AIDA: The Secret Formula Behind Almost Every Ad You’ve Ever Seen

The Sixth Sense has everything you could want from a great thriller: a creepy kid, blood-chilling baddies, and a killer catchphrase.

But my favorite part? The surprise ending. When you re-watch it, all the clues are there. Remember? Haley Joel Osment sees dead people.

What does this have to do with copywriting? Once you learn the basic formula underpinning virtually every ad, you’ll experience a similar revelation. You won’t be able to stop seeing it everywhere you look.

The Secret Formula: AIDA

AIDA is an acronym with roots reaching as far back as 1898, when advertising Hall of Famer (yes, such a thing exists) Elias St. Elmo Lewis first coined it.

It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action—and it’s how almost every ad works.

Attention is the hook, something to immediately captivate the audience. If they’re not paying attention, it’s all for naught. This might be a shocking headline, a dash of humor, an eye-catching design, or a short, sweet, surprising statement.

Okay, you’ve hooked ‘em. Now what? Interest involves the reader on a deeper level, exploring their pain points and introducing the problem that your product or service will be solving.

Desire (aka Decision in Alec Baldwin’s infamous speech in Glengarry Glen Ross)kicks things up a notch. Here you go full force into the benefits (not the features) of your solution. Intriguing isn’t enough—you need to be irresistible.

Once you’ve got them on the edge of their seats, it’s time for Action. You’ve got their attention, developed interest, stirred desire—now you close: tell the audience exactly what you want them to do with a clear call-to-action (CTA). Whether the audience should “sign up now,” “call this number,” or “click here,” don’t leave anything to chance—give it to them straight.

As professional copywriters, we rarely start from the formula and fill in the blanks—there are far more nuances and strategies that go into quality content. Nonetheless, every ad should hit each one of these core components to be most effective.
Let’s look at a quick example. Consider JetBlue’s new advertising campaign, one that we at MarketSmiths particularly admire.

First, it catches your attention: a talking pigeon? Next, it earns your interest by identifying your pain point: “The reality of flying today? How do I put this lightly? It’s not pretty.” Then the ad creates desire, hammering home how disgracefully other airlines treat customers: tight space, crummy food, no attention, and no respect.

Now you’re almost outraged: I do want an airline that treats me better! Finally, they hit it out of the park with a clear call-to-action that sums up the brand’s strongest benefits: “Enjoy JetBlue’s award-winning customer service, free unlimited snacks, and the most legroom in coach.” Cut to a title page with the brand name, tagline, and URL, and you’ve got a nearly perfect ad that follows AIDA to a tee.

Next time you find yourself sitting mindlessly through an ad, stop and think about AIDA. You’ll be shocked that you didn’t see it earlier.

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