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There comes a time in every ad where the reader must respond or the ad fails. At least, that’s the way my clients look at it: "If no one responds, Dobkin, why the heck did we pay you all this money to create this ad?" Can’t blame them. It’s one thing to look good in an ad, and you can babble-on about “branding” and “CRM,” but if the phone doesn’t ring, it’s a waste. So all my ads are created specifically to generate a response.

The response to an ad can come in the form of a phone call, a written request, magazine lead sheets – where the reader circles the number on a reader service card, or “bingo card,” or the reader comes into the advertiser’s retail establishment. But most likely it’s a phone call.

To create reader movement the ad must overcome the powerful law of reader inertia: a body at rest tends to stay at rest. There must be an overpowering, driving force to compel the reader into action. The easiest way to accomplish this is to offer something FREE.

My favorite way of encouraging reader response is to offer a FREE BOOKLET. Booklets are cheap to produce and can be directed at a specific want or need. OK, so a FREE BOOKLET isn’t the Cartier watch your readers thought they were going to get when they noticed the word FREE in the ad. But the word “FREE” (remember to always set in caps – to make it stand out from the rest of the line to get better readership, “eye candy” I call it) gets the attention of even the stingiest of readers, then the booklet title makes them pick up the phone and gives readers a reason to call. The better the title, the stronger the reason and the drive to call.

Asking readers to call for a free booklet offers what I refer to as a “non-threatening reason to call.” For readers with any fear of the telephone, for people who don’t know what to say when they pick up the phone to call a stranger, for the intimidated who think death is better than getting a salesperson on the phone who may try to sell them something, being able to ask for a free booklet is manna from heaven – and one of the best ways to maximize call-in response. “Oh, I’ll just call them and ask for this FREE booklet!” And here’s the huge benefit for you: response by telephone is the easiest way for advertisers to instantly get additional information about their audience.

When someone calls me and asks for a free booklet, the last thing I do is get his name and address so that I can send him a free booklet. That’s the last thing I do. The first thing I do is ask a few quick, prying and fiendishly penetrating questions so that I can qualify him as a suspect, a prospect, or someone with a phone next to his desk and a few free moments of free time while waiting for his lunch to arrive.

Ask callers probing questions, such as “Oh, were you in the market for one of these?” “When were you thinking of buying one?" and "What color did you like the best?” When people are getting something for free they’re generally more than willing to answer a few questions – they wouldn’t want to jeopardize their free gift by not responding to your brief interview, would they? Since they’re getting something free, they’re usually in a happy and receptive mood…after all, they’re getting something for FREE.

The real value of offering a free booklet is to make your phone ring. And know what? When your phone rings, the ad worked. Period. It’s not the job of the ad to sell anything – the sole job of the ad was to make the phone ring. Yes, it’s all over for the ad – it did all you asked it to, and its objective is now completely fulfilled. When the phone rang, it’s mission was accomplished. The ad can do no more. It’s your turn now.

The ball is back in your court to figure out how to turn the person on the phone into a buyer. Over the years I’ve had many clients who have said “Yes, the phone was ringing off the hook, but the ad was a failure – not one person bought anything.” If the phone was ringing off the hook, the ad worked – the problem was somewhere else in the marketing program. But&ldots; that’s another article.

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This Marketing Contributed Content article was written by Jeff Dobkin on 3/1/2005

Jeff Dobkin is the author of How To Market a Product for Under $500 and Uncommon Marketing Techniques. He is also a speaker, writes response-driven sales letters, engaging web content, persuasive catalog copy; and exceptional direct mail packages. He also is a marketing analyst for direct marketing packages, ads, catalogs, and campaigns. To place an order, or to speak with Mr. Dobkin call 610/642-1000. Visit him online at
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