Sales Tip: Ditching Don Draper – Writing Ad Copy that Works!


“Well applianced kitchens include a self-cleaning oven, self-defrosting refrigerator and a dishwasher for easy living in a busy world.” That is a feature-benefit statement on an apartment community website. In 2014. After reading this, in disbelief, I shared it with my multifamily housing friends to see if they found it as peculiar as I did. One responded, “Who wrote this? Don Draper?” (Don Draper is an advertising exec on the TV show Mad Men.)

Unfortunately, a lot of what we write and say about the communities we promote tends to come across as “marketing-speak.” We’ve seen so many apartment brochures and websites that tout “sparkling pools” and “state-of-the-art fitness centers” that we begin to accept this as the way people talk, but outside the apartment business, where our customers live their lives, people don’t utilize that kind of lexicon – and if we want to share meaningful information and connect with our prospective residents, then we shouldn’t either.

I’m fortunate to work with a fantastic group of leasing professionals, and together we share ideas, role play, and brainstorm phrasing that will best communicate what
great communities we have to offer. Here are some of my favorite techniques developed through this process:

Speak and write as if you were describing the apartment to a friend. You probably wouldn’t tell a friend that an apartment is “spacious.” You shouldn’t use this terminology with renters either. When one of our leasing teams was trying to figure out how to sell a one bedroom that just wasn’t moving, a leasing consultant said “I can’t believe we haven’t rented that apartment. It’s great! The living room is so big — you could do cartwheels in it!” Isn’t that a great visual? The team started using that description in its Craigslist postings. It’s genuine, and it stands out in the crowd of other “spacious” apartments listed.

Identify what differentiates your community, and promote it. Try this: Call three apartment communities in another market and listen carefully to the features that are listed. This works best if you select a market that is completely unfamiliar to you. If I were to choose a city in south Florida, all of the communities would have pools. The first community would mention its pool with lots of sun deck, and I’d be thinking, “Wow, that sounds pretty good!” The next community would do the same, and my reaction would be, “Oh, that’s nice.” By the third call, my response to being told about a pool with lots of sun deck would be, “Doesn’t everyone?” The feature loses its specialness very quickly. If I heard about a pool with a ledge where chaises could be in the water, or one that had such a large deck that there’s always a chair available, that would be the first property I’d visit. Your community has something that is truly unique in the market, and this feature is what needs to be mentioned and explained to make to make your place memorable.

Do something fun in your office — to motivate yourself, your teams or to set the weekend’s tone of FUN for residents.

Avoid speaking in code. There are some descriptive words that damn an apartment with faint praise. When you read that a one bedroom is “cozy” you know immediately that it’s tight on space, right? Before Craigslist changed its terms so that links were disallowed, we were able to track the number of views for a posting to see how changes in a wording affected response. We began using “adorable” to describe the smallest one bedroom apartment on the property, and the postings with that one word change in the title got much greater response than those without it. Why? It’s different, and it’s real. Your prospects have already seen so many communities described as “luxury” that aren’t and puny pools promoted as “resort-style” they’ve become disillusioned and skeptical.

Use third party testimonials. In writing, on the phone, or on a property tour, present a feature with this method: “Our residents like (feature) because…” Whatever follows is a true benefit that is much more believable and enticing. Saying, “Our community is in a convenient location near shopping and restaurants” transforms in to “Our residents like our location because it’s easy to grab a few things from the grocery store next door on the way home, and there are so many different kinds of restaurants to choose from.”

Get inspiration from other industries. When I get stuck writing descriptions for new high end communities, I visit the Lexus, Infiniti, and BMW websites for a reminder of how to convey luxury without using the word luxury. Examples of how to sell lifestyle can be found at the websites of clothing retailers C Wonder and Boden. “Fitting for time spent with your favorite people.” Is that describing a sweater, or an apartment? It works for both.

A friend shared some of the best advice that she received as a journalism major in college: when you don’t know what to say, start with “Dear Mom” and go from there. Sometimes we get so involved in trying to sound expert and educated that we forget that we are speaking to real people. We’re not on a stage, we’re having a conversation. If we speak and write like the real people that we are, we engage our prospective residents by doing so. And win their trust and their business.

What Are The Most Overused Words?

We asked our Facebook fans to help us with a list of the most overused words in apartment marketing. The response was outstanding! Here are some of the most commonly listed ones (so try to avoid them):

  • “State of the Art” anything – fitness centers, appliances, etc.
  • “Resort Style Amenities” – As fan Ana San Roman said, “Resort Style… because the property has palm trees.”
  • Luscious Landscaping
  • Sparkling Pool
  • Concierge Service
  • “Nestled in…”
  • Unique Floorplans
  • Carefree Lifestyle
  • “Designed with you in mind!”
  • Luxury
  • “Now Pleasing”
  • Spacious everything
  • We Love Our Residents – And replacing the word “Love” with a graphic heart does not help this one.
  • “Our Prices Change Daily!”
  • Location, Location, Location!
  • “Last one left!”
  • Wall to wall carpet – this isn’t an amenity, this is a baseline expectation! As Lisa Trosien put it, “When did carpeting ever stop one inch from the wall?”
  • Meticulously landscaped grounds.

What are your advertising pet peeve words? Join the conversation on our Facebook Page.