Anatomy of an Ad

My anatomy of an ad provides you with a formula for creating your own winning ads by building on key concepts for successful advertising. I have taken the various guidelines I have written about in my articles on advertising and brought them together to give you a place holder and starting point for your brainstorming around creative advertising ideas. Creating million dollar ads follows a process which looks at each of the three areas of positioning, ideas and, finally, messaging. By deconstructing each of these areas, you can develop a blueprint to come up with your own winning ads!

Anatomy of Advertising

Bear in mind that this anatomy of an ad is just one way of looking at the components that go into creating a successful ad based on your individual advertising strategy and which of the many advertising techniques that are available to you that you apply. My goal is to provide you with a creative process to follow that will allow you to engineer high impact ads based on the rules that I have set out in other articles as part of your overall advertising marketing plan.

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Anatomy of Advertising

This is the starting point for all sales and marketing success and looks at what product(s) or service(s) you are bringing to the market and who you are targeting through your advertising. Positioning begins with asking some basic questions around who your ideal customer is and therefore how you should communicate with them based on their individual lifestyle and values. Your product or service is differentiated along the lines of these factors and your strategy is to map what you do to what best suits your customer based on their individual needs and values.

• Features

Traditional sales and marketing has been about having the best and most features that you then take to market as your defining competitive advantage. In today’s marketplace, the defining features of your product(s) and service(s) are no doubt important and should be the starting point of your business. However, the way to approach product development is to make everything you do you-centric, which means that everything begins and ends with “you”, your customer! This means that you design and promote your product and service around creating value for your customer.

• Benefits

As noted above, features are only important if they can be translated directly into customer benefits. If something you have or do does not provide value to your customers, then it is not worth talking about (and may not even be worth having in the first place!). The subtle difference between features and benefits is to ask the following question from the perspective of your customer: What’s in it for me (WIIFM)? It is not enough to say that you offer a variety of colours of certain models unless your customer is interested in one of these! It is not enough to say that you offer extra trunk space - or any of a number of amenities! - unless and until this can be tied directly into something of value for your customer: do they have kids or play golf? What are they going to do with the extra space? In order to get your feature to translate into a meaningful customer benefit, these are the kinds of questions you should be asking. The next step is to get your customer to visualize themselves benefiting from your proposed benefit(s).

• Values

In order to create the optimum product(s) and service(s) for your customers, you need to understand who your ideal customer is to begin with and what those values are that motivate what they do (and buy!). I have written in detail about these values and have come up with the following key drivers that figure into all human behaviour: Knowledge, Security, Experience, Value, Freedom, Love, Fun, Beauty, Goodness and Excellence. This comprehensive list covers the whole gamut of human motivators and it is your job to understand which of these relate to your specific customers and how your product(s) and service(s) tie into these. The word value in this list is different from the values and beliefs that drive human behavior. Value is covered below and simply refers to what your customer gains from doing business with you.

• Lifestyle

The driving values of your customers will in turn lead to what kind of lifestyle they lead and aspire to. The feature-driven sales and marketing of the past transformed into a benefit-driven approach which is also called a solution-based approach. Taking this a step further, sales and marketing today is concerned with how your business ties into your customer values and lifestyle and how your brand ties into the life your customer wants to lead. As such, you are not only concered with solving customer pains but asking questions like: How good does my product or service make my customer feel? Is my customer going to be proud representing my brand (and thus accelerate word-of-mouth promotion)? I highly recommend John Sculley's Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple if you want to study lifestyle marketing in more detail.

• Needs

As I have mentioned, traditional sales and marketing focused on the customer pains and problems that your product(s) and service(s) are designed to solve. On top of that, we look at what benefits you are providing customers. Pain and gain are the two sides of the coin of what motivates people to act at a fundamental level: we either act out of fear of pain or desire for gain. What is important to keep in mind in assessing needs nowadays is that these include not only the material needs of the past but the whole array of social, psychological and emotional needs that fill the spectrum of human wants in the big picture. Customer needs are connected to customer values in that every human need maps back to a corresponding value or set of values.


Without a doubt, the heart of advertising lies in coming up with creative advertising ideas that power how your messaging conveys your positioning with the most impact. Coming up with advertising ideas that move your customer to act is what advertising is all about and, like all creative endeavors, involves part art and part science. I believe that there is a process that can be followed to come up with the right kind of ideas in sales and marketing that generate more customers and more business. Part of your success lies in copying successful ideas that are already working for others; there is no shame in doing this and, in fact, every innovation builds on the work of others (which is why Newton said, "If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants"!). The second part of the formula for creating successful advertising is to follow the guidelines of any of a number of creative sales and marketing processes such as Guerilla Marketing, which emphasizes using creativity over budget in order to create successful results; by training your mind to follow a creative process that works, you will automatically tap into and nuture your own creative juices.

Anatomy of Advertising

• Appeal

In advertsing, appeal refers to which of the many advertising techniques that you are going to use in your sales and marketing promotional efforts. There are many musicians who claim that all music has already been written and all music nowadays is simply new arrangements of old music. In a similar sense, there is a treasure trove of existing advertising strategies that you can draw on in order to find the best mix of appeals that suit your product, service, message and market. By drawing on the existing body of ads and methodologies of leadings brands, you can tune into best practises and the mindset you need in order to succeed in your own particular advertising endeavors. The appeals that I have talked about include Fear, Curiosity, Exclusivity and Going Big.

• Emotion

The whole point of advertising is to create an emotional connection with your customers in the shortest time possible. If you think about it, the best art and the best stories all do what you are trying to do with advertising; you are trying to tell your own story in an original and creative way in order to create a lasting impression on your customers. All of this starts with generating an emotional resonance with your customers, which in turn leads back to tying your brand message into key needs, values and your ideal customer's lifestyle. Think about what emotion you are trying to generate in your customers through your advertising: excitement, wonder, delight, fear? It goes without saying that you want your customer to anticipate using your product or service and that your end goal is to make them as happy as possible. How can you deliver all of this through your creative advertising idea?

• Gimmick

The idea of gimmick is closely connected with which of the many advertising appeals that are out there you utilize in your own strategy. I have used the term gimmick as being the second component, along with your appeal, that forms what may be called your advertising technique. This, in turn, is taken along with whatever emotion you are focused on generating through your creative strategy. An example of an advertising appeal is to focus on creating fear in your customers, which generally means the fear of loss if they do not purchase your product. For instance, a life insurance ad may show the scenes of devastation in the aftermath of a nature disaster and ask, "Are you insured?" This scene, then, is the gimmick that you are using that ties your advertising appeal and the emotion you are striving to create together. Advertising gimmicks can be anything from a monster-sized tire on top of an autorepair shop to creative mobile advertising to a localized ad at your local gym pitching personal training that asks, "are you making the most of your membership?" (the gimmick here being the tie-in to your environment!).


Once you have your positioning mapped out and have a creative advertising idea around which you build your advertisement, the next question becomes how best to communicate your message to your customers. As has always been the case in sales and marketing, the words you use are of the paramount importance and the approach I advocate is called you-messaging, which means making sure that your customer communications speak directly to your customer, about them and in their language (hence the focus on using the word "you"!). Bear in mind, however, that communication includes not just written words but spoken, physical and multimedia communication as well. In short, creating winning ads is not just about coming up with snazzy copy and leaving it at that. Rather, strive to creatively use any and all promotional tools and media in order to create integrated, interactive and interesting advertising that uses every opportunity and avenue available in order to create results.

Anatomy of Advertising

• Value

Value is tied into your product and service features and benefits and refer to a customer pain or problem that you solve, or what they gain through doing business with you. A basic question you should ask in sales and marketing is, How am I improving my customer's current situation? I hope this does not seem cliched as it is in fact an extremely important question to ask and the ultimate reason for your being in business. By asking how you are making your customers' lives better, you are answering the fundamental question of what is the value that you are providing them and how your product and service features translate directly into benefits that help your customers. Everything you say in your message needs to be about the value that you are creating for your customers; more than in any other sales and marketing activity, advertising needs to be short, sweet and to the point, and the point is WIIFM (what's in it for your customer!).

• Channels

The advertising formula of message + media sums up the basic formula for what is required to promote your product(s) or service(s). As such, choosing the right mix of media channels is paramount to your advertising success and, as famously stated by Marshall McLuhan, "the media is the message"! What this means is that your choice of media channels says as much about your brand as your actual message. This is especially the case in the age of social media marketing and Internet viral marketing where marketers have ceded control over both their message and the medium itself in an age of instaneous word-of-mouse promotion. In choosing the right mix of channels for your advertisement, you will also be looking at the reach of various channels and balancing a targetted approach versus reaching a more broad audience.

• Timing

After the actual placement of your ad, which involves where your ad is placed and what channels you utilize, timing is a key ingredient in whether or not your advertisement is going to be a success or failure. Timing is the when of sales and marketing and as most business professionals are aware, a message that does not resonate with your customer now may still hit the mark later (hence the importance of long term relationship-building, nurturing and farming approaches such as email marketing!). Timing is of crucial importance because sales and marketing is about delivering the right message to the right person at the right time. Unfortunately, timing is one of those mysterious aspects of sales and marketing that is impossible to quantify and predict in advance. You may have done all your homework in terms of analyzing your customer, designing a product and message focused exclusively around them and then using the right advertising strategy and channels in order to reach them. However, if the timing is not right, your advertisement will miss the mark and it is as simple as that! The only recourse, then, is to persist in getting your message out there; if at first you don't succeed, keep trying, experimenting and repeating until you acheive your desired level of success.

Ask about advertising or create your own page on this topic!

A History of AdvertisingAdvertising StrategyAdvertising Marketing StrategyAdvertising IdeasCreative Advertising IdeasExamples of Advertising TechniquesBadvertising! 1 | 2 | 3Famous Advertising SlogansAdvertising Marketing PlansOnline Advertising TrendsAdvertising Consultant

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