How to Write Effective E-Mail Ads

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So you've found the best e-mail list to advertise your product, service or Web site. But if you don't advertise correctly, a great audience -- and often an expensive audience -- is wasted.


Even without the colors and graphics of the Web, you can create an enticing and successful e-mail ad campaign. Here are some tips to help make a text e-mail ad work:


Layout: Everybody's e-mail is different. Some people use 10-point fonts and others 12-point. Some use AOL's screwy e-mail browser and others use old-fashioned UNIX Pine. And don't forget, many people forward e-mails often resulting in the infamous ">" all over the place, effectively destroying the intended format.


Design to the lowest common denominator. For instance, unless you know recipients can handle HTML (graphics), use text only. Keep lines short and use hard returns (This means hitting the Return key at the end of each line.) That way, you'll ensure that your ad will look pretty good no matter what e-mail the recipient uses.


Sponsorship positioning: In newsletters and other sponsor-supported e-mails, some brand advertisers prefer the top of the page for immediate visibility. For direct marketing using a long e-mail message, many people think a middle position between articles is most effective since the reader already is engaged.


However, if the reader jumps to a specific area, then positioning the ad directly after the compelling content works best. The best of all worlds is dual positioning -- placing one ad at the top of the page and a second more detailed ad after the content. This creates branding and frequency and generates the highest response.


Intrigue works. Hype doesn't: Create mystique and treat your audience like you would like to be treated. Humor works. Integrating the theme of your ad with the content works. As always, using the word FREE with respectable products works. "Make a million dollars in 24 hours" doesn't work unless you are advertising to an oil or drug cartel.


Soft sell. Not hard sell: Hard sells using e-mail often bring poor results unless you are selling airline tickets for $49. What does work -- and works very well -- are soft sells such as "Free Trial Offer," gaining registration information through sweepstakes and getting people to sign up to other free lists. Work with the Web, don't fight it.


Use every method of contact: Just because you are using the Internet doesn't mean people can only respond on the Web. Use every reply method possible to maximize response. In many cases, the telephone still is the best method of contact, particularly if you are selling a complicated service such as Web design where potential customers have individualized needs. Use the Web, e-mail, phone and, in certain cases, even postal mail.


Clickables work: When using e-mail, remember to use MAILTO, such as mailto:erictarg@sprynet.com as this ensures that the address is correct. Always use the full URL http://www.yahoo.com, which in most browsers is underlined. Either option allows people to respond with a click. The more effortless the action, the higher the response.


Call to action: As with any medium, don't forget to tell people what to do. "Click Here," "E-Mail us at" or "Call us for more info" all work well.


Spacing: Don't make the ad too text-heavy. Leave space between lines or between words.


Other tricks: Use borders. Doublespace letters. Center and underline words.


Most importantly, have someone read your ad for content. Ask them if they clearly get the message and are encouraged to act. If not, change the ad.


Eric Targan is president of Joke-Of-The-Day.com (www.joke-of-the-day.com), New York, an e-mail marketing firm.
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