Hard sell and soft sell are two common copywriting techniques used in advertising. The language used each type of message is typically what distinguishes the hard and soft sell approaches: A soft sell ad is usually a bit more reserved, whereas a hard sell ad used more assertive language.


The term "hard sell" describes copy that is direct and puts pressure on target customers. An ad for a strong deodorant targeting athletes might say "After you play hard, you need the only deodorant clinically proven to help athletes stay fresh up to 12 hours." A similar ad for the same brand, but with a softer sell approach, might say "Brand X is a proven deodorant that helps athletes feel fresh after a hard practice."

Call to Action

Coinciding with the more direct language, hard sell ads typically have a much firmer call to action. This is the part of ad copy that directs target customers to the desired action. Phrases such as "buy now before time runs out," "limited time only," "don't miss out," and "get yours now before it's too late," are examples of hard sell calls to action. Although the difference is often subtle, soft sell calls to action are usually less emphatic or forceful. A soft sell call might say, "Come on by if you want to take advantage of this deal."


Hard sell ads are intended to motivate customers to take action or buy quickly. They are especially useful in sales promotions where the point is to attract customers with a limited time discount or deal. You also can use hard sell language with fear appeals or anxiety appeals, such as when promoting a home alarm system. Soft sell language is more common in long-term brand building advertising in which the point of the message is to increase recognition and exposure for the brand. You also have less potential to offend or alienate customers with a softer approach.


The major challenge of a hard sell approach is that you could turn off customers with too much aggression or assertiveness in your message. Hard sell also has a short-term orientation. While you may induce buying action in the near-term, the message may not do much to build long-term brand value. The biggest drawback of a soft sell approach is that you don't directly or forcefully communicate your desired response from the buyer.