Write and Gain Attention

If an ad fails to gain attention, it fails totally. Unless you gain the prospect’s attention, he or she won’t read any of your copy. And if the prospect doesn’t

read your copy, he or she won’t receive the persuasive message you’ve so carefully crafted.

There are numerous ways to gain attention. Sex certainly is one of them. Look at the number of products – abdominal exercises, health clubs, cars, Club Med, clothes, beer, soft drinks, chewing gum – that feature attractive bodies in their ads and commercials. It may be sexist or base, but it works.

Similarly, you can use visuals to get prospects to pay attention. Parents (and almost everyone else) are attracted to pictures of babies and young children. Puppies and kittens also strike a chord in our hearts. Appealing visuals can get your ad noticed.

Since so much advertising is vague and general, being specific in your copy sets it apart from other ads and creates interest. A letter promoting collection services to dental practices begins as follows:

“How we collected over $20 million in unpaid bills over the past 2 years for thousands of dentists nationwide”

Dear Dentist:

It’s true.

In the past 2 years alone, IC Systems has collected more than $20 million in outstanding debt for dental practices nationwide.

That’s $20 million these dentists might not otherwise have seen if they had not hired IC Systems to collect their past-due bills for them.

What gains your attention is the specific figure of $20 million dollars. Every collection agency promises to collect money. But saying that you have gotten $20 million in results is specific, credible, and memorable.

Featuring an offer that is free, low in price, or unusually attractive is also an effective attention-getter. A full-page newspaper ad from Guaranteed Term Life Insurance announces, “NOW … $1 a week buys Guaranteed Term Life Insurance for New Yorkers over 50.” Not only does the $1 offer draw you in, but the headline also gains attention by targeting a specific group of buyers (New Yorkers over 50).

You know that in public speaking, you can gain attention by shouting or talking loudly. This direct approach can work in copy, especially in retail advertising. An ad for Lord & Taylor department store proclaims in large, bold type: STARTS TODAY … ADDITIONAL 40% OFF WINTER FASHIONS.” Not clever or fancy, but of interest to shoppers looking to save money.

Another method of engaging the prospect’s attention is to ask a provocative question. Bits & Pieces, a management magazine, begins its subscription mailing

with this headline: “What do Japanese managers have that American managers sometimes lack?” Don’t you want to at least read the next sentence to find the answer.

A mailing for a book club has this headline on the outer envelope:

Why is the McGraw-Hill Chemical Engineers’ Book Club giving away practically for FREE – this special 50th Anniversary Edition of PERRY’S CHEMICAL ENGINEERS’ HANDBOOK?

To chemical engineers, who know that Perry’s costs about $125 per copy, the fact that someone would give it away is indeed a curiosity – and engineers, being curious people, want to get the answer.

Injecting news into copy, or announcing something that is new or improved, is also a proven technique for getting attention. A mailing offering subscriptions to the newsletter Dr. Atkins’s Health Revelations has this headline on the cover:

“Here Are Astonishing Nutritional Therapies and Alternative Treatments You’ll Never Hear About From the Medical Establishment, the FDA, Drug Companies or Even Your Doctor …”

  • decades of medical research breakthroughs from the Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine … revealed at last!

The traditional Madison Avenue approach to copy – subtle word play and cleverness – often fails to get attention because many people reading the ad either don’t get it, or if they do get it, they don’t think it’s that funny (or they think it’s funny but that doesn’t compel them to read the ad or buy the product).

A newspaper ad for New Jersey hospital, promoting its facilities for treating kidney stones without surgery (ultrasonic sound waves are used to painlessly break up and dissolve the stone), carried this headline:

The End of the Stone Age.

Clever? Yes. But as former kidney stone patients, we can tell you that having kidney stones is not a fun, playful subject, and this headline misses the mark. The kidney stone sufferer wants to know he can go to his local hospital, get fast treatment, avoid an operation and a hospital stay, have the procedure be painless, and get rid of the kidney stones that are causing his current discomfort. Therefore, the headline,

Get Rid of Painful Kidney Stones – Without Surgery!

While less clever, is more direct, and works better with this topic and this audience.

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