We freelance copywriters are often an analytical bunch. Always trying to tinker with ad copy to see if it can be made better. This includes our own copy as well as the work of others.

For example, David Garfinkel, in his September 4, 2006 blog post at http://world-copywriting-institute.typepad.com/ provides an excellent analysis in the article, "An Expensive Ad that Almost Gets It.”

Before we look at what David says about this ad, let me set the stage: I firmly believe that elements of direct response can be successfully incorporated with so-called “image ads” that are designed to establish a dignified brand.

For example, brokerage firms like Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley do this all the time. You frequently see their ads offering booklets on their market forecasts and white papers on their analysis of the economy. Despite the heavy restrictions placed upon financial services marketing, these ads manage to do three things simultaneously:

  1. convey dignity and a brand image,

  2. present a strong sales message, and

  3. generate leads for their salespeople.

Direct Response vs. “Advertising Art”

Regular readers of my blog may recall my story of a copywriting job I didn’t get. The client was a high profile interior design firm in Florida that catered to a very affluent clientele.

The ad agency that interviewed me had created a beautiful two-page spread depicting a home most of us can only drool over. It truly was an example of advertising art.

The trouble was the copy. It relied only on a single sentence that frankly said nothing at all. This sentence was presumably intended to arouse so much curiosity that people would flock to the client’s store or tie up the entire South Florida telephone system trying to call in. (no website address was mentioned on the ad).

When asked for my input, I suggested that the client create an information piece such as a booklet full of decorating ideas. My thinking was that such a booklet would not only have high, perceived value to the reader. It could also, in the process of offering numerous how-tips, generate additional sales for the client’s design services as well as specific items of furniture and wall decorations.

I then suggested the beautiful ad could feature the booklet as a free offer to anyone who called or stopped in. (Of course, they would have to provide their names and contact information in order to receive the booklet, thereby creating a list of prospective customers for the client).

Alas, the creative types felt my ideas would detract from the beauty of their layout and would smell too much of “salesmanship.” I didn’t get the assignment, the ad ran exactly as I had seen it, and appeared only one time in a very high-profile magazine.

Trying To Sell The Law Firm

Fast forward to the article in David Garfinkel’s blog. The ad shows a picture of Craig Newmark, the founder of the hugely successful craigslist.com. The ad’s headline, PEOPLE WHO MAKE GREAT COMPANY’S WORK, seems to offer insights into how people like Newmark create and grow successful companies.

Presumably, the ad seeks to attract clients to the law firm with an implied promise that the firm will help entrepreneurs become as successful as Craig Newmark.

Disappointingly, the ad offers zero benefits to the reader and breaks the headline’s implied promise. The ad concludes will the thundering dud of a sales message, “Perkins Cole: Legal counsel to great companies like craigslist.”

What if the firm had written a white paper on the legal needs of small, growing companies? What if the white paper fulfilled the promise of the ad’s headline by providing how-to information on how entrepreneurs can grow their companies with help from knowledgeable law firms? And what if this white paper was featured in the ad as available free to any reader who asked for it?

Why White Papers and Image Ads Go Together

White papers convey the dignity such a law firm is trying to project, but they are also valuable sales tools. They promise - and absolutely must deliver - valuable how-to information, or analysis helpful for readers’ decision making. They target certain types of readers who, because of their interest in this topic, identify themselves as potential clients.

Here are a few ideas that should help you create a marketing campaign based on both white papers and image ads:

  • Begin with a clear idea of what decision you want your reader to make. This applies to both the ad and to the white paper. With the ad, you obviously want qualified readers to contact you, provide their address and/or their email address and telephone number. With the white paper, you want them to make a decision to contact you for an appointment. Not having this clear idea will cause major problems later if your work fails to lead the reader to a decision.

  • Don’t forget to talk about benefits. Even with image advertising, benefits are essential. Yet image ads routinely shy away from talking about benefits. Too salesman like, I suppose.

  • Make a promise and fulfill it. The headline of your ad, the ad’s copy, the free offer, the title of the white paper and every single word inside the white paper, should make a promise to either solve a problem for the reader or to help the reader realize a desired change. And after all that is done, deliver on that promise.

  • Generate leads. I have written before on the value of 2-Step advertising, and why it delivers more sales than one-shot ads. Although my article, Freelance Copywriter Secrets: Why 2-Step Ads Make More Sales, is not specifically written about image advertising for professional service providers, you may still find it to be helpful on this subject. One of the primary reasons to use a direct response device is to generate a list of prospective clients, who “opt in” to receive your follow up emails and letters. With a list of such people, your marketing becomes a continual matter of re-contacting interested, qualified prospective clients.

  • Create a series of white papers. Become known as the law firm, design company or professional services organization that has the right stuff. Within a law firm, for example, many lawyers have different specialties, each worthy of a multitude of white papers. Stuck for ideas on what to write about? Just look at what problems clients want to have solved for them. Each problem can result in a new white paper.

Image ads and white papers make the perfect marketing marriage. The more valuable information you give away, the more new business and new profits come back to you.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, freelance commercial writer


Hey Charles;

Great post. I like what you are saying about white papers. I would add that before you talk about benefits it makes sense to first discuss the problems the reader is experiencing. This helps build important trust and affinity.

Also, about making the title a promise. This is something that I first heard from Peter Bowerman and discuss in my chapter on titles in my book on white papers. That promise should be some benefit or result from reading the white paper. You only have a few seconds to grab a reader with a white paper headline, so make it a good one!

Thanks for your great blog!


4:07 PM

sounds like we are on the same page on this one. A lot of people have trouble articulating their benefits, so I have been defining benefits as solutions to an urgent problem or something that brings about a positive change.

About two-thirds of the time I approach it from the problem-solution point of view, which you describe as "pain." Quite simply avoidance or escape from pain is usually a stronger motivator than is a chance for gain.

But, there are times when change is the focus. Sometimes a person is not aware of a problem and it is my job to show how a non-painful situation can be improved.

You are so right about a title that conveys a promise. Check out my article on creating a powerful unique selling proposition, Freelance Copywriter Secrets: 10 Steps to Writing a Powerful USP, if you get a chance.

Thanks for stopping by.
Charles Brown

6:39 PM

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