A Tale of One Client, Three Copywriters, and a Space Ad

Today I’d like to relate a real story from this past summer. It involves a client and three copywriters. And it goes something like this.

In July, I was contacted by a potential client who was planning to run a space ad in USA Today, a nationally distributed newspaper. The product being advertised had done well because of press coverage, and only a couple space ads had been run without tracking results.

In other words, there wasn’t a lot of historical information to go on. The ad would have to be cut from whole cloth.

Creating a space ad for USA Today
was new territory.

To get started, I reviewed the company’s previous ads, but nothing impressed me. The ads were dominated by a photo, and the headlines were weak. I felt the ad needed a complete overhaul.

With that in mind, I got to work. I felt fairly confident in my direction, especially since I had told the client during our phone conversation that I was a direct response copywriter, and that I specialized in writing ads that generate immediate response.

My first version was 841 words. Turns out, it was too much copy based on the size of the ad. The client hadn’t clearly communicated how much space they were buying, and I hadn’t clarified. So I had to cut the word count down.

This wasn’t a problem. Cutting copy is always easier (and faster) than adding copy. It only took me an hour or so.

The second version was much smaller. It had a word count of 521. So I submitted the revised ad for consideration.

I received a response from my primary contact based on the owner’s response: “He did not like the copy. He felt it was way too much information and wanted to change a few things.”

Of course, I was initially discouraged, but called to discuss what changes the client wanted. I never got very far.

That’s because the client had actually hired three copywriters. All of us were writing (or designing) ads at the same time.

The client then simply chose
the one he liked best.

At that point I realized getting my ad published was basically a lost cause. It became clear to me the client was more interested in image-based advertising and visual appeal than conveying a strong sales message.

But then I also began thinking that my client’s method was a curious way to go about selecting an ad.

Normally, if a client hires two or three copywriters to write ads, the client will then pit the two “best” ads against each other to see which one wins. He will create a tracking mechanism to see which ad produces the strongest sales results.

Ultimately, this makes sense. After all, not one of us knows enough people in any given market to average up their desires. We really don’t know what appeal will bring the most returns. That is the purpose of testing in the first place.

But instead of testing, this particular client just picked the ad he personally liked the best. My ad lacked the branding and visual appeal my client wanted, so it quickly got the ax. Such is the life of a copywriter.

So what’s the lesson?

It is simply this: When selecting between two or more ads or sales messages, don’t select one based on your personal opinion, likes and dislikes. Rather, test at least two of them to see which one the market likes best.

Nothing proves the value of an ad more than real sales, made to real people, who’ve given you real money for what you’re selling.

-Ryan M. Healy

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Ryan Healy

Ryan Healy is a freelance copywriter, list manager, and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like WordStream.com, SmallBizClub.com, and MarketingForSuccess.com.

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