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Advertising and Brand Building

Call to Action (CTA) – What’s it and how to best use it?

Brand Vani Call To Action

A good advertisement can get attention. A great advertisement can get attention as well as generate interest. But is attention and interest always enough? What you need beyond getting the attention of the audience and spark interest is to tell them what they need to do! And then help them to do it.

And that is where the Call to Action (CTA) comes into the picture. An ad without a CTA is like telling everyone you are going to have a party but not inviting anyone. For measurable results from your ads, you need people to take some action. The CTA helps to get the audience to do something that you want and leads them through every stage of the sales funnel until the actual sale is made.

What is a CTA? Have you seen it?

CTAs are literally everywhere around you. Look at the banner ad below by the e-commerce giant Ali Express. The banner ad talks in short about incessant shopping experience for products of reliable quality and prices that are unbeatable. The “Shop Now” button is essentially the call to action for the ad. The button there is meant to draw your attention and incite you to take an action (if the content is relevant to you). So, if you get curious by the message it holds, it will guide you to the next step that you must take. So, if you end up clicking the link, it will lead you to their page.

AliExpress WW

Look at another example below of a Tata Cliq banner. They are offering 50% off on an activity tracking device and the banner ad is designed to entice the prospective customer to take advantage of it. Do you see the similarity?

TataCliq [CPS] IN

There is a short message in the banner about the discounts that Tata Cliq are offering currently, followed by the button: Shop Now. This is what is called a CTA or Call to Action. It is a common norm among brands and advertisers to spur on some form of action from the target segment.

Now, lets try to elucidate the various characteristics of a good CTA that we see in ads daily for the sake of our understanding.

CTAs give the reader instructions

The simplest CTAs are those that instruct the audience to take a particular action. “Buy Now”, “Visit Today”, “Sign Up”, are examples of CTAs that tell the reader to do something. These CTAs use an imperative verb (Buy, Visit, Subscribe, etc.) to nudge a potential customer into action.

Here’s an example of a women’s fashion website, Floryday, with banner ad. It is a UK based e-commerce platform and they have some amazing discounts on their fashion items. The banner has a simple instructional CTA that instructs you to “Like them”. But of course, if you click, it will lead to their page.

Floryday WW

The layout is very basic, and it probably gets things done. But what probably isn’t remarkable in this layout is the muted way the CTA has been put up. The “Like us” part is hardly inspiring anyone to click on it. The next example from Floryday, however, is a better way of doing this, with a clean, and clearly demarcated call to action.

Floryday WW

The print ad below is another instance of a good CTA. The ad makes sure the CTA at the end of the ad copy stands out with a larger font than the rest of the text. Also, the text before the CTA is full of data that is aimed at making the reader take the CTA seriously.

CTAs create a sense of urgency

Purchase decisions can be accelerated by creating a sense of urgency. Words such as “Offer till stocks last”, “Limited period offer”, “Special price only for today”, etc. are aimed at getting the audience to act as soon as possible.

Like the one in the Flipkart example below. It has a live countdown before the CTA for the deal offers to create a sense of urgency and motivate people to click on the imperative “View All”, which consequently leads to the whole range of deals that one could benefit from.

CTAs could promise something more beyond the banner text

Sometimes a brand might not be looking at getting the reader to immediately buy. Rather, they might want to educate the audience or want to deepen their connection with the audience before making the sale. “Learn more”, “Request a call back” are examples of such CTAs. These CTAs are mostly found on online platforms where once you click on the CTA button, you are redirected to a different page to help you complete the action.

In the banner ad below, Canva demonstrates a sample of what can be done on their platform. They are essentially hinting that they can help you make designs for your social media posts or any other content, and you could learn more by clicking on their ad.

Canva WW

This is a good example where the business is not looking for a direct sale but rather lead generation.

Some CTAs promote content instead of sale

Then there are CTAs that just gently suggest that the audience do something. “Watch video”, “Submit form” are examples of CTAs that are not very sales-ey or pushing any purchase, but instead guide you to explore more about the website or company.

Check the screenshots below from a website that works towards wildlife parks conservation. Do you notice the CTA circled here?

Brand Vani CTA
Source:, check them out, they really do quality conservation work in Africa

CTAs are used in all types of advertising. You see them on fliers, magazine and newspaper ads, billboards, and in all kinds of online marketing. Even TV or radio ads have wordings that encourage the audience to take some action. If you pick up any random piece of advertising, I am sure you’ll be able to recognize some form of CTA in it.

Why is CTA so important?

Brand Vani CTA
Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

In a typical business scenario, the expected end result is a conversion. Usually, the conversion action is a sale. And rarely would a potential customer jump directly to the buying step. A typical journey of a person from being a member of the target audience to being the buyer goes through what marketers refer to as the “sales funnel”. For guiding the audience through the funnel, step by step, CTAs come in handy.

One of the first questions that run through the prospect’s mind when they see an ad is – “What am I supposed to do here?”

So a clever pun in the advertisement, a creative headline, useful information, etc. can grab the attention of the prospect. But if you don’t immediately lead them to the next stage in the funnel, you have lost them.

And this is where CTAs come in. In traditional marketing, a CTA can help you get a potential lead to call you or visit you. But in digital marketing, where the entire buying process can happen online, strategically placed, carefully worded CTAs can make or break your marketing game.

What makes a good CTA?

Photo by Negative space from Pexels

One basic thing business owners and marketers need to understand is that more often than not, whatever it is you are selling, the customer does not want to buy it unless there is a clear need for it. There is a natural resistance to spending money and buying things. And it’s true. If this resistance was absent, an average person would go bankrupt in a week given all the CTAs to buy that he is exposed to in an average day.

A good CTA stokes a desire in a person. It caters to a burning need or to a solution to a problem that the person is looking for. In its simplest form, a good CTA motivates a person to take the desired action.

A great CTA is obviously about the words that it uses. But it’s also about where it’s positioned. It’s about the font and the color used. It’s about when the CTA is shown to the audience. And all these things together hold the recipe to the perfect sale.

Let us look at different aspects of CTA that can make it great and compelling.

The appearance of the CTA

The first thing that you need to keep in mind is the appearance. Appearance include the colors you choose, the size and the position of the CTA with respect to the overall surrounding aesthetics of the design.

Firstly, the color palette that your ad uses is very important. While it is not recommended to use colors that are too loud or bright, a CTA that stands out is very important. This is important irrespective of the channel of advertising being used. A bold CTA that quickly catches the eye on a billboard or from a newspaper ad is essential for getting results.

On the internet, the pressure to use an attention-grabbing CTA is even more. People have extremely low attention spans when they look at the ads, and attention spans further dwindle when they are online. You literally have seconds to let the prospect know what they are supposed to do before they will leave your webpage.

Look at the examples below for reference. In “Image 1” below, the CTA is “Sign Up” and its almost invisible to the eye due to the colors chosen.

Brand Vani CTA
Image 1: Poor choice of CTA button color
Brand Vani CTA
Image 2: Too much clutter obscures the CTA

The “Image 2” highlights the second point about appearance: Aesthetics and balance in design. Here, the text does have a CTA (Click here to order). But it does not really stand out. The CTA is not written on a button, the color blends in with the background, and the font is too small to pop up.

A good example of a CTA that stands out is below.

Brand Vani CTA
Example of a good design that has a well presented CTA

Look at how the CTA is enclosed in a block. There is a lot of white space so that the CTA is easy to spot. The color of the CTA is not too bright, nor is the font too big. But the white space makes it easy to spot it.

Here’s one more example of clean, easy to spot, and helpful CTAs

Another example of a clear CTA being shown on the design

The language used for the CTA

A carefully worded CTA can have the right impact on the audience. Frankly, people are surrounded by CTAs such as “Buy Now”, “Call Us”, “Visit Today”. And these CTAs, without an extremely compelling content before them, are insipid, to say the least. Why, some marketers would even agree that a mediocre CTA can completely ruin the efficacy of a good ad copy!

A pet peeve would be the “Submit” button whenever you are asked to fill up a form online giving your details. You must have seen this button hundreds of times all over the internet. I wonder how asking your prospect to submit came to be a widely accepted CTA. Probably, the guys who started didn’t give much thought to it and I guess people just copied it and it became a norm.

But, I digress. The point is, there are much better ways to get customers to fill up a form or provide their email id.

Instead of an aloof and disconnected “Submit”, the above example employs a more conversational approach.

Alternatively, choose words that highlight the benefit. Refer to the cases below, where you see the benefits clearly in the CTA. In this case, the FREE is highlighted. Also, the green button is easy on the eyes, complements the blue in the ad, and is hard to miss.

In this case, the FREE is highlighted. Also, the green button is easy on the eyes, complements the blue in the ad, and is hard to miss
This one does not just tell the audience that there’s a discount, it clearly spells out the monetary benefit by saying, “Upgrade and Save”

CTA as seen on Social Media

Social media ads are very popular in today’s digital world. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. are used for promotions and even for direct selling. Facebook ads have pre-designed buttons that you can use according to the requirement of your ad. For instance, when you are looking for registrations, you can use the “Sign up” button. If you are looking at engaging with the audience on a one-to-one basis, a “Send Message” button can be used. For direct selling, “Get Quote” can be used.

Or, there is a “Book Now” button like the one used by Audi Centre as shown below.

By quickly taking the users to a page where they can give their details and book an appointment for a servicing. The expectation is already set about what the user will get, once they click on the button.

And here’s an ad from Shopify. It is an example of promoting content that is not necessarily for direct conversion, but for brand building and customer engagement. They are using the “Learn More” button.

Even Instagram and facebook stories have the option of keeping a CTA nowadays. The example from Spotify below is exactly how one should execute a sponsored ad. It is a very simple ad. No complicated graphics, no walls of text. It has the CTA booster words “Music you love. Free” in a larger font. The CTA is smaller, an upward swipe on “Install Now”. And they manage it all through the use of just two colors – green and white.


Okay, so we saw a lot of different examples of CTA. To quickly summarize what a good CTA can be, here are a few attributes of the most compelling CTA.

  • Stands out in the ad copy
  • Helps the audience identify what they need to do next
  • Leads them through each stage of the sales funnel and helps in conversion
  • Strikes a chord with the audience
  • The wording inspires and motivates the audience to take action

Apart from this, remember that good content in the ad copy and a good CTA go hand in hand. Both are incomplete without each other.

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