3 quick fixes that will take your ads from “eh” to “awesome!”

PSA: Now is a great time to start sprucing up your ads so you can catch that first wave when things settle.

I get asked to review ads and copy a lot.

No really… here’s a picture a friend took of me on stage, reviewing ads and copy in front of about 1,000 people (feels like a totally different reality right about now):

And after a decade of advertising and writing copy (and probably millions of words written by this point), I’ve noticed some common traps people fall into when promoting their businesses.

So I highly recommend you find (and FIX) these three things… and don’t be surprised if you start seeing more engagement and better results. 

1. You need a clear and compelling headline

You know how you’re walking through some neighborhoods, and one house can look totally inviting while another just looks… off? Maybe even a tiny bit menacing?

For any ad you create, think of the headline like the facade of the house – it’s a quick and easy way to let someone know they’re welcome and they’re in the exact right place. 

This could be your website, your opt in page, a magazine ad… whatever. That headline space is all about your reader/potential customer and should do everything it can to invite them in. It’s not the place for a massive logo, for your company’s name, for your name, for gorgeous stock photos, or for your FACE (with no other context… like, hello RANDOM FACE)… 

If people don’t know you (or don’t know you well), none of those reasons are enough to get them to come into your house, ya know? You’re the same as any stranger off the street and they have no way of knowing if this is gonna turn into a horror movie real quick. 

Think about what they need, what they’re worried about, and what you can help them get done… and start there. 

Here is an awesome example that gets right to the point: 

You don’t have to know Avraham personally to pick up on the context here.

He’s a Jewish financial adviser. He makes that clear with a picture of his face (I know, I know – I said no faces above but I don’t want you to do JUST your face with no other context). His name is up top so you can put a name with this face. And from the headline, you know what he does/who he is/how he helps.

And this isn’t going to be for everyone… but that’s OK. 1) he can’t possibly serve everyone in the world, and 2) there are plenty of other financial advisers in the world to choose from. But for a lot of people who see this, it’s going to resonate and be a near-instant connection. 

2. Match the length to the value of what you’re selling

Unpopular opinion: not everything needs to be a long-form sales letter.

No, I’m not going to read 20 pages of arguments as to why I should download your free PDF. No, five pages of text is not gonna convince me this t-shirt is better than another t-shirt. And I’m certainly not down to read your 10-page mini novella about why I should buy your $20 book.

It may sound like I’m being snarky here – but these are all real-life examples I’ve seen from folks who’ve hired me to do a critique

That’s not to sound mean – there’s a very well-respected school of thought in direct response marketing (meaning marketing that makes sales vs increases brand awareness) that advocates for long-form copy. 

And I think for a lot of things, long-form makes sense… selling subscriptions to publications (hello, they’re readers right?!). Selling status, high-ticket, or rare items. Selling live events – because it’s more than a ticket… it’s travel + hotel + meals + time away from work and family.

These days (at least in much of the U.S.), $20 is an impulse buy. 

I feel incredibly privileged to say that, because I remember a time in my life when that wasn’t the case. But when I had to spend time deciding how to stretch $20, I also didn’t spend time reading sales pages… I had more important things occupying my mind, like making sure I had enough food.

So odds are if someone’s coming across your offer to opt in, or your offer for a book, or your low-ticket e-comm products… they’re already in shopping mode, or looking for solutions. 

They’ve probably got money to spend and just need to know that they’re in the right place. Give them some sexy benefit-driven bullets to describe your offer, along with a strong call to action… don’t drone on forever. Keep it to a page or two, max.

The best part? Short and sweet for something less than $20 is a great way to get ads up and running fast. You can always test something longer later.

3. Clarity trumps cleverness

I see so many people making clever plays on words, puns, jokes about current events, and references to pop culture. It’s such a “thing” that I feel like all advertisers and copywriters go through it. It’s gotta be a phase or a milestone in development or something… I know I went through it too. 

And unfortunately a lot of folks stay stuck in the amateur leagues because they won’t let go of the jokes and wordplay.

I’m not gonna lie… it does get attention, and maybe even a chuckle. Sometimes it can even work (if you’re the very first person to think of it – but if I’ve already seen it 50 times online, I’m just rolling my eyes).

What it does not get is a spot in your memory bank. 

Think back to the last time you saw a meme of a funny sandwich board, or a bar that made a joke about husband babysitting…

Now tell me… can you remember the name of the place? Do you know where they’re located? 

Clever is good for a laugh, but it doesn’t help people remember who you are. 

And then there’s also the chance that what’s funny to you may not make sense to everyone.

I remember I once wrote a magazine ad that had a jokey premise. I took it to Creative Review, congratulating myself for how clever it was. My Copy Chief stared at it for a minute and looked at me… “Angie I don’t get it”. So I explained the joke. He chuckled. There was much merriment in the meeting room.

Then he told me to have new copy on his desk that afternoon.

I didn’t get it. I protested, I argued all the reasons it should absolutely be allowed to run… namely that he got it once I explained it. To me, that was proof enough that there was something there.

He said something that has stuck with me to this day… “yeah, but you can’t follow the delivery truck or be around whenever anyone opens up this magazine to make sure you can explain the joke and give it all the context it needs. If I didn’t understand this, I won’t be the only one to misunderstand this. It needs to be clearer, and leave no room for misinterpretation.

So don’t get lost in the cleverness. To paraphrase Maya Angelou here – people will forget what you do and people will forget what you say. So you’ve got to make them FEEL something if you want them to remember you. The best way to tap into emotions is to be clear, and talk in plain terms that are easy to understand.


That’s what I’ve got. What have you seen in marketing or advertising that you know is hurting results?



If you’re an aspiring freelancer who’s working up the courage to leave the day job… good news! I’m sharing all the things I WISH I’d known before making the leap so that hopefully your journey goes a little more smoothly than mine.

Posted in

Leave a Comment