There are a lot of reasons why I’ve come to love advertising. I think one of the biggest might be that the majority of its principles are intuitive.

Understand how (most) humans think and feel, and you’ll understand how to sell them things.  And I’m not talking about Dr. Melfi levels of psychological proficiency here – just the basics. Remember, common sense will carry you.

Think about your ad like a friendship you’re trying to cultivate. How would you go about it?

  • Don’t talk about yourself too much. You’re at a party.  Do you …

    a) Power walk up to a large group of people and start running down a laundry list of your entire life’s accomplishments?

    b) Find one person, ask them about their dog/kids/job/whatever, and engage them in conversation?

     I hope for your own sake that you chose option B.  Ads that spend all of their time being braggadocious blowhards about product or service benefits are the worst. As the hypothetical party guests disperse after your self-important tirade, so shall your audience. A better approach? Make it about them or, better yet, him (or her) – singular.  Write to one person and keep his/her needs and motivations in your crosshairs.  It’s not about why your product is better. It’s about how your product can make their lives better.

  • Don’t over-promise. The friend that makes one coffee date a month and keeps it is usually in far better standing than the friend who habitually makes and cancels plans. The ad that over-promises is kissing cousins with late-night infomercials and Tappy Tibbons. It’s better to highlight one really honest and straightforward aspect of your product; otherwise, you run the risk of sounding like a patent medicine salesman. You know how animals can immediately sense fear and unattended food? People are the same way with disingenuous ads. And they have the Internet.
  • Be interesting. Ok, this might be a cheap bullet point, but it’s true. Interesting is better than boring in 99.9 percent of scenarios. The captive audience is dead. How are you going to make someone want to hang out with you? Tell stories. Be clever. Give your readers something interesting in its own right. Give them something that doesn’t immediately scream “Hey y’all, I’m an ad.”
  • Be authentic and honest. Honesty builds trust, which is the essential foundation for any successful relationship. Copywriter Luke Sullivan says to find the central human truth about your product. When you find the right one, it will ring true like a tuning fork. It will make the unknown relatable. It will change something like soap into a radical weapon against insecurity and poor self esteem.   That’s when soap gets interesting.

For the folks that like things distilled into a single word, here it is: empathy. Take the time to truly identify with and understand what others need, feel and love, and you will be rewarded. Better friendships and more effective copy await.