The following set of instructions has been written as a guide for anyone inexperienced in the production of effective advertisements for free-online-classifieds, such as Gumtree and Student Trade. As such, the instructions are not exhaustive of all possible marketing avenues one could take. However, by combining an understanding of the psychological principles of persuasion and influence, with the strategies employed by marketers, following these steps has consistently proven to be effective in the advertising and marketing of small business services, securing employment, and selling products (new and second hand).

Creating Your Ad

1.    Objective:
Identify your objective(s) for producing the advertisement & write them down as specifically as possible: “secure minimum of 10 new gardening customers by the end of this month (max. of 20 due to time constraints) so I will consistently have at least 2 jobs per week for the next 6 months.” Try to make sure that these are SMART goals.
2.    Target Audience:
Consider the type of people who would be attracted to what you will offer. Are they men, or women? Are they educated? Do they work full-time? What motivates them? Jot down a rough profile of your target audience from these characteristics (it doesn’t need to be perfect, these profiles never are, but do stick to the characteristics you’re most certain your target audience will possess). Example (target audience of budget gardening service ad): time-poor people, have disposable income but are looking for affordable service, inhabit outer metro area with larger gardens, seek prompt task completion with minimal interference in their schedule, require trustworthy and reliable service for ongoing regular work.
3.    Medium:
Choose the medium through which to broadcast your advertisement. Use the profile you have created to decide which medium your target audience is more likely to use, pay attention to, and be persuaded by. There are a plethora of media available; this article will address free online classifieds only. Understand that this particular medium will not reach all possible audiences e.g. older customers who don’t use online classifieds but prefer local newspaper classifieds.
4.    The Content:
Write your ad content following the AIDAS method (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action, and Satisfaction).
(A) Inspect the best competition ads and gain your audience’s attention with a captivating and unique headline and a great picture to boot! (Use interesting language, here are some great words to start you off).
(I) Communicate why your service is relevant to the target audience and how they will benefit greatly from it. This will establish interest.
(D) Persuade your audience to select your offer over the competition’s, thus creating desire. How? Do this by (1) provide strong evidence for the superiority of your service, and (2) employ the principles of psychological influence and persuasion: social proof, scarcity, affinity, in/out groups, respect for authority, reciprocity, cognitive dissonance, and never forget the most important method of persuasion: straight up honesty. People can easily detect your honesty and not only will it attract more clients, it will establish stronger loyalty.
(A) Always include at least one imperative (command) in order to cause your audience to take action immediately. Instruct your audience as to what they now need to do to contact you and don’t forget to include your contact details. Example: “Call us soon because this promotion is limited to the first 5 callers!!!” Now for the hardest part: satisfy your customers with your service or offer. You want them to return to you the next time they need work done. To do this, leave your business card or flyer with them, offer a follow up discount, do the work exactly as they request it to be done (despite what you think is best), and finally…(S) leave them satisfied by doing a good job!
5.    Good luck to you!
Additional Considerations
Do it differently to the competition. If they all offer hourly rates, offer fixed prices (if you detect a customer preference for this). If they all have pictures of the same thing (e.g. a truck, for a removalist service), present the same idea but in an abstract way (e.g. a happy family in a new home). Do what it takes to stand out, in a respectful and inoffensive way. Innovate!
After producing your advertisement, ask someone to inspect it as a hypothetical client might. What would they be looking at first? What catches their attention? What language do they find most appealing or have an aversion to?
Despite all the ideas and methodology in the above instructions, don’t over think your ad (if possible). After completion, leave the ad for 15 minutes or so and go and do something else to take your mind off it. When you return, read it over again and screen it for pragmatism and readability: does it do what you originally intended it for? Are there words people may not understand, like “pragmatism”? Is it absolutely clear what you offer?
Use humour wherever and whenever you think you can get away with it. If your audience laughs while simultaneously having interest in your service, you have already established rapport with them. If they laugh but aren’t interested in your offer, well, you made someone laugh. Building rapport with your ad will make later communication, negotiation, and continuing work with a client smoother and more enjoyable for the both of you.
Get it up! (your advertisement, that is… ) It will never be perfect, so if you have a perfectionist tendency, you must simply make yourself post the ad sooner, rather than later. Do this when all the essential information is included, it has been proof-read and you know it’s at least as good as most of the competition’s ads. Don’t lose sight of the scope of your ad: an ad aimed at selling a $40 table should not take all night. An ad for a new business could not feasibly be produced in less than an hour (unless you’re a genius!). Calibrate the work put in to the benefit you expect to gain from the ad’s success.
AIDA (marketing) Wikipedia Entry
Burton, L., Westen, D., Kowalski, R., 2009, Psychology (Second Ed. Australian and New Zealand), John  Wiley & Sons Australia
Kotler, P. et al., 2010, Marketing (8th Ed.), Pearson Australia
Online Advocate/Australian Higher Education/Community Health/Youth Mental Health. Follow me on Twitter @writerinsight

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