How to Write a Killer Car Ad: The Classic AIDA Style Never Goes Out of Style

May 2008, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Tom Herald - Also by this author

The more things change in business, the more they stay the same. The things that worked in advertising 50 years ago continue to work today. Yes, times and technology have changed, but people haven't—at least, not the way we react to effective advertising. An effective ad for a car dealer will have even more impact since there are so few ads out there that are well done. In the sea of auto advertising, a well-done ad will stand out and get noticed.

When writing any type of advertising, there are two critical points you must never forget:

1. Most people don't make a buying decision based on logic. They buy based on their emotions.

2.  People don't want to feel like they're being coerced or pushed into anything. They want to feel like they arrived at a buying decision completely of their own free will. They need the freedom of choice.

Now go back and read point number two again. There’s a very fine line between the customer’s choice and persuasion. However, if you are going to have success in special finance, you must learn the distinction and master the art of vehicle selection and re-selection. You must realize this distinction in your advertising and understand that the attention-getter in a car ad is how a certain car will change a person’s image. A vehicle says a lot about someone’s personality. Even though people need reliable transportation, they want image. Looking good and feeling good are important emotional influences to consider when writing effective sales material in the car business.

Writing an effective car advertisement is really quite simple. In fact, you can learn all of the basics in this article. If you consistently apply these basic fundamentals, you will see your traffic rise and your phone ring more often. 

You must write every single ad using the classic AIDA formula:


Let's break down each letter to provide a better understanding of the formula:

A = Attention
The very first thing your ad must do is grab your prospects attention. The very best way to do that is with an effective headline that answers this question: "What's in it for me?" That's all your prospects really care about.

What makes the title of this article an effective headline? Two things: First of all, I answered the "What's in it for me?" question. Secondly, the headline made you read this article. That is the whole point! You want your prospects to read your ads. For example, if you offer guaranteed financing at your store a good headline would be:  “$100 Credit Guarantee.” 

I = Interest
After you get your prospects’ attention, you want to get them interested in your dealership, your vehicles and your sales program. You do that by immediately telling them what your headline promises. Get to the point! Tell them what they want to know, starting with the very first word, and continue to tell them throughout the ad. If you keep them interested, they'll keep reading and start building a desire to learn more about you. Continuing with our example, the information/interest section would be something like:

“We guarantee financing that will help you re-establish the strong credit you deserve. In order to qualify, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Two Weeks on the Job
  • Take Home at Least $200 per Week
  • Qualifying Proof of Residence
  • Valid Driver’s License”

Be careful to stay away from the perception of a gimmick. These simple parameters let the prospects qualify themselves, which brings credibility to your offer. If you claim that everyone qualifies for a loan regardless of their credit, it will come across as a gimmick and won’t be believable. Too many car dealers over-promise and under-deliver, especially when it comes to special financing.

D = Desire
You have to make your prospects desire more information about your dealership and want your vehicles. The way to do that is with benefits! Now that doesn’t mean you need to list options like PW, PL, Tilt, Cruise, etc. These mean nothing and do not build desire. Instead, use powerful imagery to describe the vehicles. Describe the color with words like “Cobalt Blue Clearcoat Finish” instead of “Dark Blue.” Describe the image of the driver instead of the options: “Perfect for today’s busy family,” for a mini-van, or “Slide into the cockpit of this incredible machine, built for performance,” for a sports car. 

The primary concern of customers who buy pre-owned vehicles is the fear of getting a bad deal. Realize this and do everything you can to build value in your image and reputation to alleviate this fear and increase desire. Remember to keep telling them what your headline promised and push their emotional hot buttons. Let them imagine what they stand to lose if they don't purchase. Use emotional impact words or power words:  new, save, amazing, free, guaranteed, security, no-risk, look younger, feel better, absolutely, just in, enormous, etc!.

A = Action
You want to close your ad with a call to action! All effective ads need to do so. In other words, ask them to do something: “Call today. Visit our Web site. Apply now for your instant approval. Don’t waste another minute! Call our Finance Specialist NOW!"

Follow this formula faithfully and it will not let you down.

The fuel that ignites an effective ad is the message contained in it. This message must get through to your prospects one at a time. These people react to your message once they connect with you and feel compelled to act. So, the real key to your success is connecting with your prospects one-to-one. Take a look at your own buying behavior and you will realize that you buy from people who you connect with, people you trust. You feel good when you buy a product that you could have purchased from hundreds of different individuals, but instead you chose to buy from someone you have gotten to know a little bit.

An effective ad captures a prospect’s attention among the competition and creates a desire for your product that leads that prospect to act and become your new customer. Advertising is an absolute necessity in business. However, don't expect it to do the job of your sales force. Effective advertising will bring prospects to you, but you need trained people to sell and serve these ready-to-buy customers.

One last thought on writing ads is that many of the people who sell advertising know very little about effective advertising. They will offer to create your ads for free, which is usually not a great deal. These are sales reps who make money by selling, not writing. Occasionally, you may find a fantastic writer who also sells ads, but it's not very likely. My advice is to follow these simple guidelines yourself and get your staff involved in the process. Let the creativity flow and dare to be different.

Vol 5, Issue 4


  1. 1. Jennifer [ September 17, 2015 @ 12:17PM ]

    Wow! That was awesome! Exactly what I needed! I write the ads for my husband's growing car lot. The majority of our customers come based on the ads I write. I have always felt they were boring, so I try to put little additions into the ads to make it sound better, but was worried about doing too much. This article really helped me to figure out what I can and should do to make them better! THANK YOU!

  2. 2. Paul Chenard [ July 02, 2016 @ 04:17PM ]

    This is my most recent car ad:

    James Bond's other car - 2007 Chevrolet Aveo LS
    The perfect car for discreet getaways ... no will notice you leaving!
    James Bond would love this car ... the baddies would never see him approaching their secret hideout.
    Less than 84,000 starving-artist-driven kilometers ... that's less than 52,195 miles in the rest of the World!!
    5-speed ... yes, you read it right ... 5-SPEED manual!!!
    It's pavement gray, making it really fun to find in mall parking lots ...
    And it's small enough that you'll never get asked to help someone move!
    It's economical, only drinking cheap shooters at the gas bar!
    It's house-broken, so it doesn't leave any unsightly oil patches ...
    It's been to the Greenwich Concours d'Élégance ... down the street, around the corner, in the alley ... often mistaken for a shopping cart in Greenwich ...
    Winter and summer tires on rims ... and I still have the oh-so-elegant original hubcaps!
    MVI'ed, MOT'ed, M-O-U-S-E'ed till March 2018
    Rust-proofed just before our lovely last winter ... I love that smell on the engine block in the morning ... smells like inhibitor!
    Add your own stripes to make it faster ... it just screams for them!
    It has served me well ... drove UNDER the moose on one trip ...
    Please call on Mondays, Thursdays or Fridays!!

    What do you think?


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