26 Nov Copywriting for advertising that gets results

In this article on copywriting for advertising, we look at tried and trusted methods for attracting the reader’s attention. And for persuading them to try, buy or find out more about your product.

You’ll read about:

  • The AIDA principle. A copywriting for advertising checklist
  • Ways to attract the attention of your audience and make them read on
  • How to use advertising copy to build interest and engagement into your advertising
  • Techniques ad professionals use to create desire in advertising copy
  • Calls to action: Techniques for getting readers to respond to your advertising.

AIDA. Making sure your ad does all the right things

Like every industry, advertising is full of acronyms and abbreviations. Partly it’s for convenience. Why spell out ‘Search Engine Results Page,’ ‘Double Page Spread’ and ‘Fast Moving Consumer Goods’ when ‘SERP,’ ‘DPS’ and ‘FMCG’ are so much easier? And partly, it has to be said, it’s because certain ad types think using them makes them sound ‘on-trend.’

But one acronym that’s been around for almost as long as advertising itself is ‘AIDA.’ It stands for ‘Attention, Interest, Desire, Action’ – the four responses any copywriting for advertising must illicit to work. It’s the first thing every copywriting apprentice has drummed into them by advertising industry veterans. And the reason it endures is that no-one has yet found a simpler way of describing how advertising works.

Whether you’re creating a one-off ad in the local paper or a multi-channel campaign, AIDA is the checklist that covers all the bases.

How to attract attention when  you’re copywriting for advertising

The hardest part of any marketing is getting your audience’s attention. As the advertising pioneer Bill Bernbach said, “If no-one notices your advertising, everything else is academic.”

It’s estimated we give a second and a half’s attention to an ad before we decide it’s not for us. So to overcome this problem, ad professionals have developed a whole host of techniques to stop us in our tracks. Many of them were invented in the early years of advertising– the ‘Madmen’ era, if you like. But they remain as effective in the digital age as they were back then. That’s because basic human psychology is the same today as it ever was: Curiosity, fear of missing out and good old ‘what’s in it for me’ pragmatism!

So let’s look at some methods for stopping people turning the page or swiping our social post into oblivion.

Making your audience look

The ad at the top of the page appeared in the building and civil engineering press. We knew these titles were dominated by images of building sites, building products and contractors in hard hats. So to make it stand out, we adopted a vivid colour and illustrative style.

That did two things. First, it set the ad apart from the editorial pages, so people were more likely to stop and look at it. This is what scientists call Visual Salience or The Magpie Effect. And it’s long been regarded as the best explanation of why objects or images catch our eye.

Concert poster showing how visual differences can be used to attract audience attention in advertising

Death Metal band Party Cannon know about using Visual Salience to stand out in a crowded market


But more recent research also suggests we are attracted to images with some sort of meaning. (Or that we can ascribe meaning to; the reason those Rorschach inkblot tests are so compelling.) So the second thing our Tarmac ad did was illustrate two uses for sprayed concrete in an unusual way.

Of course, colour and shape are just two of the many tools advertisers use to get our attention. Plenty of psychologists and ad creatives will tell you nothing engages like a human face. Even more so if it’s looking straight at us. There’s even evidence that if a person is looking elsewhere on the page, we’ll follow their gaze accordingly. Another handy way to direct our attention.


Two heat map images demonstrating how our attention is directed in advertising that show a baby looking directly at us, and then to a bank of text to one side.

We are hard-wired to engage with faces on the page, and even to look in the direction they’re looking


A word about headlines

The above examples, of course, are visual techniques. That’s because the brain processes visual information much quicker than written words on the page. Even so, copywriters have tricks of their own for stopping us in our tracks. Large, bold headlines and simple statements have the power to surprise just as much as visually arresting ads. Especially if they’re controversial or challenging.

One way to do that is to integrate the headline with the visual so the two work together. This is an approach we took for another Tarmac Building Products campaign, this time for one of their road re-surfacing products.

A picture of a magazine showing aan ad that features a motorway sign as a way of explaing the importance of attention grabbing visuals and headlines in copywriting for advertising

Combining words and imagery draws the eye and speeds up understanding


Putting the headline on a motorway sign meant readers could ‘get’ the connection between words and image more quickly. It also set the context for the ad so people knew what they would be reading about.

Another method copywriters use is wordplay. When Knauf asked us to launch a new product, we came up with the Knauf Hybrid Insulation advert below. The idea of heads being stuck together provides a humorous mental image while communicating a strong benefit. Class-leading thermal and acoustic insulation in one slab.

An image showing an advertisement that demonstrates how word play can be an effective tool in copywriting for advertising

Capture readers’ attention and encourage them to read on with humorous wordplay


So copywriters often have to share the credit with art directors when it comes to attracting our attention. But in the second part of the AIDA process – building on our interest – their skills definitely come into their own.

Injecting interest into your ad copy

Now we have our reader’s attention, we have to give them something in return. And we need to do it quickly. Nothing annoys people more than realising their time has been hijacked under false pretences. The old: ‘SEX!!… has nothing to do with this ad’ ploy.

In our ad for Tarmac sprayed concrete, the headline takes a route one approach to converting attention into interest. It describes exactly what’s on offer: A range of sprayed concrete that’s suitable for everything from a skate park to a power station.

The people we were trying to reach were the Civil Engineers and Quantity Surveyors who ordered materials for such projects. We knew the promise of such flexibility from one supplier would be something they would want to know more about. So the copy beneath the headline starts the process of turning that interest into a desire to find out more.

Dialling up the desire with effective advertising copy

For any message to be convincing, it must have truth at its heart. That’s why one of the world’s biggest advertising agency groups practices under the slogan ‘Truth Well Told.’

So to create desire in our reader, we have to be convincing. And to be convincing, we have to present them with our best possible version of the truth.

An important part of that process is to adopt a copywriting tone of voice that’s right for your audience. You can find more advice on doing that in our Copywriting Tone of Voice article, here.

In the case of our Tarmac ad, that truth came in the product features and benefits. A wide range of bespoke sprayed concretes; control and consistency for guaranteed results; and unique ingredients that stop the liquid solution rebounding, so save money by reducing waste.

Simplicity is key here. So much B2B advertising seeks to ‘big itself up’ by referring to ‘innovative solutions’ or ‘holistic, customer-centric service platforms.’ But there’s no substitute for letting simple facts move the reader from a position of interest in the product to one of desire for more information. Some AIDA models even add a letter P at this stage, which stands for ‘Proof.’ This refers to examples of savings, testimonials from satisfied customers, case studies, or 3rd party certifications and awards. Anything to convince, persuade and encourage the reader to put the last piece of the idea jigsaw – action – into place.

The call to action

Every piece of copywriting for advertising should have a clear call to action telling the reader what to do next. Back in pre-digital days, it was limited to phone numbers (free or otherwise), coupon responses or the names and locations of stockists.

Nowadays, readers can use a web address or search to access reams of additional information. Or better still, cut straight to the point of purchase with any number of ways to buy online. But whatever you want your reader to do, make sure it’s clear, simple, visible and consistent.

AIDA isn’t a 100% guaranteed formula for success. But if you’re looking for guidance on how to write an ad for your business, it provides you with a proven formula that will vastly improve your chances of getting the results you want.

This post has been adapted from an article that appeared in our DGR copywriting and content review – DGR Ink where you will also find other copywriting guides including:-


If you’d like one of our copywriting team to cast an eye over a piece of your advertising copy and show you how it can be improved, why not send it to the DGR Copy Clinic?

Or if you have a project on your desk at the moment that you would like to discuss why not give Mark a call on 07720 243 691.