Your Print Ads Stink!

Services for Real Estate Pros with The Kosloff Group

Although the power of the web continues to grow, print media will always be a staple of real estate marketing. Unfortunately, not many real estate agents understand how to get the most out of their print ads or track results. Instead, they run the same type of ad that 99% of the other agents in their market are running and pray that the reader notices the ad and takes action.

The two greatest challenges in print media advertising are:

  • Ad Cost
  • Ad Size and Content

Of course, both of these are related - the bigger your ad the more you will pay. And because of that cost/size constraint, agents tend to make two major mistakes. The first major mistake is trying to cram too much into any given ad. In fact action has led to the birth of a new language - Realtorese. You know exactly what I mean - all of those hard to decipher abbreviations that agents use in their ads and listings. Heck, it was probably the kid of some agent that saw this and developed the text messaging lingo and acronymns. This leads us to rule #1:

  • Keep your ads clean and make use of whitespace to draw attention to your ad

The second major mistake that most agents make is that they design ads that focus on themselves instead of the buyer or seller. I call it the Toby Keith Syndrome (from his song "I Wanna Talk About Me"). My guess is that with so many other agents buying ads in the same publications, these types of ads are the equivalent of shouting out "Look at me! Look at me!" Unfortunately, that's not a great way to get the attention of the reader.

Take a look at a typical real estate print media ad:

Typical Real Estate Ad

By the way, do you see that line "A great address like yours..."? That is from an actual ad in my local market. Unbelievable! Talk about egocentric agents! Here are some of the other problems with this ad:

  • White text on a black background. Occasionally I have seen print ads with this text/background work well. But more often than not they are hard to read and do not grab the eye of the reader.
  • The featured homes do not state where they are located. The first thing any potential buyer wants to know is where a property is located.
  • All of those silly real estate phrases like "Must See!" and "Won't Last!" In fact, some studies have shown that using phrases like this can actually lengthen the time a home is on the market. Here's one article on that topic.
  • The ad copy is all about the agent. Effective advertising targets a specific buyer demographic and invites them to a call to action. There is no call to action in this ad.
  • The web address is buried at the bottom of the ad in small print.

While all of these items are critical, I especially want to focus on the last one. At the beginning of this article I talked about the high cost and limited space in print advertising. But your web site is a different story. Unless you have a lame hosting company, you have almost unlimited server space for text, photos, and movies. So don't you thinks its time you started using all of that server space to your advantage?

Now take a look at this ad:

A Better Print Ad

Let's take a look at some of the positive things accomplished with this print ad:

  • It leads with the web site address AND provides a call to action letting the reader know they can search thousands of homes (i.e. the MLS listings). I'll talk about the /homes a bit later.
  • The ad uses whitespace and color effectively to grab the attention of the reader.
  • The ad copy targets a specific buyer type. In this case that type is an experienced, upscale buyer. It uses a catchy paragraph to draw them into the rest of the copy. That "What's YOUR dream?" tag is something one of my clients and I brainstormed a few years ago based upon her target demographic. Truthfully, that following paragraph is not something I would use or suggest. I just wanted to give readers of this article an idea of brief ad copy that targets a buyer.
  • The featured homes not only list a location, but they also highlight features that would be of interest to particular buyers (i.e. private dock for boat owners and golf view for those that enjoy living in a golf community). Listing bedrooms and baths is optional. The goal is to highlight one major feature that appeals to a specific buyer type.

OK, so why did I show the web address and then the /homes at the end of the domain URL? The answer is easy - it's for tracking purposes and can also be used in marketing to a specific buyer demographic. For example, let's say I run print ads in the local newspaper and in a high end real estate magazine. I would then create two directories to track the ads. Let's say one is /homes for the newspaper ads and the other is /estates for the magazine ad.

Now let's say that my target demographic for my newspaper ads matches the ad copy on my web site. I would probably create an index.php page in my /homes directory that uses a redirect script to send people to my home page (for SEO purposes I would also utilize "noindex.nofollow" tags or edit my htaccess file). But by using this directory I can go look at my web site stats and see how many people entered that URL to go to my web site. If I just listed my domain without the directory I would have no way of knowing if my print ad was effective in generating visits to the web site.

Now for that magazine ad, let's say I'm targeting upscale clientel, but the ad copy on the home page of my site does not target that buyer demographic. In this case, instead of using a redirect in the /estates sub directory I would create a new page with ad copy that appeals to that buyer demographic and then link that page to my funnel areas of the site (funnel areas lead visitors to action points on the site).

There's actually a lot more involved in putting together a truly effective print ad, but this information should put you on the right track. Again, here are the key things to remember:

  • You can put a lot more information on your web site than you can in a print ad. Lead your ad with your web site. Be sure to let the readers of your ad know what "bonus" info they can find on your site. Use ad tracking wherever possible.
  • Focus you ad on your ideal buyer demographic. Appealing directly to their needs and emotions will get them to take action and visit your web site. THAT is where you begin the conversion process.
  • Keep your ads clean and free of clutter.
  • If you present listings on your print ad be sure to include the location of the property and one key item that appeals to a specific buyer. Targeting a specific buyer is the key to conversions!
  • Every ad serves a specific purpose and targets a specific buyer/seller demographic. Anything else is stroking your own ego and wasting money.

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Gayle Balaban
The Best Spot Realty/Waterfront Real Estate/Ooltewah Real E - Chattanooga, TN
E. TN Waterfront Real Estate
I have just about given up using print ads.  I get a lot bigger response from the net and small line ads have been the only thing tht I have found consistently productive in print advertising.
Jan 28, 2008 12:12 AM #1
Christina Williams. REALTORĀ® TN property search & local insights
First Realty Company - Crossville, TN
Shawn, Very good subject to post about. I've used so many different kinds of print ads. Thanks for your advice!
Jan 28, 2008 12:17 AM #2
Mary Blanchard, Broker, CRS, E-PRO, ABR, ASP
Mary Blanchard, Broker - Cary, IL

Shawn, thank you for the post -- very helpful.  Your ad could transfer to postcards and any other type of mailing as well and I intend to alter one of mine going out today based on your helpful suggestions.  What do you think of production -- stating last 12 months production?  It could seem to suggest "look at me" but do you think it is helpful in that sellers want results? 


Jan 28, 2008 12:27 AM #3
Dean Moss
Dean's Team - Keller Williams Realty Partners Chicago IL - Chicago, IL
Dean's Team Chicago IL Real Estate Team

Shawn -

You've got it!

Key thing to remember - it's not about YOU - it's about WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR THEM.  Remember, as well, you're selling their MOTIVATION - not simply their house.

Great examples as well.

Call anytime you're up here in Chicago!


Jan 28, 2008 12:27 AM #4
Shawn Kosloff

Hi Mary!

Thanks for taking the time to read my post. As far as your question goes, there is nothing wrong with promoting yourself or your accomplishments as long as you don't make those things the dominant theme of your ad copy. I should have stated that more clearly in my blog post.

Think of the typical TV commercial. The most successful ones first appeal to a specific demographic, show how life can be better, and then tout their product and its benefits. Heck, sometimes you don't know the company/product until the very end of the commercial.

Postcards, print ads, flyers, you name it - they can all achieve success with this technique.

Thanks again for reading!

Jan 28, 2008 12:43 AM #5
Jim Marks-Virtual Results

While I appreciate your message, and understand your idea...  Do you truly feel that the best use of EXPENSIVE print marketing is to drive prospects (that you are already reaching) to another form of advertising?  Shouldnt your print Marketing and e-marketing be separate and INCREMENTAL sources of revenue?  How about creating a compelling print ad that motivates the prospect to put down the paper and call now....

My $02

Feb 07, 2008 02:02 PM #6
Shawn Kosloff
The Kosloff Group - Hilton Head Island, SC

Thanks for the comment, Jim. What I was trying to get across is that 99% of the agents out there use the same ad technique - try to fit as many listings and self promotion text into the cramped space of an expensive print ad.

Yes, you can try to come up with an ad that prompts the user to take action and call now. But in my opinion I don't see that happening very often, especially with the public perception and mistrust of real estate agents in general (see my first blog post). By using the call to action to draw people to your web site, it allows you to build the bonds of trust between you and the prospective buyer client by providing them the type of information that they want while at the same time positioning yourself as THE authoritative source in your market. Again, this is done by focusing the ad copy on the buyer's wants and needs and not the accomplishments of the agent. Think of it as sweet talking the reader :)

Your print marketing shouls ALWAYS incorporate your web site. Again, your web site can provide much more information than any print ad. Look at it this way - if your ad is set up correctly you can most likely reduce print media costs by running quarter page ads (or smaller newspaper ads) instead of half or full page ads. Or you can take that "savings" and invest it in more frequent advertising.

If you think about it, even with a great print ad it's hard to find the buyer for the 3 or 4 listings in your ad. But when they hit your web site they see all of your listings and the MLS listings, increasing the chance they will find properties that appeal to them.

Yes - your way can work, especially if you are maketing in a niche publication (like the DuPont Registry or a rural property publication). But I know that if you have a web site that is set up to properly capture inquiries and leads you will increase your total conversions by leading people to your web site.

Feb 07, 2008 03:07 PM #7
Brian Keller
Brian Keller Realty - Newport, TN
great post. most agents in my area have such a large photo of themselves on the ads you can hardley make out what the home looks like. 
Mar 24, 2008 09:27 PM #8
Tracey Lewis Lewis
The Real Estate Book - Saratoga Springs, NY
Real Estate Marketing


Great Post!!! I may I use some of your points in a newsletter to my advertiser's. Thanks Tracey

May 16, 2008 07:23 AM #9
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