An advertising case study

Many businesses use print advertising to generate sales. And many business owners want to cram as much information as possible into their ads, listing all their products, or all their qualifications, or all their contact info.

But advertising is most effective when it is simple and focused—especially when the product or service you’re selling is complex. The job of the ad is not to make the sale or close the deal. The ad only helps the reader take one next step in the sales process.

Case study

I do a lot of writing for Providence Life Services, a company that owns and manages senior living housing options (which is a very complex product/service combination). Last year our ad campaign looked like this—

Silver-medal ad campaign

The main premise that helped shape this campaign was this: When faced with a complex decision like retirement living, consumers are more likely to look for recommendations from friends than to trust an ad.

Print ads that recognize this can still be effective. The “I Found” campaign employs word-of-mouth recommendations in a traditional printed format. Notice how the elements work together:

  • Dramatic headline
    The words “I found” set up a story that invites curiosity. The sense of finding something that was lost, or discovering something you didn’t know you needed, is a common human emotion that people of all ages can relate to. Even before reading the conclusion to the statement, readers anticipate a positive outcome.
  • Strategic punctuation
    Because all the messages are based on feelings expressed by actual residents, I could use quotation marks to signal that the statements are authentic and personal, not “corporate” and “marketing.” The ellipsis (…) is also used to build anticipation between the set-up in the headline and the resolution in the text.
  • Benefits instead of features
    An old marketing maxim explains the difference between “features” and “benefits” this way:

“The customer doesn’t want a kitchen cleaner; she wants a cleaner kitchen.”

Many retirement homes use ads to list features like bath assistance, call lights, kitchenettes, etc. By focusing on benefits (like “my smile” or “more energy”), these ads stand apart from the competition and become more memorable.

  • Compelling photos
    The photo in each ad illustrates the benefit expressed in the text, while giving additional context. In the above examples, the photos help clarify that these are senior living communities (as opposed to, say, a dental service or fitness center). Some of the photos are of actual residents or family members, so they help reinforce that the text is a personal testimony from a real person.
  • Simple CTA
    Retirement living is too big a decision to expect that someone will respond to an ad by making a downpayment. So the CTA (call to action) in these ads just invites people to “Find out more.” Simple. No pressure. It will be up to the sales staff at each Providence location to help callers take the next step, and the next step, and the next step, until the sale is complete. It’s a process. It’s a relationship.


Honestly, I don’t have any statistics that show an increase in phone calls or sales as a result of this ad campaign. Not because they don’t exist; just because they weren’t made available to me.

Advertising awardI did, however, receive a notice from Providence Life Services that this ad series had won Silver in the Advertising Campaign category of this year’s National Mature Media Awards.

So that’s something!

If you want to see what kind of results your business can get through well-written advertisements, email LifeLines. I can’t promise any awards or fame, but I can give you a well-thought-out ad that represents your brand and stands out from the competition.