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Writing to persuade – get to know the structure of advertising copy

There’s a formula for writing advertising copy with which any copywriter should be familiar. It’s useful for anyone who writes to persuade or sell. It’s also handy to know if you’re simply a consumer – so that you understand how advertisers and others are trying to influence you.

The formula comes down to an acronym, AIDA: Attention, interest, desire, action.

Attention – stop them in their tracks

leopard starring
First, get their attention. Photo by law_kevin

The first job of any headline, advert or piece of copy is to get the reader’s attention. And one of the best ways to do this is to focus on their problem. Translated to an advert, this might give headlines such as:

  • Back pain?
  • Trouble sleeping?
  • Need a loan fast?

Of course, you have to ask such direct questions, you can almost assume the nature of the problem – in this case a desire to have more money – and start offering solutions:

  • Make money from home
  • Why not be a writer?
  • The secrets to e-book success

The first sentence or paragraph will often also act as an attention grabber. It will continue the work of building emotions. It’s very common in advertising to play on people’s fears and pick on points of pain for the reader. There are good arguments, however, for going the other way and emphasising the positive. Either way, the headline and first piece of copy needs to get to the heart of the main benefit, be it curing back pain, getting a loan for that new car or finding a new way to earn money.

You’ll need to use powerful words that paint a picture that will catch their eye and make them stop and read what comes next.

Interest – pin their ears back

leopard looks interested
Second, get them interested. Photo by coolhand3011

After that initial instant of grabbing their attention, you need to engage their interest. Your reader will be thinking: ‘what’s in it for me?’ Now’s the time to tell them. Help them to justify their buying decision by providing information about the benefits, always linking these to emotions. Reassure them this is a sound decision. And maybe remind them of the consequences of not buying the particular product or service, again linking that to emotions.

Don’t take too long over this, or assume that once you have their attention that it is easy to keep it. Keeping thinking about what they want or need and the writing focused on those issues, not the features of the product or service.

Bullets and subheads are good ways to control pace and put emphasis on the main messages.

Desire – get them drooling

Third, stimulate desire. Photo by Tony M

Now you need to induce the desire to buy. Get the reader excited.
It’s an appeal to the emotions, a tugging on the heartstrings. Make it irresistible. Tell a story. Paint a picture.
Bring in real-life examples and case studies if you have them. But don’t over-exagerate or lie.

Action – get them to bite

The fourth step is to get them moving. Photo by Brian Scott

All the above has been a waste of time if the reader does not now take action. You need to give really good strong reasons why they should take whatever action it is you want of them – be it clicking a buy button, picking up the phone or calling into the car dealership.

At this point it’s good to give them some urgent reasons why they need to act soon. This could be a bonus or discount for buying before a certain date, for example. (I see a lot of these on the internet which are really obviously fake and are not at all convincing, by the way. Gosh, it just happens to be today’s date when the offer runs out… How hard would it be to write that script?).

You could also appeal again to the emotions. The sooner they order, the sooner they will be free of that back pain. Remind them of the consequences of not taking action, such as having to live with that back pain, perhaps having that holiday ruined by it, maybe even having to take time off work.

Remember to be clear about exactly what action you want them to take, such as visit this website, click on that button, call this number. If you want them to buy, say so. If you want them to call, say so.

Two more acronyms

This basic formula is sometimes extended. These are two of the most common adaptions:

  • AIDCA adds the C step – standing for “conviction” Here, the idea is to provide proof that the product or service really does work.
  • AIDAS adds an ‘S’ at the end for ‘service’ or ‘satisfaction’. The idea is to satisfy the customer so they become a repeat customer and give referrals.

This AIDA formula is nothing new. It’s been around in advertising for decades, though I’m not sure who created it. It’s not the whole answer to creating advertising copy. I often feel that the interest and desire part are really pretty much the same thing. And those additions, such as satisfaction and proof make sense too.

It’s only one formula for writing copy. And formulas can only get you so far. But it is something anyone who wants to be a copywriter needs to know about. And anyone who writes to persuade can use.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • shortee420 June 25, 2008, 10:52 am

    Just curious – why did you choose the cheetah and leopards for visual effect?

  • Simon Townley June 25, 2008, 11:08 am

    Ah, ummm, I’m sure there was a good reason. I just can’t quite seem to remember what it was. I think I just found the first pic, thought it worked well for attention and so went looking for the others as part of a theme.

  • Alice de Matos October 15, 2010, 10:16 am

    Hi Simon – don’t have a website but now thinking of getting one – just like you!

    I have been writing stuff for lots of different organisations over the last 15 years – none of it has been advertising copy. I haven’t worked with ad agencies and never had any proximity to advertising copywriters – I don’t know why I haven’t tried to find out about how to write copy for ads but having read your AIDA piece feel I could probably do it. I did once go to some sort of training day many years ago, so long ago I can only vaguely recall it, and there was some reference to the most powerful adverts in the world using ’emotion’ which I’ve never forgotten…so thanks for putting it out there.