Gil-Ad Schwartz


“Takes the science of writing persuasive advertising that SELLS for any product or service, and makes it simple.”

Scott Murdaugh,
Marketing Strategist
Springfield, MO


“Gil-Ad Schwartz could very easily become the next Gitomer for the Advertising world. His style brings to the forefront common sense that relates direct to profits.”

Kim Kalan,
VP Marketing & Sales
Route 29 Caramels
Golden Valley, Minnesota


“I’ve long said that the best copywriters also make great teachers, with that rare ability to make key points so clear and easy to understand -- they seem obvious... Gil-Ad Schwartz proves that point, presenting deep concepts with a practical, easy-to-grasp approach.”

Alan Carr, Author,
Carr’s Copywriting Checklist for Professional Copywriters

Gil-Ad explains advertising

Why everything you think you know is wrong.

Conventional advertising wisdom looks a little like this:

Everyone knows you must build a brand.

Everyone knows that good ads are creative and funny. If you can be witty and incorporate subtle double meanings into your logo, slogan, or business name, so much the better. Ten points to Ravenclaw.

Everyone knows it’s important that people like your ad. Do your family and friends think your ideas are original and cool? Fantastic. That practically amounts to victory. (When in doubt, it’s never a bad idea to design your advertisement in the style of a movie poster or a Wild West “Wanted” notice.)

That’s the conventional wisdom.

Here’s the reality:

Form vs. function

All our possessions look really good these days, don’t they? Everything is shiny and classy and funky. Your clothes, your car, your fridge, your pen, your bed, your phone. Everything is sleek and chic and ergonomic and yummy.

This is not a criticism. I’m a capitalist, a libertarian, and — above all — a pragmatist. I like free markets, I like lots of choices, and I like to be able to waste my money on whatever I please. I’m certainly not about to go off on some kind of anti-consumerist rant.

Quite the opposite:

Consumerism is great. I love it. Where would I be without consumerism?

And so I only make a judgment-free observation when I point out that aesthetics play a huge role in our decision-making process. Which is not at all a bad thing, because it means that the market responds to demand by developing products which are both functional and pretty. We’ve now reached a stage where only on rare occasions do you have to make a serious compromise between aesthetics and effectiveness.

For example, if you decide to buy a new car, you might consider your various options. You can get an extra-large Hummer, or a VW Golf, or anything in between. Some will be bigger and more impressive. Some will get better mileage per gallon. Some will be more aerodynamic. Some will have higher seating capacities. Some will feature an automatic sunroof and a robotic voice that greets you when you turn on the ignition. But, when it comes to fulfilling the most basic function of a car, they all work. They all have an engine, and four wheels, and will get you from Point A to Point B.

So it’s perfectly OK to make your choice based on auxiliary or aesthetic considerations, because your options are all equally functional. They’re all cars. They all drive. Fulfillment of your basic set of requirements is guaranteed.

Advertising is not like that. Not all ads are equally functional. With advertising, you very often do have to choose between cosmetics and effectiveness. And, as you make that choice, you’d better have your priorities straight.

When you spend money on advertising, you’re the consumer. The ad design is the product. Ask yourself: do you value aesthetics higher than functionality? If so, you’re not truly advertising. You’re actually in the business of producing — and exhibiting — very expensive art.

Which is entirely OK, as long as you don’t kid yourself about what it is you’re doing.

On the other hand, if you spend money on advertising in order to effectively bring in new clients and grow your business, then you cannot remain obsessed with how “good” your advertising looks. Yes, layout and design matter — you want your ad to appear vaguely professional, easy on the eyes, etc. — but these considerations can never be allowed to interfere with the ability of the ad to do its job.

An advertisement is supposed to be a sales pitch. How do you sell a product? Well, for one thing, there’s a certain minimum of stuff that you’ve got to say: what the product is, what it does, why people might want it, etc.

You need to explain all this — and more — if you want to persuade someone to make a purchase. You need to talk them through the reasons why they should spend their money. You need to deal with their concerns. You need to close the sale — even if the “sale” in question is just the act of getting in touch with you.

Selling involves the exchange of money. And, as you probably know, people prove extremely reluctant to part with their money… especially when you don’t give them a compelling reason to do so. Think of your clients. Do you honestly expect them to give you their money on the basis of 10 words of copy and a visually clever logo?

They won’t.

If you disagree, I invite you to prove me wrong by responding to this ad right here:

Salesmanship, not slogans - Gil-Ad Schwartz


Wait, no? Really? But my logo’s an ambigram!

Popularity vs. persuasiveness


You see my “Salesmanship, not slogans” ad in a magazine or newspaper. Your immediate response probably isn’t to rush to the phone. Why not? The ad is creative and also kind of funny. I certainly like it a great deal.

You already know the answer: it’s because the ad doesn’t sell. There’s no offer, no benefits, no credibility, no call to action, etc. What I’ve got up there is little more than an over-glorified business card. I’m not giving you any reason to call.

Now let’s look at things from a very slightly different angle.

The ad above is creative and funny. And notice something else: it is also gorgeous. Not to toot my own trumpet or anything, but, Holy Schtrumples, it is beautiful. The richness of the shades of blue, the elegant layout, the way the fairy lights swirl around and electrify my ambigram logo… I could just hang it up on my wall.

But I would never display it in a magazine for the purpose of generating new leads. Appreciating beauty for its own sake is one thing. Thinking that you can translate that beauty into effectiveness is quite another.

My point is this:

You can’t measure the strength of an ad on the basis of its creativity, wit, or aesthetic appeal. In addition, you cannot rely on what other people think of your ad — in terms of whether or not they “like” it — because they will be measuring whether or not they like it by those very criteria. When your friends and colleagues tell you that they like your ad, they’re not giving you professional feedback. They’re not saying, “If I was in your typical client’s situation, this ad would make me pick up the phone and call you right now.”


What they’re doing is giving you a critique the way a tourist might critique the paintings in an art gallery. They’re saying, “Oh, this is quite funny. Oh, this is pretty. Oh, I haven’t seen that done before, that’s so creative.” It’s a statement of lay opinion that isn’t even in the right currency: they’re telling you how appealing the ad is. You need to know how persuasive the ad is. The feedback you get is in no way a reliable indicator of the number of clients you’ll attract once the ad goes live.

Let me put it like this:

I love Monet. I can admire his work for hours. But I’ve never been gripped by the sudden urge to go buy some water lilies.

It really makes you want to buy life insurance / management consulting / a Japanese bridge, doesn’t it?

No wonder advertising is so frustrating: you do “all the right things” — funny, creative, beautiful, admired by all — and still, for some reason, you’re not getting the results you want.

And… speaking of the results you want:

If you’re trying to “build a brand,” you’re not even going after the right goal in the first place.

Having a brand vs. building a brand

Do I think a strong brand is a valuable asset? I absolutely do. Would I like all my prospective clients to see my ambigram logo and — instantly — be reminded of what products I sell and how reputable I am?

Yes, please.

But am I about to start running ads that primarily serve to build up my brand image? No. Not in a million years. I’d much rather direct my efforts towards the pursuit of other goals, like making the 3-martini lunch socially acceptable again. (NB I’m bringing it back. Watch this space.)

There isn’t any contradiction between these two assertions. While having a strong brand is great if one just happens to fall into your lap, building a brand is very often a waste of time and money. This is especially true when you’ve got no idea what you’re doing.

Story time:

John Pemberton

This is John Pemberton.

In April of 1865, while serving in the Confederate States Army, Pemberton is wounded at the Battle of Columbus, Georgia. He becomes addicted to morphine.

Pemberton is a pharmacist by profession, and he starts searching for something he can use to wean himself off the opiates. He develops a type of vin mariani: a cocktail of alcohol, cocaine, and caffeine.

In 1886, Atlanta and Fulton County enact temperance legislation. Pemberton is forced to develop a non-alcoholic version of his tonic. After some trial and error, he refines a new recipe and — in keeping with a popular trend in the wine tonic world of the 1880s — he gives his creation an alliterative name.

He calls it “Coca-Cola.”

The following year, Asa Griggs Candler acquires the rights to the recipe and the Spencerian script wordmark. Candler is also a pharmacist. But, unlike Pemberton, he’s shrewd, and proves much more aggressive in his promotional strategies. His marketing builds what, in 2011, was considered the world’s most valuable brand.

How does he do it?

Let me tell you how he doesn’t do it:

He doesn’t tell any jokes. He doesn’t produce any works of art. He doesn’t hire models to sing happy and uplifting songs. He doesn’t make metaphoric references to magic or fantasy or being hip and cool and with it. He doesn’t come up with a super-witty slogan rich with deep double meanings.

Instead, in 1895, he offers two gallons of Coca-Cola syrup — enough for 256 servings — to “any retailer or soda fountain man” who agrees to honor 128 of these:

The first coupon in history

You’re looking at a picture of the world’s first coupon. Candler floods Atlanta with them, and runs a string of display ads which explain that each of these cards can be redeemed for a free glass of Coke.

From 1895 until 1915, over 8,000,000 coupons are traded for Coca-Cola samples — an equivalent of one coupon for every two votes cast for Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential election. People love Coca-Cola. The rest is history.

This is how empires are built. Not through entertainment, but through salesmanship. A sample. A demonstration. An offer. Your brand is a side-effect of salesmanship, not a substitute for it.

Once you reach the stage where everyone knows who you are and what you do, then, sure, you can take it down a notch. You can afford to run ads which basically say, “Remember me? I still exist!” And, if that’s all you have to do, why not make it fun with some jokes and songs and physically attractive models, right?

But if you think you can emulate Coca-Cola’s ads and build your brand that way, you’re forgetting two important things:

1. Coca-Cola already has a strong brand. You don’t. People don’t know who you are or what your reputation is. They don’t know what products you sell. They don’t know what’s special about you. They don’t know if they can trust you. Emulate Coca-Cola, and you’re getting 125 years and 8,000,000 customers ahead of yourself.

2. Unlike the Coca-Cola of the 1890s, your product probably doesn’t contain 9mg of cocaine per serving.

>>> Next: The “One Master Ninja Move” — how to instantly fix 90% of what’s wrong with your advertising

“Gil-Ad’s advice is direct and actionable... His insights on salesmanship, customer- (not company-) focused ads and measurable results are refreshingly simple.”

Chris Williams,
MBA (Harvard)


“Concise and credible... takes much of the confusion and clutter out of what good advertising is all about.”

Tim York, CEO
Unistraw Int’l Ltd
Sydney, Australia


“The letter Gil-Ad wrote for us got a 6% response rate and brought in over £23 for every £1 we spent on the mailing. It is -- by far -- the most successful fundraising package in the club’s history.”

Philip Young,
Secretary 2011-13
Oxford University
Pistol Club


“[15-minutes of advice] like a college course in sales copy.”

Will Atkinson
Texas-based online entrepreneur


“You are amazing in your copy, I love the [headline idea], that is light years ahead of what I had and that was just off the top of your head. Wow.”

Edward W. Smith, MBA
New York

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