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Remnant Space/ Ad Sizes, Graphics and Copy

How to Create a Successful Remnant Space Newspaper Ad

Key Elements

Most ads I’ve created for clients are soft offers: no price is given in the ad for the product, and the reader is directed to a toll free number for information, pricing or to order.

As in most of direct response solicitations I create including newsprint-direct selling offers and direct mail, the phone call is the objective of the ad: to generate a phone call from an interested and qualified party.

Different toll free numbers are assigned to different parameters of the ad placements, and the numbers are all tied to a call center that receives the calls and does the selling, upselling, cross-selling, and the tracking.

Since no price is stated in the ad (soft offer), price testing can be done on the fly from the call center, and adjusted during the campaign according to the price resistance, orders or ROI figures.

The ad objective – at least my objective – is always to generate maximum phone calls.

While price testing in real time when calls come in is a great marketing option, making a better sounding offer in the printed ad helps drive additional callers up front. This fulfills the objective of the ad: generate maximum phone calls from qualified prospects.

“Buy one, get one FREE!” (and it’s lower cost brother, “Buy two, get one FREE!”) is the most effective offer you can make in an ad outside of giving away products for free.

Throwing a safety net to consumers also drives the phone to ring: saying it’s a “RISK-FREE OFFER!” and my personal favorite, “FREE TRIAL OFFER!”

It’s not really a free offer in the sense that the product is shipped free and the consumer tries it. This would inspire a flood of high-cost yet low-value leads of free-sample seekers. In a “FREE trial offer” We sell the product and allow the consumer to try it. They actually purchase it up front with the option to return it for a full refund if they don’t like it.

The next best way to generate MAXIMUM phone calls is to offer something for FREE. I like informational products because an informational booklet is inexpensive to print and light to ship. The number of phone calls it generates depends solely on the booklet title.

By configuring the title of the booklet correctly you can adjust who you want to call (your specific market), generate the maximum number of calls (throwing a wide net), limit calls (tight qualification net), pre-qualify the callers, and reject or eliminate select callers.

If you place a small charge for the booklet your stats go way, way down and the number of callers drops by as much as 90%, but the quality of inquirers can be much higher. You can do this to save wasting time on non-producing leads, or eliminating sending expensive literature to tire kickers (and consultants) who never purchase.

Phone Call Objectives

Once a prospect reaches the call center, the objective is to close the sale quickly and offer the caller a quick upsell… or two.

The average call time at the call center is surprisingly low – with most calls averaging about seven to 10 minutes in duration. If they are longer than that, you should examine your script and where it’s going wrong.

It’s amazing to me that consumers make a buying decision that rapidly – it takes me that long just to pick out which toothbrush I’m buying at the supermarket.

A good campaign can yield a range of numbers of calls: from a low of 45 to a high of 85 calls per thousand dollars spent. While I’ve seen closure rates as high as 25%, this isn’t the way to bet. Closing the sale is a variable of ad (bringing in serious leads), your offer and the salesperson handling the call.

Some products lose money on the initial sale, however re-ups on items such as magazines, and auto ship and continuity sales for some items such as vitamin programs, supplements and nutraceuticals produce profits over the medium to long run.

I believe placing people on auto-ship is the highest art form in the direct marketer’s business, and a lot depends on the call center script – an analysis of which is described at length in other articles I’ve written.

Price Testing Offers

Products in all price ranges over $30 work in newspaper ads, however the lower the price range, the riskier – as media costs can eat up a good portion of the incoming revenues.

Here’s why: Suppose I offer my book, “How To Market A Product for Under $500!” in a newspaper ad. The book costs $5 to print and $5 to ship – so my costs are $10, and the book sells for $30 – leaving $20 up for grabs in marketing costs and profits. If an ad costs me $500, I’d have to sell 25 books to break even – which isn’t a likely figure for the direct sale of a marketing book through a consumer newspaper ad. The ad can generate well over 25 calls, but each call won’t result in a sale no matter how good the telephone representatives are on the phone.

Offers of $50 to $150 are a sweet spot in direct selling newspaper ad campaigns. Auto ship and continuity programs can also be highly successful. Selling vitamins, supplements and OTC nutraceuticals have a high success rate because the product is a consumable. Each month the consumer runs out and places another order. So the profit depends on the quality of your products and how well you serve your customers.

Some customers can last for years, in which case you calculate their value on their lifetime value (LVC – Lifetime Value of Customer).

If consumers are placed on auto-ship both advertisers and newspapers find recurring revenues in long-running ad campaigns.

A rule that is frequently broken: the higher the selling price, the lower number of orders: thats the rule to test.

When price testing, I always advise clients to test a higher $$$ figure as well as a lower figure. Because you never know when it will pay off handsomely. Some products simply sell better when priced higher. Same in direct mail. Price testing is a necessary part of any newspaper or direct mail sales campaign, and that ALWAYS means testing a higher as well as lower price. In direct marketing the consumer always determines the price.


Compliance is a really big issue in direct response newspaper advertising – especially if you’re selling nutraceuticals, supplements, or vitamin programs. It’s even a bigger factor in weight loss products.

Lately, much scrutiny has evolved from the FTC over the implied merchant ability and wording of ads for direct sales of supplements and nutraceuticals.

Unlike direct mail which targets a limited number of selected recipients and can avoid the eyes of the mass public and their accompanying government watchdogs, newspapers are a mass media. Even slightly out of compliance ads can’t be shielded from federal eyes… and federal scrutiny.

You don’t want to mess with the FTC or the FDA. They have deep pockets and don’t care how much money you spend defending yourself from a suit from them – whether real or unjust.

Both wording and claims in newspaper ads must be selected with great care.

Compliance: what you CAN’T say

Here’s the bottom line: unless you’re a big pharmaceutical drug manufacturer, you can’t really say you can cure anything. And you can’t imply it either.

Did I mention you can’t mention the name of a disease because somehow to the FDA that implies you can cure it. So you can’t say Arthritis.

I guess the bottom line is you can’t do anything that may hurt pharmaceutical sales. The drug companies not only have all the money to keep you out of their business, it seems they own a good piece of the government legislation as well. Who said money can’t buy everything?

You also can’t say “eliminates pain,” because you can’t say “pain”. Somehow in the eyes of some governmental agencies the word pain implies disease. So, while your copywriter is thinking, “At last a cure for the pain of Arthritis!” as your headline, your compliance attorney may be thinking “Soothes aching joints and muscles.” Which, by the way, isn’t nearly as effective.

You can’t say, “Stops the Pain of Arthritis” or even “Eases the Pain of Arthritis!” You can say: “New for Arthritis Sufferers!” Just kidding – you can’t say that, either.

Bottom line: no matter what you’re selling, you can’t say, “Stops Pain!” Well, you can say it, but just until you get caught. Compliance. Tough, huh?

You can say, “Aids in Joint Discomfort!” which makes it tough to sell your arthritis products – even to someone who has severe joint pain. In reality, where I virtually think we are, if each ad was in 100% compliance it wouldn’t say anything about anything… and very little would get sold in direct selling newspaper ads.

For the newspaper ads our firm creates for clients we ask the client how much risk he’s willing to accept. If they are loose, we aim for 70% to 80% compliance and hold our breath hoping we stay under the FDA radar for a while.

It may take several years (of increased ad response) till the client gets a letter from the FTC warning them to stop running the ad, their usual first step with an out-of-compliance ad. They’ll then send the client a letter stating the specific wording that is out of compliance. (You can see some of these letters on the web at the FTC site.) It’s also possible to get fined or get a court summons from an ad out of compliance, but less usual.

If our client is scared, we aim for 85% compliance, and if they are really scared, we try to achieve 90% to 95% compliance, which is as close as anyone can get. No nutraceutical or vitamin ad is ever 100% risk free, no matter what anyone tells you. In the litigious society we live in you can get sued for anything.

If it’s a long running campaign for a client with deep pockets, we send the ad to the FTC first and ask for a ruling. Of course, if they say it’s out of compliance, you can’t run it as it stands or you may face the certain consequences as soon as you get caught and they find it’s running in the papers. This, of course, may take months… or years.

When the Fed finds your out-of-compliance ad, it’ll be like a slap in their face – and the FTC is the original 900,000 pound gorilla. As mentioned, they don’t care how much you spend to defend yourself in their suit. They don’t care how much money they spend in their suit.

Ad Layout:

The specifics of ad sizes and graphics:   Remnant space ads are bought in quarter page, half page and full page sizes.

Standard quarter page ads are required to be composed in two sizes, 10-1/2” x 6-7/8” and 10-1/2” x 5-11/16ths inch, the two sizes being necessary to accommodate both the standard and the slightly different tabloid newspaper format.

If ads are run in a large number of papers, additional advertisement sizes are required as these two sizes won’t accommodate all the papers. Since they are sent as PDF files, the newspaper publishers won’t be able to change the creative.

In ads that require different phone numbers to accommodate different offers, various prices, and other logistics: ads are created in the specific page makeup software of the firm that is electronically distributing the ads. Most commonly these programs are Quark Express and InDesign.

This software is used so the phone number can be changed. This way, the advertiser can track the response to the variables in each ad such as prices, or where the ad appeared; and track each specific newspaper placement as far as response. If this tracking isn’t necessary, the ad can be supplied in a universal PDF format.

When the newspapers have an open space, the ad is instantly transmitted to them electronically, imposed into their layout, and goes on press as the paper is printed.

For additional information:  Read our article Magazine Publishers Hate Me, How to Buy Ad Space at a Discount, and further reading: How to Negotiate Maximum Discounts for Advertising Media Space

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Photo Jeffrey Dobkin

Jeffrey Dobkin

Bio —
Jeffrey Dobkin creates highly responsive traditional and direct response print ads for both newspapers and magazines. He is the author of 5 books on direct marketing, and two on humor. Mr. Dobkin is a direct marketing writer whose specialty is creating effective direct response ads, letters; and direct mail. He also helps clients buy ad space in newspapers and magazines at tremendous discounts off list price.  To speak with Mr. Dobkin or for samples of his work call 610/642-1000. Visit him at his favorite website:  Wait… you’re already here.  Might as well buy his books…