Creating Effective Print Ads

Needless to say, there are as many ways to create an effective print ad as there are creative thoughts. Getting your message read in today’s multi-media world is just one of the first challenges in creating an effective ad, but ultimately, your message needs to be acted upon.

What is it that you want your prospects and clients to do once they read your ad? This may seem obvious, however, as we all know in the marketing/advertising cycle, there are three stages your prospect must go through in order to achieve the ultimate goal of developing a loyal, repeat customer.

Is the ad to build brand awareness? Is it intended to encourage prospects to try your service? Is it intended to build client loyalty and build purchasing frequency? Once you have determined the goals of the campaign it is much easier to develop copy and graphics to support your claims and achieve the desired action of your prospects.

For the moment, let’s suppose you have already determined exactly who your target market is, you have brand equity within this target group currently and you are launching a new service offering to existing and potential clients through targeted trade publications. What are the considerations that need to be addressed to develop a cutting, creative and ultimately actionable print campaign?

  1. Although you have brand equity in this market, you must continue to support your brand image with everything you do. This does not mean that your ads have to look like your stationery and brochures. It does mean that corporate colours, logo usage and statements of claim must help to continue to build brand image and further solidify your brand positioning.
  2. What is the creative budget for the campaign? Obviously if you are the Ford Motor Company you have the luxury of extended strategic planning, dedicated photo shoots, focus groups to validate your concepts and full-page color to deliver your message. If you’re not Ford, you likely have some budget restraints to work within. Determine your creative budget and then work with your internal or external design team on the creative process. Stock image libraries such as will allow unrestricted usage of images for a very reasonable cost. There are thousands of images to choose from in hundreds of categories and all are downloadable. You can download low resolution versions of most images for placement only (FPO), until approvals are given and then replace with higher-rez images for final output. Your creative budget should be split roughly 60/40 between creative concept and copy (60%) and actual production of the ad (40%). One critical mistake that often occurs is a company will use virtually all its budget to buy the ad space and leave nothing whatsoever for ad development. There is little point spending $1500 or more on an ad and then trying to make it effective with $100 worth of design and creative time. If you do not have the expertise in-house to develop your ads, make sure you allocate sufficient budget and have them produced out-of-house. They will produce far better results in the long run and will make the ad spend worthwhile.
  3. Start with messaging before developing a graphical look. The graphics are there to support the message and visually draw the reader in. In our example, you have already established your brand within the target group. You are introducing a new service to existing and potential clients so your messaging can be very specific and direct. There will likely be three copy components to your ad; the headline, the body copy and the offer or call to action. Remember… Less is more! Don’t try to tell your whole company’s story or list every feature and benefit of your service in one ad. Copy-heavy ads are rarely read from beginning to end. People don’t have time to read copy-intensive ads (or the inclination) and most people can only retain three key points at best about an ad. Be specific, to the point and action-oriented.
  4. Graphics, photos and “look & feel” are critical to the success of a good print ad. The graphics must support the claims, statements and brand positioning of your company. There are virtually unlimited ways of graphically depicting your message. Humor is being used more and more frequently to cut through to readers, however, a word of caution; be sure it supports your message and speaks to your target audience. White space (or negative space) in your ad is important. Leave room for your message by giving it the space it deserves. Don’t jam elements together. People typically scan a page from top-left to top-right, to bottom-left and then bottom-right in a “Z” shaped pattern. If you have the budget, color improves readership and retention of information by roughly 40% over black & white alone. (this is a very rough rule of thumb with many contributing factors)
  5. The size of ad space you choose will be determined by your budget, what you need to convey and how long you are going to run the campaign. Frequency of placement is always superior to size, however, the larger your ad is, the more noticeable it will be and the more space you have to work with will allow for such things as the white space mentioned above. Right-hand page placement is advantageous but you may have to pay a premium in many publications for guaranteed placement.
  6. Finally, you ad must have a call to action of some type. What do you want your potential customers to do once they have read your ad, believed it and are interested in your claims? The action you solicit from your clients must be relatively easy for them to do eg: go to your website, call your 800 number, take a coupon to a local vendor etc. Ensure that whatever it is you’re asking them to do is actionable and that your logistics are in place to handle the enquiry or potential sales process.

Creating effective print advertising is not an exact science. Be prepared to alter your messaging and creative if you are not getting the desired results, however, give your campaign sufficient time to work. If it’s not working, look at the offer you are making, the statements of claim you are making and put yourself into the shoes (eyes) of the reader. Would you call you if you saw that ad? If not, why not? Let the creative juices flow and see where it takes you!