The 10 Commandments of Powerhouse Travel Ads (Pt 1)

LinkedInThrough many decades of experience, advertisers and advertising agencies have uncovered some basic principles for creating successful strategy, copy and design. Following these suggestions doesn’t necessarily guarantee a winner every time, but it can prevent costly mistakes that destroy the selling power of your ads.

Commandment #1: Match the message to the market

Far too many marketers spend an inordinate amount of time tweaking and word-smithing ad creative, while spending only a fraction of their time on the actual list selection. Creative will only affect about 20% of your response rate. The other 80% will be list and offer. The list therefore is the one area in a campaign where the marketer should spend most of their time.

So, the first step is to make sure your advertising is being seen by the right audience. This may seem like a simple and obvious rule. Yet, many travel companies believe that a great ad will appeal to everyone who likes to travel. They’re wrong.

“Copy cannot create desire for a product,” wrote Eugene Schwartz in his book, Breakthrough Advertising. “It can only focus already existing desires onto a particular product. The copywriter’s task is not to create this mass desire — but to channel it and direct it.”

And that includes travel products. As exciting as your exotic Thailand spa may be, advertising it in a magazine that’s read by people who rarely travel outside the US, or don’t already frequent spas at home, is a waste of time and money.

Commandment #2: Provide an irresistible offer

As you know, an offer is simply what your prospects get when they respond to your ad or mailing — combined with what they have to do to get it. In its simplest form an offer might be “Call us toll-free and save $25”. The discount is what the prospect gets, and the phone call is what she has to do to get it.

“The irresistible offer is an identity-building offer central to a product, service or company where the believable return on investment (ROI) is communicated so clearly and effecticiently that it’s immediately apparent you’d have to be a fool to pass it up,” writes Internet marketing pioneer, Mark Joyner.

This is the biggest difference between direct marketing and general advertising. Direct marketing focuses on driving the largest volume of qualified prospects to an irresistible offer, while general advertising spends its time agonizing over the messaging in the ad and the most creative way to express it. General advertisers are concerned with image and brand. Direct marketers focus on presenting reasons why consumers should buy their products/services right then and there, as well as overcoming any objections the consumer may have. They are concerned with the action they want the consumer to take — and how to get him or her to take it now.

So, which is better for marketing — the brand-driven approach of general advertising, or the irresistible offer-driven approach of direct marketing?

A recent study by the Kern Organization found that when marketing sells the offer instead of the brand, it generates approximately 10 times more orders and sales.

Commandment #3: Write an attention-grabbing headline

Today’s consumer has less time than ever for reading articles, editorials, essays, short-stories, books — and ads. Your prospects will spend only a fraction of a second deciding whether to read your ad or turn their attention elsewhere.

The factor that most affects getting your prospect to stop and read is the headline (after the market match and irresistible offer that is). This one creative component carries 80% of the responsibility for getting your ad read, so it behooves travel marketers to give headline construction the attention it deserves.

In his book, How to Make Your Advertising Make Money, John Caples says, “If you can come up with a good headline, you are almost sure to have a good ad. But even the greatest writer can’t save an ad with a poor headline.”

Headlines can do four things for you: (1) grab attention, (2) target the audience, (3) deliver a complete message, and (4) draw the reader into the body copy.

And there are four elements to a powerhouse headline that will accomplish those goals. It must be: (1) urgent, (2) unique, (3) ultra-specific and (4) useful.

Urgency in headlines convinces people to open the email, click through to the landing page, or a purchase now. While urgency is very important for headlines, if you can’t apply all 4 U’s to your content, urgency is the one to leave out.

Uniqueness is critical because if visitors have seen similar content or benefits elsewhere, they won’t bother with yours.

Usefulness is what compels readers to keep reading. You must offer a benefit, solve a problem, or otherwise provide value for your audience.

Specificity is important because it increases how useful the content is and makes it more compelling.

Stay tuned for our next exciting installment of the 10 Commandments of Powerhouse Travel Ads when we bring you Commandments 4-6: (4) Pump it up with great graphics, (5) Craft a lead that shoots straight for the heart, and (6) Design a layout that sells

Until next time …

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Kammy Thurman is a professional copywriter/marketing consultant with 26 years of marketing and sales experience. For 10 years she was the highest-selling travel consultant in the largest agency in her state. For the last 15 years she has been helping travel publishers and companies of all sizes sell their products and services online and offline through results-driven sales writing and marketing strategy. To learn how Kammy and her team at Anchor Marketing can help you catapult your business to the top of your local industry, get their groundbreaking audio program, Total Dominance, at

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