Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Writing an Effective Sales Ad

I wrote this article for my GMO last fall, and since the USDF Convention is this weekend, I thought it would be fun to resurrect it! This article won me my first USDF award for a GMO newsletter article :)

At some point or another, most of us have probably purchased a horse. Many of us have also sold horses. Few would describe either process as enjoyable. Buyers complain there is not enough information in an ad, while sellers find that even if they include information, they’re still stuck answering the same questions over and over.

As a buyer, I’ve had the fun experience of wading through ads that are missing basic information, or have so much information that they’re overwhelming. As a professional writer/editor, I’ve also helped out many friends by “polishing” sale ads to help convey information in the most succinct way possible.
 
The best rule of thumb for sale ads is to keep it simple! There will be plenty of opportunities to share further details with potential buyers once they’ve initiated contact, so you don’t need to write a novel for a sale ad. But take care that you don’t simplify too much; you need to ensure that your ad includes certain necessary information.

Start with the basics – breed, registry, age, sex, color, and height. If the horse is registered with a breed that requires genetic testing (for example, HYPP in Quarter Horses or SCID in Arabians), include the results. If the horse is an unusual color, listing the official results of color testing may also be appropriate.

Training – be honest about the level of training (and showing, if applicable). If the horse has a show record, include some results. For example, “consistently scores in the mid-60s at First Level”, or “point and shoot jumper competing through 1.3M at rated shows.”

Around the barn – include basic information about how the horse is to handle for bathing, clipping, farrier, vet, etc.

Temperament – is the horse quirky? Is it “husband-safe?” Accurately assessing the horse’s temperament can be useful in weeding out potentially unsuitable matches.

Price – in about a quarter of the sale ads I see, there is no price. Even if you don’t want to list a dollar amount, it can be helpful to include something like “priced in the low 5 figures.”

If you’re advertising a horse as breeding stock (stallion or mare), include any relevant reproductive information.

And last but not least, my favorite part – sales photos! A good photo can make a $1,000 horse look like a $10,000 horse, and vice versa. Include at least one good conformation photo, and several “action” shots of the horse performing in the discipline you are marketing them for.

For conformation photos, make sure the horse is neat and tidy (clean at an absolute minimum, bathed and clipped if at all possible!) and wearing a nice halter or bridle. Pick a pleasant background with no distracting clutter. Conformation shots are a two-person job at minimum, sometimes three! Besides the photographer, you need to have someone holding the horse and keeping their attention – a bored, disinterested horse doesn’t photograph well.

The most appropriate type of “action” shot will vary from discipline to discipline. Marketing a horse as a dressage horse, jumper, eventer, etc., will require some knowledge of the kind of shots that show the horse to its’ best advantage for each particular discipline, and then the ability to duplicate the shot. As with conformation photos, a neat and tidy horse (and rider!) and uncluttered background are vital.

If the horse has a show record, include show photos – however, do not use show proofs. Advertising with proofs that you haven’t purchased is illegal and considered theft.

While it can be tempting to include fun candid shots of horses from their daily routine, these often detract from a sale ad. Some examples of photos that shouldn’t be used include photos of a horse out grazing in a field, shots with cluttered backgrounds, photos of people in unsafe situations (standing on a horse’s back), partial body shots, etc.

Using digital cameras over film has many perks – one being that you can take plenty of photos to get that perfect shot! When choosing photos for your sale ad, three or four stellar shots is infinitely preferable to 10 mediocre shots.

Consider a sales ad like an elevator pitch – in this digital age, people have short attention spans. A brief ad covering the most basic questions will get you more targeted interest than an ad lacking pertinent details, or an ad that includes so much information that it overwhelms the buyer. The right sales ad can significantly decrease the amount of time you spend answering questions (as a seller) or asking questions (as a buyer), and the less time you spend on that, the more time you can spend in the barn!

29 comments:

  1. I hate when they don't have a price on the horse. Or when it just says five figures.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can understand to a point in some situations why people hesitate to list a price, but that definitely can cause the ad to be ignored by the target audience!

      Delete
  2. This is amusing to me considering I went to see Penn on two low quality videos and some ultra basic info on him that turned out to not be right anyway!

    A lack of price on an ad bothers me too and I think invites more questions (though I go with the rule, if you have to ask how much the horse is, it's probably too expensive!). I'd rather it say Private Treaty (because then I really know it's outside my price range!).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I bought Tres and Topaz off a handful of blurry pasture pics and a phone conversation 😂 so it's definitely not a hard and fast thing for me, I just thought it was a fun topic to wrote about!

      Delete
    2. *write... Thanks autocorrect haha

      Delete
    3. Well, his breeder (a vet, no less), said he was 16.2h. I got a call when he arrived at the sale barn...

      Agent: I have bad news.
      Me: Uh oh...?
      Agent: He isn't 16.2. Not even close.

      Yea, the horse is 15.2 or 15.3 on a good day.

      Delete
    4. Oh no! One of my rescues was advertised at 15.3. poor dude was *maybe* 14.3 on a good day. Maybe... Haha. Why can't people learn to measure?!

      Delete
    5. Stinker was listed at over 16 hands... granted most people don't believe me when I say he is 15.3. High headset for the win

      Delete
    6. I can understand being an inch off (especially if using the soft measuring tape instead of one with a level), but I almost every sale ad I see the horse is listed at 16+ hands and let's be real, they're not 😎 haha. Nothing wrong with a good 15.2 or 15.3 horse, especially if they've got the build to take up your legs! Cinna's only 15.3ish at the moment (although I don't think she's done growing yet).

      Delete
  3. These are all helpful tips! As others have mentioned, a lack of price (or a price range, like saying 'mid five figures') bothers me immensely, as does using outdated videos from forever ago. These days, everyone has a video camera on their phone: do you not have 10 mins to grab someone to film you on the horse? I have plenty of thoughts just on sale videos, but that's another story for another day :)

    I personally enjoy perusing the Facebook 'Horses for Sale' groups, because you are guaranteed to find some gems...like the ones that say "ISO: 16.3h to 17h WB with chrome. Must be a gelding, must be bay, should never have pinned below 3rd in the High Adults, must be under 10 years old, must have experience at Devon, HITS and/or Penn National and have the temperament suitable for timid adult amateur. Budget: $500". So many LOLZ.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was actually prompted to write this after private messaging so many screenshots of terrible ads to a few of my similarly snarky friends 😂 there are some doozies out there! I still think my personal favorite was a fugly trick trained 'dressage' grade Clyde mare for $200k. Everyone was like 'wait, are you serious?!'

      Delete
    2. And yes, I've seen some ridiculous ISOs that put the goofy ads to shame haha.

      Delete
    3. I saw an ISO recently looking for a Christmas pony on a max $300 budget. Broke, child safe, 13-15h, 3-8 years old. I was like, good luck with that. The ultra specific ISO ads also irk me- they leave almost no wiggle room and rarely get hits back.

      Delete
    4. I HATE the super specific ISO ads, especially when the budget in no way matches. I always like to post the meme about how the horse they're looking for is in the stall between Pegasus and the unicorn 😉 haha. I get kicked out of a lot of sale groups.....

      Delete
    5. Lol my latest ISO for a used trailer may have fallen into this category haha.... Thankfully I found it used (with financing, le sigh)

      Delete
  4. I have to agree about not listing the price. And the other thing that bothers the HECK out of me is saying that the horse is scoring "68% at first level" or something, and then you go to centerline scores and the horse isn't even listed. There's a big difference between going to a non-GMO schooling show and scoring 68% and actually going to a USDF rated show and doing it. If your horse is "solid first level" I want to see a video of you doing a solid first level test. Also, your horse who has done baby pi/pa steps at a clinic (with an unnamed specialist who can get basically every horse to do that) who isn't steady in the bridle and can't do a 20 m circle? Seriously?

    And please save me from shitty, shaky videos taken from 2 arenas over where the horse is basically a speck. That's not helpful.

    Wow, end of rant. Sorry. Apparently bad sales ads bother me more than I thought!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha I'm glad to know I'm not the only one annoyed by these things! I had a friend looking for a dressage horse and I was helping her shop and I remember one of the ones that really annoyed me was a stallion "schooling PSG" who had like... 2 recognized scores (bad ones)... At 1st level. Mkay.....

      Delete
    2. AMEN! I want a recognized show record. After doing endless schooling shows and then getting into the recognized scene... I've realized just how sketchy schooling show judges are. Some can be incredibly tough, and I think most are quite generous. Some won't give you less than a 4 on any move, no matter how bad, unless you leave the ring or something (true story from a friend who scribed for a not even L judge). Solid first level to me is multiple 65%ish scores recently (not 10 years ago). Jenj and I have had this convo a bunch of times, haha!

      Delete
    3. I don't have a problem with a horse only having a schooling show record as long as people are clear in the ad and the price is reflective. I wouldn't expect to pay the same for a schooling show 1st level horse as I would a solid recognized show 1st level horse. I'm still in the land of the schooling shows myself, although hoping to start recognized next year or so! Mostly just intimidated by the paperwork at this point, haha, I need a recognized show mentor! 😂

      Delete
  5. Nicely written article and super informative. I'm giggling a little at the the thought of all of us having bought our horses off much lesser ads (in Charlie's case he didn't even had an ad, he just happened to be there when I went to see something else) but yea it's definitely funny seeing some of the doozies out there lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Every single one of my horses came from either bad ads or practically nonexistent ads.... Haha. This is just how I think ads should be written in a perfect world so the least amount of time is wasted 😂 clearly, these perfect ads are also like unicorns! I did end up having some admins from sale groups share this article as a "how to", so that was kind of fun!

      Delete
  6. I wanna be in the bad sale ads club

    Though I generally avoid sale ads because I have THE WORST problem with impulse buying. Hubs would flip if I started doing that with horses. :-p

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I feel like it's more a "saw potential despite shitty or nonexistent marketing" club? 😎

      Yeahhhhhh impulse buying horses is no bueno. Ask me how I know 😂 I'm lucky I'm not divorced haha.

      Delete
  7. So much agree. When I started at CEC, one of the first horses I rode was one that I had seen in a sales ad several months previously - I remember thinking 'hot damn, I want that horse!!!' but at the time I wasn't even riding...cue my lesson, where it turned out that the thing was just coming off many months of stall rest following a pretty serious injury - none of which had been mentioned in the ad - and was a fire-breathing psychopath. Many months later, and little had changed, and with more info discovered just how misleading the ad had been (soundness issues, show record, temperament all greatly exaggerated), and how inappropriate the price point was. Still blows my mind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would take a bare bones, poorly photographed ad over a blatantly dishonest ad any day, just sayin.

      Delete
    2. Oh yes, bare bones is definitely preferable to exaggeration or blatant dishonesty!

      Delete
  8. I think a good ad is synonymous with a good writer. I totally agree with everything you've said here. Now, I hope more people will find and read this post so the world of ads can be a better place lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Feel free to share it if you want 😉 it's been published in several GMO newsletters (mine and one in South Carolina somewhere I think). I'm totally fine with it being shared as long as it's properly credited!

      Delete