Writing spec ads—in this case, we’re talking about “fake” ads for companies, not the other kind of spec ads—is one of the most common ways for new and aspiring copywriters to build portfolios. And, because they make up so much of your portfolio, it’s important that they be the best that they can be. How to do that? Why, read on!
Today’s question comes from Keller H. who asks, “I’ve been working with a designer on some spec ads for a few weeks now. I like them, but how can I be sure a creative director will too?”
This is a great question for a couple of reasons. First, it’s really easy (especially as a new copywriter) to fall in love with your copy, even when it’s not working as hard as it could be. “This line is so funny!” will never be as important as “This line is so effective!”
Second, it can be difficult to evaluate your own work because you’re so close to it. And, obviously, evaluate it you must; you’ve got to put your very best foot forward so you can prove yourself to creative directors.
So, with these points in mind, I’m going to offer a little help. Here are five questions you should use to evaluate your spec as during and after the creation process:
1. What problem am I trying to solve for the brand with this ad? Have I solved it?
You have to go into creating a spec ad just like you would go into creating a real ad: with a plan. A company would never just say “Hey, make a magazine ad for me!” They’d put together a creative brief, detailing the business situation they’re looking to address with this ad.
You’ve got to do the same thing with your spec ad. Granted, you’re coming up with the business’ problem to solve yourself, but you’ve got to come up with it, nonetheless. This is important because you need to be able to explain your ad to a creative director in relation to the objective you set up for yourself.
For example, you might create an ad based on the premise of “Dodge wants to find a way to gear its Dart car to a middle-aged female market.” Then your ad goes about solving this problem.
If you’ve already created your ad, you may have to make some changes to it based on creating a new problem—don’t try to reverse engineer it by creating an ad and then creating a problem for it to solve.
2. What words describe this brand’s voice? Can the same words be used to describe the voice in my copy?
Remember, you’re creating a fake ad, but it’s probably not for a fake company. And because the company already exists, that means that it also has a preexisting brand voice that you need to make sure your ad matches.
(Long parenthetical: You can create ads for fake companies, but it’s just not as relevant as creating ads for real companies—it doesn’t show how you’d be able to join a team and start working for an already-established company. After all, no one is ever going to hire you to come up with ads for a company that doesn’t, and never will, exist.)
Take a look at some of the company’s current, real ad campaigns. What does their brand sound like? How would you describe their voice? Then, take a look at your ad. Is the brand voice the same? If not, rewrite!
3. Who is the target audience? Have I written in a voice and chosen words that are appropriate for them?
Because you know the brand, the product and the problem you’re looking to solve, you must also know the target audience. Again, in the real world, no one would ever ask you to create an ad without giving you a target audience. Creating a spec ad is about mimicking the process of creating a real ad as much as possible.
So, with that in mind, who is the target of your ad? Does your copy make sense when you keep them in mind? Will it sound right to them? Even the best ad won’t be effective if it doesn’t speak to the target audience in a way they can relate to.
4. Have I clearly conveyed the benefit to the consumer? If applicable, is there any way to make it more emotionally resonant?
You knew this was going to be in here somewhere: Benefits. The benefit to the reader is the most important thing to convey in your ad. After all, if you can’t convey why a product or service will benefit someone, why would they ever buy it?
So take a good, hard look at your ad. Is the benefit there? Is it clear? And is it compelling? Then also, could it be more compelling? Could you get into the deep benefit to make it resonate even a bit more with the reader (and, as such, make them even more likely to purchase?)
The benefit needs to be the number one thing your ad conveys. Never sacrifice the benefit for a clever line, no matter how much you love it.
5. Is there anything I can cut? Anything that isn’t absolutely necessary to conveying the message and the brand?
Following up on that last sentence, you need to make sure that every single work in your ad is working hard for you. Each word needs to have a purpose, to be integral, to conveying your message.
Extra words only get in the way of getting your message across and increase the risk that your target audience won’t bother to read it. Be ruthless as you read through your copy.
If a piece of copy doesn’t communicate a benefit, communicate a crucial and relevant feature or serve to support the brand in some way, it has no business being in your ad. And, even if it does one of these, it still might not be appropriate in your ad. If you’re writing a banner ad, you won’t have room for all of these things. If you’re writing a very direct and promotional email, it’s probably not the place to have a ton of branding.
Practice cutting various pieces of your copy and save the different versions as you do; that way, you can evaluate them against each other to figure out which one is the best—and which one will impress a creative director the most.
Your turn! What criteria have you used to evaluate your own spec pieces? Let us know in the comments below!