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Attracting Customers
with Classified Ads
by Joe Gracia

Here's a personal story about the power of a well-written classified ad.

When I was ten years old I heard two of my friends play a guitar duet at a school presentation. They were fabulous, and at that moment I was hooked -- I decided that I wanted to learn to play guitar.

A few days later as I was scanning the classified section of one of my favorite magazines called Boy's Life, a small, three-line ad, grabbed me by the collar and hit my hot button.

That simple ad literally changed the course of my life over the next few years.

I still remember the exact words of the ad all these many years later. Here is the ad:

Send for Ed Sale's 7-day guitar course. $3.95.
123 Anystreet, DEPT. BL0157, Anytown, USA

This ad was talking directly to me. I had a burning desire to learn how to play guitar, so it grabbed my attention immediately.

Now, I don't know if you're like me, but I didn't want to wait years to achieve my goal. I wanted to learn how to play guitar FAST -- and that's exactly what this ad promised; 7 DAYS! That's fast.

Not only did it promise exactly what I wanted, but it 'guaranteed' it -- and for only $3.95. That cinched it for me. I took the action the ad told me to. I sent in my money for the course.

A few days later -- it arrived.

I ripped open the envelope, and finally had the solution to my problem in my hands.

I had purchased an old, beat-up guitar from a friend for $5 a few days earlier, so I was ready.

Did the product fulfill the ad's promise. Yes, it did.

I dove in immediately, and within 7 days, as promised, I was playing guitar.

Not like Chet Atkins, mind you, but the course had taught me enough of the basics to render my attempts at Jingle Bells, Down in the Valley, and others actually recognizable.

I was well on my way -- and I was a satisfied customer.

I should tell you that included in the package were descriptions of additional, advanced guitar courses, and other guitar related products, as well as order forms to purchase them. I was to learn years later, that this is called the 'back-end.'

I had mentioned that this ad literally changed the course of my life -- and it did. That ad, and the course got me hooked and started me on the path to becoming a professional musician.

And it all started with a simple, but effective, classified ad.

Through the years I have seen that same ad dozens of times in as many different publications. I wouldn't be surprised if it is still working today.

The writer of that small classified ad knew how to hit his or her prospects' hot buttons and get them to take action.

Let's analyze the ad, so you can do the same.


This particular ad was targeted to boys who wanted to learn how to play guitar. It was placed in a publication that boys read.

Make sure you have a clear idea of who you are targeting and then choose a publication that reaches those very people.


One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is failing to target in their headline.

They often use the name of their business as their headline. The name of your business may be music to your ears, but it means nothing to your prospects.

If you don't grab your best prospects with your headline, the game is over. Even your best prospects will pass over your ad without a second glance.

This ad did a perfect job of targeting in its headline.

It was designed to grab the attention of prospects who had a desire to play guitar. There was no mistaking who this ad was for.

Who are you targeting? Make sure you let them know in your headline.


Life is all about problem solving. We are all looking for solutions to our problems every day of our lives. Every product or service sold is a solution to a problem.

Effective marketing grabs the attention of people with a particular problem/concern/desire and lets them know that the solution they are looking for is just a step away.

Always keep this in mind when trying to market your business:

'People don't buy products and services, they buy solutions to their problems.'

My problem was that I wanted to learn how to play guitar -- quickly and inexpensively -- and didn't know how I would do that. This ad's headline offered me a clear and simple solution to my problem.

What problem does your product/service solve? If you're not certain, then you need to find out so your marketing can focus on that solution.


Make ONE clear offer to your prospects in your ad. In this case the offer is to sell me a product that will teach me to play guitar in exchange for $3.95.

Too many small business owners make fuzzy offers that are confusing, or make 2-3 different offers in one ad, or make absolutely no offer at all!

What's your offer? Is it absolutely clear?

Ask someone to read your ad and tell you exactly what they will get if they respond to your ad. If people can't tell you what they will get after reading your ad, then you need to rewrite your ad until they can.

It's hard enough to get people to take action as it is, but it's impossible if the person doesn't have a clear idea of what they will get.


We're still in the headline. The writer of this classified ad knew me, and others like me, very well.

He or she knew that, not only did I want to learn how to play guitar, but that I wanted to learn fast!

'Play Guitar in 7 Days' was a promised benefit I couldn't pass up.

One of the most important elements of this benefit is that it is 'specific.'

Specifics attract prospects. Generalities repel prospects.

If the headline had said 'Play Guitar Fast,' it wouldn't be any where near as compelling. How fast is fast? A month, a year, a decade??

There is no question about what is meant by '7 days.'

To compel your prospects to take action, avoid generalities, and use specifics.


This is where some marketers go astray. They grasp the concepts of targeting and using your headline to grab the attention of their best prospects, etc. but then they resort to exaggerated claims that just aren't true.

This ad actually delivered what it promised. In 7 days I was actually playing guitar. The ad made no claims that I would be playing like a pro, only that I would learn to play.

Your ad makes a promise to your prospects. You are asking them to take some action, and then you promise to give them something in return. Make sure you deliver all that you promise.

You've seen the ads that say,

'Make $10,000 a month from your kitchen table!'

'Become a millionaire in 60 days!'

These are not honest statements. And they repel most prospects. Those prospects that do respond, are repelled after the sale when they realize that they have been taken.

Make sure that your product or service is the best that it can be, and then present the benefits in specific terms.

If you want to say that your product/service will solve a specific problem in say, 30 days, then design your product or service so that it can actually do that. If it can't do it, don't say it.


This is closely related to the previous point. If you make a promise, then stand behind it.

The Ed Sale ad said, 'Play Guitar in 7 Days - Guaranteed!'

They made a specific claim, and then went one step further to guarantee it. That guarantee builds confidence that the company is being honest with you. It implies that if they don't deliver what they promised, they will do what is necessary to make it right.

The word 'guaranteed' is a powerful word. Everyone wants a guarantee that they will get what they are promised.

-- Satisfaction Guaranteed
-- Money-back Guarantee
-- You must be delighted or your money back!


If space permits, include additional details about what is included in your offer. This ad went on to tell me that I would receive a 'guitar course,' created by 'Ed Sale.'

Perhaps this ad could have pulled even more responses, if it had included more details, but maybe not. This may be all that is necessary. It was enough for me to respond.


Don't assume that your prospects will know what to do to respond to your ad.

In this case, I was told to send $3.95 to the address provided.

In other cases, I might have been told to call an 800 number to place my order. Or perhaps, go to a specific Web site for more details, etc.

Whatever you do, make it as easy as possible for your prospects to respond. People won't expend a lot of effort to respond. The easier you make it, the more response you'll get.


You'll notice that this ad included a Dept. BL0157 in the address.

This is a simple tracking code so that the marketer can tell exactly which publication generated each response.

The BL stands for Boy's Life -- the name of the publication.

The 0157 stands for the month and year of the issue. January, 1957.

When they received my order, they knew exactly which ad, which magazine, and which issue I responded to.

Without this information, they wouldn't have any way of knowing which of their ads, or publications were profit makers, or which were profit losers.


Before starting to write your ad, it's vital that you know exactly what you expect your ad to do.

You might think at first glance that the purpose of this particular ad was to sell a guitar course for $3.95.

But, if you've been reading our newsletter and the articles on our Web site for any length of time, you should know that trying to sell your product or service in one, quick and easy step is rarely an effective strategy for small business owners.

It is highly unlikely that this ad sold enough guitar courses at $3.95 each to make a profit after paying for the ad, and the costs for producing the guitar books, overhead, etc.

And I'm sure that the marketer who placed this ad, knew that.

Where this company made its money was by selling their back-end products to those who bought the first book at $3.95. They included an entire catalog of additional products with my first order.

And now they had my name and address, and they knew that I was interested in things related to the guitar.

Over the next few years I received dozens of offers in the mail for their products -- and I bought a number of them.

The purpose of this particular ad was to get the names and addresses of people who had a strong interest in playing guitar. The cost of the initial course--$3.95--was low enough so it wouldn't be a big obstacle to response. But it was high enough, to ensure that only serious prospects would respond.

Their goal was not to make a profit with this first, low-price sale. You often don't make money on your first sale. The profit is in the back-end. That's why it's so important to have a back-end of additional products and services to sell.

Make sure you know the purpose of your ad. Are you using it to attract prospects, or to try to make a sale?

Having a well-planned strategy for your marketing is essential to your success. We spell out the most effective strategy for small businesses, in a simple, step-by-step format in our Give to Get Marketing Solution. You can get all the details at:


The chances of making a profit by selling just one product is pretty low. It actually costs five times as much to sell to a new customer as it does to a past customer.

The profit is in the back-end. You've already done all of the hard work in attracting your new customers, they already know, like and trust you. They are the most likely to buy something else from you in the future.

If you don't have your own products or services to sell as a back-end, you can always offer someone else's. Just make sure that they are quality products and services that you can be proud to sell.

Well-planned and well-written classified ads can help you achieve your marketing goals. They can work wonders when used intelligently.

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