide range of innovative services that are tailored to your needs.” This type of sentence is everywhere on the internet and is unlikely to inspire your reader to make any further enquiries. Be creative, get specific.)

Show your product as you imagine your audience would use it

5. “Talk about what your product ‘does’, not ‘is’ – and demonstrate this.” – Eugene Schwartz (Editor’s note: Focussing on the real-life product benefits, instead of simply listing its features, makes for far more engaging content.)

6. “The best answers always arise out of the product itself. Out of the product. Out of the realities of the buying situation.” – Luke Sullivan

7. “Tell the truth but make the truth fascinating. You know, you can’t bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them in buying it.” – David Ogilvy (Editor’s note: Ogilvy makes the list a couple of times, and you’ll see why. Fun fact, widely thought of as the father of copywriting, he was once called “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry” by Time magazine in 1962. Ever the pearls of wisdom, this one.)

8. “Everybody in the world divides his mail into two piles.” – Gary Halbert (Editor’s note: That is to say, if it’s not worth keeping (god forbid not even worth opening), it’s going in the bin, which is exactly where you don’t want your fine copy to be sent to.)

9. “We have become so accustomed to hearing everyone claim that his product is the best in the world, or the cheapest, that we take all such statements with a grain of salt.” – Robert Collier

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10. “Find the inherent drama in your product.” – Leo Burnett

11. “It’s not enough to convince prospects you have a great product or a superior service. You must also show them that the value of your offer far exceeds the price you are asking for it.” – Bob Bly

12. “Make your advertising too valuable to throw away.” – Sonia Simone (Editor’s note: The flip side of Halbert’s quote no. 8 – like a weathered Chinese takeaway menu stowed away in the kitchen cupboard for a rainy day, write ad copy that delivers a message your reader won’t want to get rid of.)


Write to an audience you understand (or have come to)

13. “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.” – David Ogilvy 

14. Effective copywriting is salesmanship in print, not clever wordsmithing. The more self-effacing and invisible your selling skill, the more effective you are. Copywriters who show off their skills are as ineffective as fishermen who reveal the hook.” – Gary Bencivenga (Editor’s note: If you know you’re being sold something, immediately you’re leaning towards a ‘no’.)

15. “Where a web page is the terrain, the copywriter’s the tour guide, instructor, concierge, maître d’, and of course, sales clerk. If the copy can’t seal the deal, it must offer something compelling to start some sort of relationship.” – Barry Feldman

16. “Write to one person, not a million.” – Fairfax M. Cone (Editor’s note: this blog post goes out to you, and only you, reader.)


The rapid attention span of the modern age

17. “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” – David Ogilvy (Editor’s note: Our good friend David came up with this back in the ’60s. In today’s digital circus, with the abundance of media and paid ads vying for our attention, his point could never be more true. Fact, did you know that 55% of all page views only achieve mere seconds of attention. So, your headline – for email marketing, this is as early as your subject line – or opening hook is extra important.)

18. “All the elements in an advertisement are primarily designed to do one thing and one thing only: get you to read the first sentence of the copy.” – Joseph Sugarman

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Short and sweet’ll do it

Similar to the above point: know your target market, know you don’t have all that long to keep your audience (sidenote: you’re still there, right? *chuckles to self), so try to keep it concise.

19. “Inside every fat ad there’s a thinner one trying to get out.” – Tony Cox (Editor’s note: In other words, if you can deliver your message simpler, do so.)

20. “Value is best communicated when it’s designed to be believed, not just described.” – Bernadette Jiwa

21. “Nobody has the time or patience to read linear content. Instead of writing long indigestible blocks of text, make your content skimmable.” – Tania Cheema (Editor’s note: Something that has been particularly adopted on social media, LinkedIn being a prime example – perhaps you, too, have noticed the spike in recent years of the increasingly popular style of posts being written in a series of short and snappy one liners.)


Do your research

If all else fails, and you find yourself coming up empty on the idea frontier, remember going back to basics can be great for idea generation. If your head feels stuck, dig a little deeper into what’s left to learn about the product or service to kickstart some fresh ideas.

22. “Before you begin the writing, be sure you know the purpose or mission or objective of every piece of content that you write. What are you trying to achieve? What information, exactly, are you trying to communicate? And why should your audience care?” – Ann Handley

23. “The best copywriters are the most tenacious researchers. Like miners, they dig, drill, dynamite, and chip until they have carloads of valuable ore. [G]ather seven times more interesting information than [you] could possibly use… Research is the infallible cure for writer’s block.” – Gary Bencivenga


And the final writing tip, a bonus if you will:

24. “Show. Don’t tell.” – Every creative writing teacher ever


Any quotes on writing excellent ad copy that have inspired your writing habits? Let us know! In the meantime, if you’re looking for copywriting services or another digital marketing service, get in touch with our team today!