How to Plan an Effective Ad from Scratch

blueprintA good looking ad is an awesome thing. An ugly, poorly produced ad makes me sad. But both ads, if the product of poor planning in the beginning, are equally as worthless. And an ugly ad born of solid strategy is infinitely better than a stunning ad built on whim and fancy.

As an advertiser, you want an effective ad. One with results you can track. One your team can get done quickly without a whole lot of back-and-forth, countless revisions and bruised egos. All of that is possible, if you begin the process correctly.

If the starting point of your ad is the product you want to feature, you have already failed. Your ad is not about your product. Outwardly, the ad should be about the customer. Behind-the-curtain, the ad should be about your business objectives. For both, the product or service is simply a means to an end.

So where do you begin?

Start by taking a look at your business goals for the next five years, and pick the one you want to focus on. Break it down into milestones, and pick the one you want to focus on. Then define what success looks like with regard to this objective.

The successful realization of that milestone is your starting point for this ad. You now have a purpose to guide your decisions. With this statement as your rudder, you can no go about planning your ad secure in the knowledge that your judgment of the effectiveness of the as is based on sound strategy, not on some gut instinct about how it looks or feels.

Now, let’s plan an effective ad to meet this objective.

  1. Write down your objective.
    This part should be easy… you just did it.
  2. Who can impact this objective in a meaningful way?
    List as many groups as you can think of: your customers, prospective customers, your employees, the media, your competition, your vendors, your distributors, your sales team… anyone that applies.
  3. For each segment you listed in #2 how can they have the most positive impact on your objective?
    It might be worthwhile to start a spreadsheet for this. Customers, for instance can buy the product. They can talk about it on social channels. They can refer friends. They can give as gifts. They can suggest improvements to you. They can write reviews on Amazon or Yelp.
  4. For each element in #3, what would they need to believe in order to do this?
    They aren’t going to do it to help you. There must be something in it for them. It might be an incentive you give—rewards points, a discount, special recognition—or it could be something intrinsic, like they are truly helping their friends by referring them to you, or they’ll be a part of something they really like if they help you improve the product. It doesn’t have to be a life-altering reason… but there has to be a reason.
  5. What message can you send to convince them that #4 is true?
    If they believe it, they’ll do it. Assuming it is true, prove it. Show them.
  6. What is the best way to deliver this message to as many of the right people as economically as possible?
    It might be an ad. It might be social media. It might be a YouTube video. It might be a radio spot, or an ad before the action movies at the local cinemas. It might be a SuperBowl spot. Each message to each target is different.


What you actually have here is a strategic marketing plan for your objective. Make a list of all of the items where the answer to #6 is a print ad. There is likely to be some cross-over where the messages to multiple groups are similar. In this case, combine them… but be careful—trying to cram more than one message into an ad will kill its effectiveness.

When you’ve picked one to run with, you have the message you need to impart, the target(s) it needs to affect, the measurable action you want them to take, and it all stems from a clearly defined strategy in line with your business goals. THIS is where your creative and design processes should begin, and will ensure your ad will be as effective as possible.