How to write an effective ad on a Post-It note

post-it note ad

In this article we’ll take a look at the old school approach to personal advertising – the Post-It note. lifehack.org and lifehacker.com both wrote about creative uses for these little yellow workhorses this week. Their posts included many practical applications like remembering to return your library books, but overlooked Post-It’s potential to remind you to do things that are even more important. For example, where are the sticky notes that remind us to take steps toward achieving our long-term goals?

Content, content, content

The beauty of the Post-It note is the stark simplicity of the medium. Because producing and deploying your own ads is so simple with this method, it offers the opportunity to focus solely on your marketing message. The centrality of message can be eclipsed in other, sexier, delivery systems, but not here. The zen of the Post-It forces us to look squarely at the question: “What is my message?” And that’s what makes this technique so valuable. Because even when we are enthralled by the delicious glitter of technology, message is all there ever is, really.

When I work with clients in my web development business I have learned to insist on developing all of the content before adding any aesthetic elements. This can be hard, but it forces the clients to get very specific about what, exactly they are trying to communicate. When you just have raw text, without any other elements to dress it up, the message can’t hide. You can tell at a glance whether you have said anything or not.

I’ve learned through hard experience that the moment I add graphical elements like color, photos, fonts or layout to the website, a client becomes very distracted. They begin to focus on tweaking the graphical elements instead of writing the content. And the better I make it look, the more it looks “done” to them – whether there is any substantive content or not. It is only a matter of time before the inevitable question arises: “Can’t we just launch it the way it is? I can send you the rest of the material later.” Unfortunately, once the site is launched that material seldom comes. So now I only show them drafts in clear text until a logic and narrative has emerged that can hold its own whether we add graphic elements or not.

Similarly, the Post-It note forces up to deal with the content in our ads – refining the message until it can deliver a punch all by itself.

Principles for writing effective ads

Following are the four principles I have found to be most important in writing content for personal ads. I’ll demonstrate how to use them to write text-only ads in this article, but it’s also useful to keep them in mind even if your ad is completely visual.

1. State only what you DO want.

Your message must be stated affirmatively. For some reason, the part of your mind we’re interested in influencing does not know how to process negatives. If you include a negative, your mind will just leave it out. Thus, “don’t eat so much” becomes “eat much”. “Don’t worry” becomes “worry”. “Stop drinking coffee” becomes “drink coffee”, etc.

2. State it in present time.

Your ad must be written in present tense, expressing what reality will feel like when the goal is already accomplished. Write as if the thing you want is true, so that every time you see your ad you are practicing visualizing yourself already having it. It doesn’t do much good to rehearse wanting something. That will likely only produce more what you already have – waiting for it to occur sometime in the future. Instead, assume you already have it and write about what that feels like.

3. Frame it in terms of something you really do want.

As I discussed above, showing yourself what you don’t want will not work. “Shoulds” don’t work very well either. It’s important to keep thinking about your objective until you can find an angle on it that turns your “should” into a “want”.

This is why advertisers link their products to things like sex and belonging. It’s pretty hard to make you really WANT soap, so they need to come up with a scenario that taps something deep in your survival template, such as: “If my clothes are cleaner I will be more accepted by other people and that will lead to my marrying well and having attractive, successful children who will take care of me.”

I discussed this idea at some length in my two-part article about Christmas advertising, where I advocated paying attention to which of your buttons advertisers are aiming for. They have spent billions of dollars on testing to find out which ones work, so you don’t need to repeat that research.

4. Keep it brief and simple.

Here is where the Post-It note really shines. There simply isn’t enough room to be complicated. The medium forces you to be brief.

Write your ad

So, armed with these principles let’s try writing a Post-It note ad.

1. Select an objective

First, I need to choose what my ad will be about. I have been going through the reading course recommended by Steve Pavlina. It’s really helping me and I want to encourage myself to keep up my momentum. So I’m going to create an ad that reminds me to keep listening to the tapes and doing the accompanying exercises.

2. State what you want

First I will make an affirmative statement about what I want. Pretty simple in this case. Here is version 1:

Listen to PhotoReading CDs

3. State it in present time

How can I state my objective in present time? I’m trying to get myself to do something in the future, even if it’s the near future. The answer is to write in terms of the result I’m trying to achieve. The outcome I want is reading faster, so I’ll write the ad from the point of view that the outcome of reading faster is already true. Here is version 2:

I read very fast and remember everything that’s important

4. Link to an important benefit

Now I need to add some benefit. Why do I want to read quickly? Well, if I read fast I can learn more stuff. That benefit is probably enough for me, because learning is extremely rewarding to me for its own sake. So I’m going to use the excited happy child theme from my Christmas article: “Tap the kid in yourself. Let yourself get really excited about wanting this thing.” Here is the final version of my ad:

Now that I read fast I get to learn anything I want!

5. Publish the ad

Now that I’ve written my message, all that is left is to produce and deploy the ad. My favorite techniques are to use a Sharpie pen and the bathroom mirror, respectively. This can be done in a matter of seconds, and I will now be exposed to this message several times every day.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted December 11, 2006 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Nice post! I particularly like the steps you used to write your ad. One trick that works well for me in determining what I really want is to keep asking “why,” or more specifically, “why is that important.”

    In the example of listening to photo reading cds (which I still need to buy) I would first ask “why do I want to listen to the photo reading cds?” Answer: to read fast.

    Why do I want to read fast? Answer: So I can read more.

    Why do I want to read more? Answer: So I can learn more.

    Why do I want to learn more? Answer: So I can be successful in my personal and professional lives.

    You get the idea.

    If I thought it would be useful, I could actually keep going and ask why I want to be successful.

    Going through this process often helps me cut through a lot of smoke in terms of my true objectives. Sometimes there are things that I think are important, but if I more deeply consider the objective I realize I really want a higher level benefit. Having that clarity helps me refine my approach to achieve my objective.

  2. Posted February 19, 2007 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    I use a similar “bathroom mirror” method combined with Steve Pavlina’s “30-day” approach. I used a whiteboard/erasable marker and wrote (in big block letters) “FLOSS” across my bathroom mirror since I’m working on flossing daily. I also have a 30-day count down that I update each night. I get the feeling of accomplishment each time I get to update the countdown and know that I have flossed. This mirror approach also works well for especially important “to-do’s” or most important tasks.

  3. Posted April 25, 2007 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Thank You

  4. Posted September 18, 2008 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    If you’re not sure what kind of goal to pick, try reading this article
    The Psychology of Happiness: 13 Steps to a Better Life @ Get Rich Slowly

    “5. Obtain adequate sleep.” can be transformed to…

    Now that I get enough sleep, I feel good all the time!

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