How To Make Advertising Claims That Comply With FTC Laws!

Any business (and affiliates and marketers) that engages in interstate commerce will be subject to federal laws. Interstate marketing and advertising practices are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) under the FTC Act. Services and goods offered through the Internet are considered to be a “use in commerce” since the services are available to a national or global audience. The FTC regulates Internet advertising, marketing activities and sales to consumers as the watchdog agency. The same consumer protection laws that apply to commercial activities in other media apply to the Internet. Under Section 5 of the FTC Act, illegal advertising practices are categorized as either an unfair method of competition or an unfair or deceptive act or practice.

Any activity that is likely to cause consumer confusion as to source, sponsorship or affiliation of any good or service is essentially an “unfair” act or practice under the FTC Act. However, the real culprit for interstate businesses, affiliates and other Internet marketers is avoiding advertising claims which are unfair or deceptive. There is no hard definition of what practices are considered “unfair” or “deceptive,” under the FTC Act.

But, in the simplest terms, all advertisements:

must be truthful and not misleading;
must have evidence to back up any claims made in the ad; and
cannot be unfair.
Complying with FTC laws really boils down to a single standard that your advertisements or marketing practices will be judged under. This “standard” is known as ‘materially misleading.’ This is basically the crux of website advertising law and the standard by which all Internet claims and representations are measured to determine whether they are deceptive. Either an ad or claim is materially misleading, or it isn’t deceptive. This standard is defined by a series of guidelines, rules and policy statements published by the FTC. The FTC rules and guidelines illustrate what the FTC believes is illegal under the technical language of the FTC Act.

The principle guidelines on advertising are contained in the FTC’s Policy Statement on Deception. Under the FTC’s Statement, an advertisement or marketing practice is deceptive if there is a representation, omission of information or some other practice that is likely to mislead a reasonable consumer and which is likely to influence or otherwise “affect the consumer’s conduct or decision with regard to a product or service,” to that customer’s detriment.

In terms of Internet advertising, an unfair or deceptive act or trade practice is usually made by publishing a false advertisement. The Act specifically states that using a false advertisement in commerce is unlawful and doing so is also categorized as an unfair or deceptive act or practices. The term false advertisement means an advertisement, other than labeling, which is misleading in a material respect. As you can imagine, flat out lies about your products or services, or those that you promote or endorse, are going to be misleading and illegal. Simply stated, you cannot make any false claims. However, a claim can be misleading in many other ways and this is where most Internet businesses land into trouble.

If you don’t understand the nature of what is considered materially misleading, you could very easily violate FTC laws. You MUST understand all the ways a claim may mislead a consumer and you MUST know what is considered a claim or representation in the first place. This is really the key to understanding FTC laws. For instance, a claim can be literally true, but if it is only true in limited circumstances, or if it is subject to more than one interpretation, one of which is not true, or misleading in its overall effect, it is deceptive. I am going to take you through each element of an advertisement from the FTC’s point of view so you can master this understanding. Again, either you can pay an attorney to look at your specific ads, throw them up blind, or take the time to learn the fundamentals yourself.

A. Overall Context Matters

A claim can be suggested by the overall context of an advertisement. This means a representation or claim can be made or suggested by any “statement, word, design, device, sound, or any combination thereof”. In other words, the FTC won’t just look at the words of an advertisement by itself to determine if it is misleading. Other than the words of the ad, the name of the product, the nature of the product, any visual or audio depictions or symbolism can all provide the context to establish a claim. Even the website name or metatags can provide the context for a claim. The overall experience conveyed by viewing the ad in relation to the rest of the website sets the context for a particular claim.

The U.S. District Court, Third Circuit stated the FTC standard regarding context of an ad clearly. “The tendency of the advertising to deceive must be judged by viewing it as a whole, without emphasizing isolated words or phrases apart from their context.” Beneficial Corp. v. FTC (1976). Using illustrative pictures on your website to demonstrate the effectiveness or results of a product is a common example. Without stating some direct, express claim in words, these pictures would be just as effective in suggesting some claim to your visitors.

EXAMPLE: You operate a website called which offers loan modification and “foreclosure rescue” services. The title of your webpage is labeled as “save home” and your home page contains a picture of a “happy and relieved” couple sitting at a kitchen table looking at their laptop which shows on the screen. The website advertisements include a heading titled “Begin the process of saving your home now” and other claims of “if you act now, we can save your home.” Without any qualifying disclosures, the overall context of the website may imply that consumers can expect to save their homes by using

B. Express and Implied Claims

If an ad makes either express or implied claims that are likely to be misleading without certain qualifying information, this information must be disclosed. You must determine which claims might need qualification and what information should be provided in a disclosure. The important thing to understand is the fact you can make an implied claim through your advertisement and that you cannot suggest any claim which you are not permitted to make expressly by law. An express claim is an obvious one. For example “This product will stop bullets from penetrating your body in an advertisement for a bullet proof vest. Similarly, the claim “removes every type of stain from your carpet” is an express claim that the advertised product will remove all stains from your carpet.

An implied claim is one made indirectly or by inference and causes the most problems for Internet advertisers.

EXAMPLE: In an ad about the innovative bullet proof vest, it claims the vest is “used by law enforcement officers and professional body guards.” Since the ad claims law officers and security professionals use the vest, it implies they use it to stop bullets. It may also imply reliability to the average consumer.

EXAMPLE: “2 out of 3 mechanics prefer mighty wrench to any other wrench on the market! Besides having to substantiate that 2 out of 3 mechanics prefer mighty wrench, this claim implies that the tool is adept at working on cars. This is an implied claim even though the ad does not expressly state that “mighty wrench” is suitable for cars.

EXAMPLE: In an advertisement for sprinting shoes, your website claims “Joe Sprinter wore these shoes during his Olympic 100 meter Gold medal run.” This implies that the shoes are made for, even particularly well-suited for, sprinting and running fast. This ad implies a particular quality about the shoe.

EXAMPLE: Your website sells household carpet cleaning products. You use an ad promoting your “wonder-clean” carpet cleaner, stating that it “removes the toughest household stains.” Directly below the ad, there are a series of illustrations depicting a dog standing on a carpet next to an obvious wet spot on the carpet and the product then being applied by a woman. Then, that same woman is depicted with a smile on her face and the wet spot has disappeared. The ad suggests that it removes dog stains from your carpet (maybe even common pet stains in general).

EXAMPLE: An ad claiming “experts agree our product beats our competitors hands down” probably implies that there is actual proof that most if not all experts have made such a proclamation.

C. Leaving Out Important Information

A claim can be misleading if relevant and material information is left out. An advertisement cannot leave out facts which are material in light of any claims made or material in light of how the customer will use the product under the conditions stated in the advertisement (or under ordinary conditions). If a claim is only true in limited circumstances or a benefit only applies sometimes, this must be disclosed.

EXAMPLE: In ad for revolutionary new speakers your sell from your discount stereo web store, your website boasts that the speakers “can achieve a 98% efficiency rating.” But, this rating cannot be done with every type of stereo receiver. In fact, a few different models of speakers can achieve the same rating, but only if they are used in conjunction with certain receivers. These are considered “high-end” receivers and are not common. Since the stereo receiver required is uncommon, this should be disclosed.

D. Material Claims

In order for a claim to be materially misleading, the claim or any information left out must be important or significant to the consumer’s choice to purchase the product or service. If the average consumer would not find the claim to have any significant influence on his or her decision to purchase, the claim is not material. The FTC has stated that examples of material claims include representations about health or safety, a product’s performance, features, price, effectiveness or other central characteristics. But, these are not the only types of claims which are material. Information is also likely to be material if it concerns durability, performance, warranties or quality. Information pertaining to a finding by another agency regarding the product may also be material.

The FTC presumes that express claims are material. As the Supreme Court stated recently, “in the absence of factors that would distort the decision to advertise, we may assume that the willingness of a business to promote its products reflects a belief that consumers are interested in the advertising.” Where the seller knew, or should have known, that an ordinary consumer would need any omitted information to evaluate the product or service, or that the claim was false, materiality will be presumed because the advertiser intended the information or omission to have an effect. Similarly, when evidence exists that a seller intended to make an implied claim, the FTC will infer the claim is material. The FTC might also look at other evidence that the claim or omission is likely to be considered important by consumers, such as testimony or customer surveys.

If a claim is material, it also means that injury is likely to exist because of the representation, omission, or practice. Injury to consumers can take many forms according to the FTC and it exists if consumers would have chosen differently but for the deception. If different choices are likely, the claim is material, and injury is likely as well. The statement on deception states that injury and materiality are different names for the same concept.

E. Substantiating Your Claims

Advertisers must have sufficient evidence to support any claims made, or the claims are deceptive. In order to avoid deception, you must have a “reasonable basis” for any factual or objective claims you make in any advertisement. (FTC vs. Pfizer, Inc. (1972)). This is also referred to as the doctrine of “substantiation.” This reasonable basis must be based on objective, credible and reliable evidence. You can use surveys, statistical evidence (studies) and expert opinions to substantiate any claim you make and otherwise prove a claim is true.

If the advertising claim suggests a level of support, it is obvious that the advertiser must have evidence of that support. For example, if a marketer claims that “three out of four customers prefer our brand”, then the marketer must have reliable survey evidence backing this statement up. If an advertiser claims “clinical studies show,” the FTC requires that clinical studies must show what you claim.Where a claim is not specific, the FTC will look at a number of factors in reviewing substantiating evidence to determine whether there is a reasonable basis for the claim including: 1) The type of claim; 2) The product involved; 3) The consequences of a false claim and the benefits of a truthful claim; 4) The cost of developing substantiation and 5) The level of substantiation experts would believe is reasonable.

EXAMPLE: A website that sells energy drinks and related energy products makes clams that its products give its customers energy lasting “all day” or “gets you through your work day.” Those claims need to be true and need to be backed up by an actual clinical study showing that the drink or other products boost energy levels for the duration specified.

The FTC will look at a number of factors to help determine the appropriate amount and type of substantiation necessary, including:

The Type of Product. Health and safety claims are subject to the most scrutiny by the FTC as they pose the most risks to consumers. Also, alcohol and tobacco are particularly put under the microscope along with dietary and herbal supplements, weight loss products and nutrient claims since these are related to health. These types of claims require competent, credible and reliable scientific evidence. I discuss scientific evidence in much more detail under the discussion of substantiating health claims.

The Type of Claim. Technical claims and claims that consumers would have trouble or cannot possibly evaluate themselves are subject to much more scrutiny. For instance, “reduces your energy costs by 30%” “kills germs on contact” or “environment friendly” are claims consumers cannot easily substantiate on their own. As a matter of policy, when consumers can easily evaluate the product or service this has historically attracted less FTC attention than those claims that consumers would have difficulty evaluating directly, such as “e-cigarettes contain none of the harmful ingredients of tobacco cigarettes.” Also, if a product is inexpensive and it is frequently purchased, the FTC will examine the practice closely before issuing a complaint based on deception. According to the FTC’s view, there is little incentive for sellers to misrepresent in these circumstances since they normally would seek to encourage repeat purchases.
General Results Claims

Stating that your products will deliver certain results may also be misleading. You must be able to substantiate any results you claim. If you make any specific claims of product results, you must also disclose that the product will not deliver the same results to everyone and may not even be effective for some purchasers, unless this is absolutely the case. Of course, if you can substantiate that the product would achieve the results claimed in each circumstance of use for all purchasers, you don’t have to worry.

For instance, a website that instructs businesses on how to establish and build a good business credit rating and makes the following claims on its website: “Instantly obtain multiple credit lines” and “establish a top credit rating fast.” How about a website offering SEO services that claims “our customers usually see double the traffic within 2 months.” These are results based claims. If the average client is not likely to achieve these results, you should disclose these facts. Otherwise, these ads may be misleading and thus deceptive.

If your business is offering a new product, then you can’t make a general results claim if no data on the results exists. As burdensome has this seems, the FTC’s comments on the matter of substantiating claims are pretty clear. I get a ton of questions on this issue. Section 5 of the FTC Act requires advertisers to have substantiation for the messages that consumers reasonably take from their ads, which means they must first know what messages consumers take away from those ads.

F. Reasonable Consumer Standard

The FTC will always evaluate any advertisement from the point of view of the “reasonable consumer.” This basically means looking at how the average reasonable person would interpret or respond to any claims or representations you make. Your business will not be liable for every interpretation or response by a consumer. This is actually a fairly well-stated principle in the context of advertising. Advertisers are not liable for every possible misrepresentation, no matter how outlandish. Misconceptions occurring among the foolish or feeble-minded are not reasonable.

The FTC provides the example that all “Danish pastry” is made in Denmark. The fact that some unreasonable individuals may believe that all Danish pastry is actually made in Denmark is not reasonable and does not cause liability to the advertiser. A claim is not deceptive only because it will be unreasonably misunderstood by an insignificant and unrepresentative segment of people.

When representations or sales practices are targeted to a specific audience, the FTC will look at how a reasonable member of that specific group would interpret the claim. For instance, terminally ill consumers might be particularly susceptible to exaggerated cure claims, children would likely believe claims adults would not, claims toward the elderly may be viewed by differently than the general public, etc. Similarly, “claims directed to a well-educated group, such as a prescription drug advertisement to doctors, would be judged in light of the knowledge and sophistication of that group”(FTC Policy Statement on Deception).

In addition, part of the reasonable consumer standard means that an ad may be capable of more than one reasonable interpretation by a consumer. So, if your ad conveys more than one meaning, or is interpreted differently and that meaning is misleading, you will be liable. This is true even if the main meaning of the ad is not deceptive. The critical question is determining what overall impression consumers would take away from a given ad when looking at the ad as a whole.

G. Subjective Claims, Opinions & Puffing

The FTC generally will not bring advertising complaints based on subjective claims that consumers can judge for themselves (i.e. claims based on taste, feel, appearance or smell), opinions or obvious exaggeration or puffing. For example, if a seasoning salt boasts on its website that the product is “delicious” or an ad claims a particular candle “smells great” these are general subjective claims regarding the taste and smell of the products. Stating a product has a “handsomely finished exterior” or comes complete with an “attractive carrying case” are examples of subjective opinions. Just because not everyone might find the exterior of the product in question handsome or that the carrying case is attractive does not make the ad deceptive.

Since these types of claims don’t pose risks to health or safety even if they were deceptive, they really are not scrutinized by the FTC anyways.

Similarly, a product endorsement that proclaims the product to be “the best product I ever used” is a subjective opinion. The claim is not a statement of fact or some claim about some result, quality or characteristic of the product. In general, if the claim is a subjective one and does not contain an objective component, it is not unlawful.

In contrast, claiming a product is superior based “on all the latest research and data” is not subjective any longer. It’s misleading if the product really is not superior based on the most recent research and data. Claiming a flashlight “outlasts all other major brands” or “more customers prefer our hand lotion to any other” is an objective claim which must be supported with some credible evidence of what is claimed. Opinions are deceptive only “if they are not honestly held, if they misrepresent the qualifications of the holder or the basis of his opinion or if the recipient reasonably interprets them as implied statements of fact”.

Advertisements involving obvious exaggeration or puffing are not unlawful. These are claims that the reasonable consumer would not believe. For example, claiming a child’s wooden sled that is “handcrafted by Santa’s elves” is obvious exaggeration, or claims that a product is “superior” to all others is a general statement and is puffing. Vague statements such as “the breakthrough the Industry has been waiting for” or “this could be the opportunity of a lifetime” are also examples of puffing and are lawful. These statements are really more in the nature of boasting than making an actual factual claim.

EXAMPLE: American Italian Pasta Co. vs. New World Pasta Co. (2004). The court stated that in order for a claim to be false, it must be “a specific and measureable claim capable of being proved false.” The Court in this example found that American Italian Pasta Co.’s use of the phrase “America’s favorite pasta” was not a statement of fact, but was considered subjective and vague puffing. This case provided a very good definition of what is considered puffing: “puffing is exaggerated statements or boasting upon which no reasonable person would rely or vague and highly subjective claims of product superiority.”

This article was written by Philip A. Nicolosi, J.D. Mr. Nicolosi provides legal services through his law firm, Phil Nicolosi Law, P.C., focusing on startup and small business law, Internet & technology law and commercial transactions.

Mr. Nicolosi serves as a trusted advisor to numerous startups and small to medium sized businesses. This includes representation for a wide range of business law matters including business organization, corporate/LLC governance, regulatory law, contracts and transactions and most other matters outside of litigation. Mr. Nicolosi provides guidance with e-commerce, Internet marketing and technology-related legal matters. He also assists startup technology companies with seed financing, venture capital and exit transactions.

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Objectives & Strategy in Advertising

Things to know before embarking

First, we need to consider some considerations… then we’ll get to the objectives.

What is advertising?

Without looking in the dictionary, let’s cook up a definition. Here goes: “There’s this entity — the promoter. He, she, or it wants to communicate a message in order to achieve something. The word advertising covers this whole matter.”

Put everything through the wringer

You may have read, in this guide’s section titled, “History of past campaigns,” that when you’re pursuing sellable facts, you should disregard the small points. Forget that stupidity. Instead, leave no stone unturned. Consider the product from every angle. For example, fill in these blanks:

This product is a ____. Its purpose is to ____. The person who needs it is a ____. The product helps him by ____. It ends an ordeal with ____. The prospects should care because ____.

When you’re marketing a product, every part of it is “the potential Eureka,” because something you didn’t assess might jump out at you.

“Um… about those strict orders you gave me?”

You won’t lead your company to the goals by following every smart person’s advice. You’ll probably find their directives don’t match. Follow them all and you’ll only run around in circles, water down your ad, bark up the wrong tree, or some other metaphor. Rather, let their advices (new word) enhance and modify your judgment.


If you try to take in the whole project in one sitting, it will be too overwhelming and you’ll avoid the assignment. So, take it a piece at a time. When you come up with a solution in one sub-area, it will help you in some of the others.

Getting to the objectives

What are the goals for this ad, anyway? Here are some questions that can help you find the answers.

Questions about you…

* Why are you advertising?
* What kind of results do you want?

Questions about the ad…

* What is this ad trying to do?
* What are the priorities for it?
* What is it trying to say?
* What kind of tree would it be?

Questions about the audience

* What are we asking the audience to believe?
* How do you want the audience to be changed after seeing the ad?
* What is the audience supposed to come away with?

Making notable progress over time

When asked to predict how well your campaign will perform, say this: “I know our organization wants a complete turnaround in a matter of weeks, but this is like an exercise program. We’re going to make notable progress over time. That’s a more realistic goal.”

Don’t have too many goals for an ad

You’ve already been given many objectives for one little ad. Like these:

* “Get lots of responses”
* “Say our product the most convenient”
* “Improve our company image”
* “Introduce a new feature”
* “Respond to a competitor’s bogus claim”

Coworker Cram Jammitz says, “You need to add another objective, and this is critical. We need to emphasize that ours is the most durable. Don’t you think it’s necessary to say this?”

That’s a trick question. The answer is: It’s time to reexamine what this ad is supposed to do, because it’s too full of objectives already. Some points need to go into other places, like the direct mail piece.

Satisfying the criteria

You come up with a superexcellent concept, and you fall in love with it immediately. For example, you write this headline: “Are your records stored in Uranus?” Then you realize it has a fatal shortcoming.

The mistake is to go forward with the flawed ad and hope nobody will notice or care. Most often, the defection will grow, and it will damage the campaign. The idea wasn’t worth all those troubles. Change “Uranus” to “Mars” now — before it becomes something you don’t want.

Face it: You’re selling!

One way or another, you have to sell to people. Enjoy it.

Don’t believe a successful copywriter who says, “I don’t know, I don’t try to sell anything. I lie in my garden and make little sketches of the gooseberries, and the words flow out.”

Correction: He is selling, because he is successful. It’s just that he knows how to slice the “Aw shucks” baloney and make it his self-package.

Watch the most “sincere” politicians and you’ll see the same mechanics in motion. The winners sell almost all the time. The top-top winners act as if they aren’t selling… when of course they are.

You don’t just create ads, you create responses

Here’s some cold water in the face: If you produce ads, you’re an expense. And expenses get cut. If you produce results, you’re a revenue source. And you don’t get cut. Hopefully.


It’s it

Strategy is figuring out what you’re going to do. And as the copywriter, developing the right strategy is the most necessary work you’ll perform.

“Come on!” someone declares. “Choosing which direction to go is more important than creating content?”

Yes, because your copy is an implementation of your strategy. If your strategy is good but your creative is inferior, you’ll probably succeed. However, if your creative is good but your strategy is inferior, you’ll probably fail.

Also, your strategizing never stops, even when you’re deciding how to arrange your final copy blocks. So, wherever you are in the process, understand that you can’t be a la-la copywriter who lets everyone else handle the strategy. You have to think… and think… all the way through.

Building the framework

The framework is at the core of your strategy. It’s a simple structure your whole team should agree to before going forward. It consists of five parts, and it forms the basic basicnesses of your campaign. Here they are:

Product: What you are advertising.
Prospect: The best person to attract.
Problem: The best dilemma you can solve for the prospect.
Competition: What you can’t say because competitors say it.
Appeal: “This product gets past the competition and helps this prospect solve this problem.”

We’ll learn about these parts starting in a few pages, but there’s some other stuff first. Afterwards, you’ll assemble a phenomenal framework.

No planning is wrong…

… and over-planning is wrong. It’s foolish to throw ads out there without putting lots of thought behind them. However, it’s also bad to waste valuable months erecting a giant plan that collapses under its own weight. You need to strike a balance. Immediately.

Out with the old

Some of the smart old methods have to be tossed away. For example, the old way is to put an ad through 15 revisions before putting it out there. Please reconsider doing this, because we’re in the digital communication world. It’s better to get the ad out there in 21 days, generate responses, and keep improving everything. Three points:

This is what your smartest competitors are doing.

Minor improvements probably won’t increase the response.

You can’t say, “I took the normal amount of time to create this ad,” when the feeling is, “We’re in the digital age. You can get a great ad done in a very short time.”

Be zippy

Here is the familiar (slow) game plan for resultful advertising:

The product gains awareness in the market…
… then the prospects begin thinking favorably about it…
… and the prospects respond.

This plan makes sense on paper, but it usually falls apart in the real world. It takes too long to get responses, and the advertiser runs out of money, time, and patience.

Here is the less familiar (speedy) way: Do everything at once. In one ad, tell prospects why they should be aware of the product, why they should use it, and why they should respond now. As a result, many prospects should reply now. A respondent will say afterwards, “I never heard of that product before. I still can’t remember the name. But I contacted them, and they’re sending me a sample.”

The point: You don’t have the funds or time to build awareness first. So, take the big leap and get responses now. The person who buys your product will be aware of you, and — given your circumstances — this is enough.

The vacuum

The vacuum is a place someone puts himself in when he can’t see the realities of the…

* Audience’s needs. “Vac, few people are going to accept this.”
* Competitive situation. “Vac, our product is getting killed out there!”
* Product’s limitations. “Vac, face it: Ours is slower.”

Vac needs to get out in the world and see that he is not the market’s dictator. He is another servant to it.


Introduction to the product

Now we’re getting to the bottom of everything, because that’s where the product is. Most of what you’re going to do depends on the kind of product or service you have. For example, if you’re advertising for a jewelry store, don’t show jewelry thieves.

It’s impossible to know what product you have, so this guide spends little time in this vital area. Instead, let’s overdo it and say, “Wow, it’s necessary for you to know everything about the product.” And, “Boy, it’s invaluable to study the product.”

What is this product supposed to do?

You’re reading about the product. Ask yourself, “What is this product supposed to do?” Don’t settle on easy answers. Get creative.

Let’s say you’re advertising a bucket. “Yes, it holds water,” you think. “And water saves lives.” Now it’s more than a bucket. It’s something that saves lives.

Note: This kind of thinking is a basic fundamental foundation in advertising — and a core to it.

Are you convinced?

Would you buy your product? No copping out with, “Since the product isn’t meant for me, of course I wouldn’t.” You must answer. Would you buy your product?

If yes, why? Use your answer to help construct your ad message.

If no, what is holding you back? This could lead to soul searching about the value of the product.

Hopefully: Your product is developed to the point you can say, “Of course people will choose it, because it’s a lot better.”

Regarding price

We’re going to look at price two ways:

* Investing (details are coming right up): You are convincing the prospects they are getting a strong Return on Investment, so the product doesn’t cost them anything. It saves and earns them money.
* Paying (starts aways down in this text): You’re stating that the product does indeed cost money.


Demonstrate to the audience that they aren’t spending money to get your product. They are receiving a major solution to a major problem, and more solutions to other problems. Therefore, your product is saving them in dozens of ways. They even generate income from it.

Try not to talk about how the audience is parting with dollars, because that isn’t the whole story. Talk about ways your product saves them money. Tell them it can help them make more money. Show them the time and effort they will save translates into dollars for them.

Two side points:

Promoting investment doesn’t fit every situation. For example, it probably won’t sell a cup of coffee.

Often, you do need to talk cost. For example, “It’s 20% less price than our nearest competitor. And it’s an excellent investment.”

However, you should always consider shifting the message to saving/earning, partly because it could help your audience justify the purchase.


Before you advertise, you must reach a three-time Return on Investment (3XROI) with your product. That is, if someone spends $10 to own your product, he gets at least $30 back. To accomplish this, list what your prospects receive in return for their money. Factor in the value from increased productivity, saved time, reduced effort, and improved multi-tasking. Following are some selling points you can give to the prospects:

* Time: You’ll save hours and days. You can invest that time more productively.
* Money earned: The product helps you make more money.
* Future spending: You’ll need to buy less — next week and next year.
* Appearance: This is one sharp product, and looks can make all the difference in your job, relationships, etc.
* Effort: The struggle is over. You’re no longer bogged down.

Once you’ve tallied a 3XROI from the product, go forth and advertise! You’ll have so much eye-opening stuff, you won’t be able to fit it all in.

Tying ROI to product features

ROI alone can’t form a convincing ad, because the prospects need to know what the product does for them. So, tie features and ROI together. For example: “It works instantly, and that saves you valuable time.” Works instantly is the feature, and saves valuable time is the ROI.

Also, ROI won’t turn the trick for some low-cost and negligible purchases. If you sell thumbtacks, don’t try to convince the prospects they will get an ROI from them. However, you should still think about the ROI, because it will lead you to consider new benefits.

Basic objective: Give people lots in return for the money they pay… and lots more than the competition offers.


Fess up

It’s wonderful to talk about investment, but don’t be evasive about price. Your prospects have been advertised to hundreds of thousands of times, and they want to know what the product costs.

Do you put the price into the ad? Here is a cop out answer: Advertisers in your industry segment have probably already made this decision, because — by tradition — they either talk price or they don’t. Think twice before breaking with long-held practices.

“It costs much less… when you see what you’re getting”

If your product costs more, turn the whole matter on its head. Show the audience how your product is the better value. For example: “We give you a five-year guarantee — something the competition is afraid to offer.” There should be good reasons your product is more expensive, and you should tell them.

Don’t push the general product

It’s a waste of time to tell the restaurant owner why he should buy seafood. Why should he buy your brand of seafood?


Goodness gracious — all this effort for one person. (This odd statement will be cleared up later on in the text.)

Going step-by-step to get the prospect

We’re going to talk more about each of the following. Here is the order:



Defining the market

The market is everyone who might buy your product.

You want to know who the market is, and we’ll get to that later on in the text. Right now, we’ll talk about how many people there are in your market.

If a wise source says your total market comprises 100,000 people, the how many question is settled. Now, the question is: What percentage of the 100,000 makes up the active market? This requires a new subsection.

The active market

Most people in the total market (that 100,000) aren’t going to buy your product — at least not this year. So, the active market becomes key. This is everyone who might buy your product now or in the near future.

What percentage of the total market can be considered the active market? That depends on a lot, including the economy, season, and price.

For example, take price. Let’s say you’re selling an expensive product. In our case:

* The total market is 100,000 people.
* The active market is 1% of that total.
* So, there are 1,000 people in the active market.

The point: If you advertise in such a way that you reach all 100,000 people (you won’t be able to — this is an academic discussion), then 1,000 people will have an active interest in responding to your ad.

This doesn’t mean 1,000 people will respond to your ad. It does mean:

* You have to put out a wonderful ad — one that gets many of those 1,000 to reply.
* You want the ad to be so good that plenty of those 99,000 others…
* Wake up
* Instantly turn themselves into active prospects
* Respond to your ad

Getting back to the price issue, if it’s an inexpensive product, the active market might be 5% of the market (not 1%, as we saw with the expensive product).

If all this sounds muddled and inexact, you get the idea. Now, let’s get more confusing and talk about who the market is. The reason: Smart advertising doesn’t speak to the whole market, but one person.

Who is this one person?

The prospect! See, you’re never addressing all the people in your audience. You’re only talking to one person: the prospect. The reason: All that matters is how your message is received, and that is done one person at a time. Case in point: You aren’t reading these words as a multi-headed being, but as an individual. All by yourself.

Side story

Agora Fobia is petrified, because she has never advertised to a million people before. She decides to formalize her style… write stiff copy… make it appropriate for all those people.

Agor should calm herself. If she had read the last section, Ag would know she is only talking to one person: the prospect. The multiplication of that number is inconsequential.

One-on-one communication

Be glad that ad communication is handled one-on-one, because you’re already wonderful at this kind of exchange. Friends always depend on you for help… you’ve given family members smart advice… and less than a month ago, your words improved the spirits of a coworker.

Don’t let a nonexistent thing called The Mass Audience keep you from using your mesmerizing powers of encouragement. In conversation, you can lead a friend to go the right way. Just do it the same way in your advertising.

Semi-relatedly, if the audience is full of VIPs, the informal style could work even better. Two reasons:

It projects confidence. You show you belong there.
It’s more daring. How could you communicate so casually with these powerful readers? You’re doing a high wire act. People innately recognize that, and they enjoy seeing it.

Putting all this another way (one that has been related by many): The prospect is no different from an e-mail companion who has a mess you can solve. You write to your friend in the style you determine, given who that person is — cousin, former manager, childhood friend, etc. You say that you…

* Understand her conundrum
* Have the right solution
* Know a special way to get that solution now (such as a sale)
* Encourage her to try the solution

And that’s about it!


How can you select the one prospect? This requires a shift in thinking.

Since our society emphasizes the individual over the group, it’s easy to believe we’re all different. However, it ain’t so. There are enormous masses of people who are — for an advertiser’s purposes — the same. When you’re in a crowd, look around. Are those other people familiar? They’re you! They have the same basic things you do. And, since things are what advertisers sell, the issue is settled.

Advertisements are rife with irony here. You see ads with these messages: “You’re one of a kind! You go your own way.” Yet they’re selling, what — a million of these products? Advertisers speak to what an individual believes, and then they expand it to the masses.

Universalism leads to consistency

How can you see social consistency firsthand? Perhaps you have something that people always get wrong. They always pronounce your last name wrong. They think you’re the younger one, but you’re actually older. That is social consistency, and you can do wonders with it.

For example, if you send a message to 1,000 people and it delivers a 3% response, you can ramp up. Mail that same piece to 15,000 similar people and get, um, probably not a 3% response. It might be 2% or 1%, because things don’t operate that cleanly. However, it’s unlikely you’ll get a 0.01% response, and that’s key. You can score many successes with this range of consistency.

Overall thinking: If you understand the continuity in people, you’ll enjoy a wonderful career in advertising.

Collective consciousness

This is what a market communally feels. To shed more light on this, let’s make you a car dealer (though that will only be noteworthy near the end). You’re on your lunch break. You go into the quick shop, and you hear two people talking about a major rock concert that’s rolling into town. Then you stop at a fast food place and you hear someone else talking about the same concert. You surmise there is a collective consciousness of this concert. That is, a vigorous percentage of the community is talking about it and thinking about it. There is a buzz.

OK, you car dealer: You’re creating a radio commercial, and it starts running this Thursday. You toss out your traditional script and say this: “Everyone’s talking about the concert event of the year. That’s right. This Saturday, my brother Rich will play his electric guitar in our showroom. And we have free admission.”

In sum, you’re playing off the concert — something that has a collective consciousness. You’re redirecting some of the buzz to you.

Know your prospect’s personality

Study what it is and find your own insightful insights. For example, you might say this: “She’s a fickle person. But that means she’ll also be loyal, because she probably won’t find other solutions that satisfy her. We should invest more to get her as a customer, because she’ll stay with us longer.”

Mind of the market

With market behavior, nothing is simple. The prospect can act irrationally. Nostalgically. Territorially. Loyally. Emotionally. You’ll invest a career trying to understand what the prospect wants, and if you can gain more knowledge each year, you’re ahead.

Physical profile

Many like the idea of naming the prospect and writing up a description. For example: “Our prospect is Rhonda, a 38-year-old accountant who lives in a St. Louis suburb. She worries about her five-year-old collie, because… ” This write-up is effective if coworker Nocon Trol is feeling flighty. It helps prevent him from saying, “Let’s advertise to interplanetary beings. There’s an untapped audience.”

Otherwise, whether you need to write a profile depends on what you’re selling. For example, if men and women use your product equally, it doesn’t help to say the prospect is a man. In most cases, your prospect can be The Prospect, a person who could have this or that title, and might be employed in this or that department.

Only one thing is really necessary: Everyone must share the same problem.

When the prospect isn’t just self

Your prospect might act on behalf of someone else. For example, the man becomes sick. His wife does everything she can to resolve his condition. You might advertise to his wife.


Few will admit it, but the prospect relies on advertising more than any other source for product knowledge. (Now, that’s power.) However, learning what is out there is wearisome for him. He has to sift through piles of BS, and this has made him as jaded as you are. Maybe more.

So, you have a choice: You can either give him more of the same crud he’ll brush off, or give him something innovative and helpful.


Journey to the center of the world

Bert says, “Our prospect knows he’s insignificant. He sees himself as the little guy. Let’s begin from there.”

And Bert can end there, too. Because every person is a center, and the world revolves around him or her. Take you, for example. While you put family, friends, and workplace before yourself, on a minute-by-minute basis your life belongs to you — you’re number one. Advertising catches you in those minutes, and smart advertisers direct their messages to you — the center of the universe.

Question: Does your ad put your prospect first, eighth, or 3,792,453,327th?

Get into the prospect’s life

Contemplate everything related to your prospect. What are her likes and dislikes, and hopes and fears? You’re going to find some things that put you in hot pursuit of a concept.

For example, you think: “Our prospect is the kind of lady who puts a holiday wreath on the front grill of her car. Hmm. What can I do with that?”

2-d to 3-d

Some advertisers have superficial views of their potential customers. They say their customers…

* “Drink beer all day”
* “Only care about their golf games”
* “Are single minded. It’s all music at that age”

All this misses the boat. Rather than putting up cardboard cutouts of people, discover the three-dimensional world inside them. Then you’ll connect with them.

A preachy moment

The advertiser should fade from the process if he would not want to have…

* The prospect as a friend
* Dinner in the prospect’s neighborhood


* The advertiser can’t make genuine appeals to the prospect.
* The prospect deserves advertising from someone who respects her. Advertising con artists need to be identified and banished to remote islands.

How hip is your prospect?

That is going to determine how much lingo, humor and irony you can use.

The powerful have less time

If you sat in an airport all day and watched travelers read publications, how many people would tear out ads, or call a phone number in an ad? Probably zero. It shows how hard your ad has to work.

The more decision-making power the prospect has, the less time she has. She is busy with other matters, so don’t tell her everything you want to. Instead, give your choicest points, relate them to solutions she needs, and make a powerful limited-time offer. That’s it! That’s really it.

Seeing how people see

Without looking like a creep, glance at the way other people read magazines. Comm Uter scans the ads with little concern. If the visual or headline doesn’t get him, he moves on to the next page.

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