Advertising 101: The Basics of an Ad

November 12, 2020
4 min

You likely see dozens of ads every day, basically everywhere you go: from your social media to your physical mailbox. Ads are a common sight—but how well do you know what makes an ad work? If you’re new to the creation side of advertising, this guide to advertising basics is just what you’ll need. Find out where to get started, explore the nuts and bolts of an ad, and learn how to make the most of your advertising budget.

When Smaller Is Better: Digital Ads vs Print

When given the choice between the two major categories of ads—that is, digital and print—many first-time advertisers opt for print, believing it offers broader coverage. And while it’s true that print ads are a great avenue to earn the attention of many eyeballs, they aren’t always the best first step for a new advertiser to reach the right eyeballs.

It may seem counterintuitive to consider going digital when you first start advertising, but if your goal is to convert leads, going digital can often be a better route to your end goal. Digital ads offer that opportunity in a variety of forms, including emails, banner ads, social posts, education, native content (ie, ads that are designed to look like content from the media outlet itself), and more.  

Digital advertising can take a small budget a long way. With digital ads, you can:

  1. Identify a narrow target audience. When you deliver your message to the right people, you instantly improve your ROI.
  2. Convert leads more easily. Let’s face it: a simple click to register for a webinar is much easier than hunting down a URL seen in a print ad. That convenience translates into more clicks and more leads.

None of this is to say that print advertising isn’t an important part of a marketing mix. It is! But for a first-time advertiser, a smarter starting point is with digital advertising, where the right messaging can be identified and refined over time. These days, it’s best to think about print ads as a support for your digital programs.

The Nuts and Bolts of an Ad

Whether it’s a print ad or digital ad, the key parts stay the same. Here’s what you’ll need to include.

Short, Simple, Grabby Headline

This is your hook! Headlines should be short (but big) and simple. They should instantly grab the reader’s attention and pull them in to your vision. If it’s the first time people are seeing your brand, the headline should be simple and to-the-point.

Pro-tip: Run your headlines by trusted friends to make sure they understand what you are trying to convey and that your headline packs the appropriate punch.

If you’re new to headline writing, Neil Patel has a step-by-step process for writing consistently good headlines.

Focused, Supportive Copy

Don’t let the advertising word fool you! Quite simply, copy is text. In particular, it’s the supportive text that explains why the viewer should engage with your call-to-action (more on that shortly).

Copy should be clear and fit the ad type (eg, banner ad copy may only be 10 words where an email may include 2 short paragraphs).

Great copy is singularly focused on the call-to-action (CTA) and doesn’t introduce too many different ideas, which may cause you to lose your readers.

A Clear Call-to-Action

This is the single action you want your viewer to take. It’s a clear “ask” that visually stands out, typically as a button. A simple website URL is not a CTA. The more specific you can be with your request, the better. And remember: No CTA = no leads.

Common CTAs

  • Download a free resource
  • Register for a webinar
  • Request information or a demo
  • Book a meeting
  • Request a free sample
  • Sign up for an event
  • Opt-in to a newsletter

Notice that all of the CTAs above have two key things in common: They offer value to the viewer and allow you to collect their contact information. This highlights the importance of providing value in exchange for contact information. Before you craft your ad, spend time considering what offer will resonate with your audience.

Visible Logo

Never miss an opportunity to include your logo and build brand awareness.

Contact Information

In print, this means a phone number and web address. For digital ads, landing pages should clearly display the ways to contact the company.

How to Be Smart with Your Ad Dollars

Whether it’s your first advertisement or your fortieth, get the most out of it—and the money you spend—with these 3 ideas.

1. Go Where You Fit In

Traditionally, native advertising was designed to blend in with the native content of newspapers and other printed media. Today, native advertising content can either be an ad in an e-newsletter—seamlessly integrated into the content so that it looks like it belongs—or it can be a sponsored long-format article on a website.

Brand new market entrants have leveraged strategic native content e-newsletter placements with incredible success. And having a strong lead magnet, such as an e-book, free webinar, or other high-value piece of content, can be the key.

Case in Point

A first-time e-newsletter sponsored content advertiser recently leveraged an e-book lead magnet and earned 47 new hyper-targeted leads in a single day. This advertiser reported a cheaper cost per lead through the native e-newsletter than their own paid social media.

Read the Whole Case:


Consider augmenting your lead magnet with retargeted social posts to increase exposure and engagement and remarketing via stand-alone emails for those who have engaged. This is a more strategic use of ad dollars than a mass “spray and pray” marketing approach.

2. Share What You Know

In the veterinary market, education is always a hot commodity. But that doesn’t mean you need to offer a 5-hour CE course. When you’re just getting started, it’s okay to get scrappy!

For example, education could be as simple as a myth-buster series dispelling common myths—and exposing the value of your product. These can be videos, articles, short webinars, blogs… whatever you want!

3. Use What You Have

Have an incredible webinar already recorded? Bring it back out! Remember, you grow tired of your own content long before the market has seen it. Leverage a digital marketing program (eg, an email to a narrowly targeted audience, social retargeting to the audience that engages, and a native e-newsletter placement) to drive attendance to a re-run of an existing webinar.