Creating effective advertisements - part 1

Selling subscriptions is said to be the hardest of direct marketing tasks. If this is so, then using an off-the-page advertisement must be the hardest way to sell subscriptions.

The usual financial target of a subscription promotion is to get the cost of the advertisement back, but making an advertisement meet this target is very tough indeed.

That’s why most publishers don’t even bother.

Even a top advertising agency will find it an impossible task. No matter how clever the headline and copy it creates, response will be poor.

This is why, for many years whenever you saw a magazine marketing advertisement in the national press, it had the dual purpose of selling newstrade copies as well as subscriptions. That way, no-one knew how well it worked.

These days we see lots of magazine marketing advertisements — and they are all the same kind:

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And this brings us to the core of the problem and the solution to it. The reason we rarely saw magazine marketing advertisements was two fold:

1. Publishers were afraid of upsetting the newstrade

2. Magazine marketing advertisements are difficult to create

The advertisements we did see were usually created by an advertising agency. (There weren’t any subscriptions marketing specialists around then). They would always produce a clever and witty headline. And that is where they all went wrong.

A clever headline looks good to the agency. It looks good in the presentation to you – the client. And it looks good in the newspaper, surrounded by other clever headlines.

Unfortunately, the advertisement would never be good enough to sell many subscriptions. After an initial burst, the advertisements would never be seen again – a clear indication that they hadn’t worked (an effective advertisement can be used until it fails to cover its cost).

So what makes a great off-the-page advertisement:

How to construct a subscriptions advertisement
Here are some rules:

Communication is not what you say in the advertisement. It’s what the reader hears and understands. Your advertisement succeeds therefore only if the reader understands, and is interested in your message.

It follows from this that your proposition must be direct and simple: bold, bald and clear.

The reason for this is that an off-the-page advertisement is fighting against every other inch of copy in that newspaper for the reader’s attention.

But unlike the other stories and ‘awareness ads’ not only must you succeed in attracting the reader’s attention, you then have to get the reader to act – and put his money in the post!

Why you need a unique sales proposition
Selling magazines cheaply gets around the problem of creating effective headlines, which is where your proposition will appear.

Unless you give an immediate and clear reason for subscribing your prospect will turn the page and you’ve lost him.

The first question we should ask is:

“What is unique about this publication and why should the reader subscribe to it?”

If the editor or publisher cannot answer that question he is failing to communicate a key message. Most publications are launched with a unique formula, even when surrounded by similar looking competitors.

That sometimes forgotten formula will become the proposition that attracts your target audience.

Subscriptions marketing: confidential information for sale, with four special reports free of charge

The Subscriptions Strategy newsletter publishes international case studies of ‘best practice’ marketing for the Internet, websites, newsletters, books and magazines etc.

As publishers ourselves, we live or die by results. If a promotion doesn’t work, we lose money. If it works we record the results and use it on our own, and our clients’ websites and publications.

Every issue of the Subscriptions Strategy newsletter carries examples of successful marketing.

How you benefit by removing risk
As far as we are concerned, our testing means the difficult and costly part is over. As far as you are concerned, you can benefit from this tried and tested knowledge because the risk of failure has been removed and profitability is assured.

You will also find Subscriptions Strategy a great resource for training staff in all aspects of subscriptions marketing.

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