The Anatomy Of Print Advertisements

By Taylor Smithfield

In “Mad Men” ­— a fictional portrayal of 1960s New York — Creative Ad Director Don Draper woos clients and women alike with his measured bravado and dapper good looks. Don tells the client exactly what the client wants, often materializing brilliant ad slogans on the fly, all while coolly smoking Luckys and self-medicating with scotch.

While the hit TV show’s portrayal of Madison Avenue ad men is perhaps embellished and idealized, the cast of characters at the fictional Sterling Cooper marketing firm invent some impressive advertising campaigns. As successful as real life ad agencies were in the ’60s, marketing today has most certainly changed for the better.

Gone are the days of ads crowded with text, overuse of illustrations, overstating the call to action and, of course, openly drinking at work, but we’re the better for it. However, the print ad is certainly not dead. It’s very much alive, and we have the over-saturation of digital and TV ads to thank for that. Advertisers are seeing opportunity in light of these tired mediums, and are opting to reach customers through more traditional methods, where there’s less noise. Let’s break down the parts of a successful print ad.

Disrupt The Monotony

Before you begin sketching ideas, it’s important to understand the role your ad is playing in a bigger picture. If you’re familiar with a sales or revenue funnel, then you know what a helpful conversion tool it can be. The sales funnel is broken into segments that represent the buying process you lead customers through. Essentially, it’s their journey from first impression to purchase.

The typical sales funnel includes these steps: awareness, interaction, interest, action. Awareness or brand awareness is the moment someone gains knowledge about you. This could be a social media post, billboard, physically driving by your store, or, appropriate to our discussion, print advertisements.

Because print ads are often your first interaction with customers, you can’t afford to make a bad impression. It’s your chance to grab the viewer’s attention — to disrupt the monotony and stand out.

Your Unique Selling Proposition

A unique selling proposition (USP) is a statement describing how you’re different or better than the competition. The best USPs highlight truly unique or often overlooked qualities that will benefit your customer. There are even ways to turn traditionally negative qualities into advantages.

A perfect example of emphasizing the positive is Avis Car Rental. For many years, Avis struggled to compete with Hertz, and was resigned to be the second best car rental company, until they released a bold, new ad campaign: “We’re number two. We try harder.” It’s a brazen statement to own second best, but the implication is that Hertz is complacent, taking their success for granted and slacking on innovation. The risky USP paid off for Avis, and their market share went from 11 percent to 35 percent in only four years.1

Arresting Visuals

The most obvious way to arrest a viewer’s attention is through powerful visuals. In the firearms industry, photos will best serve your purpose (products, customers in your retail space, shooters using your range, etc.).

A study by Texas State University revealed more attention goes to images than words, and photos of people usually get the most attention. This indicates the value of featuring people who appeal to your target audience. If you can shoot your own photos, then select models who represent your ideal customer.

Always carefully consider how the visuals and copy work together, though. Inconsistency between the headline and imagery will confuse your viewer and lessen the ad’s effectiveness.

If you capture a viewer’s attention with your visuals, they’ll stick around for the length of time it takes to read the headline.

Powerful, Persuasive Headlines

Take a second to flip through this issue of SI. Which ads jump out at you? Study their headlines. What makes them effective and enticing?

Your headline is your chance to grab your viewer’s attention. If the message is clear, compelling and creative, viewers are much more likely to take action.

Some of the best headlines are extremely brief. Sometimes it’s the only copy on the page. Check out a few examples of headlines from existing print ads in other industries:

“Stop. Rinse. Play,” from Mr. Clean AutoDry Carwash is brief, punchy and clever.

“Viruses can live on surfaces for days,” from Lysol is arresting, powerful and informative.

“The Gorilla Has Evolved. Now It Gets Stronger, Faster,” from Gorilla Glue is imaginative, funny, and quite visual.

Never underestimate the power of a headline. A simple phrase (or even a single word), if strategically crafted, can lift right off the page.

Be Brief

Far too many ads waste the first couple of lines on seemingly clever copy before they share product information or benefits. In fact, one of the most common missteps is to inundate the viewer with information. Other ads attempt to use every square inch of their ad space, possibly to get their money’s worth, but to the opposite effect. It’s why Mexican restaurant menus are the brunt of jokes. The meal offerings are so expansive (“I guess I’ll have the lunch #129.”) they cause confusion and frustration. Ads are teasers, not novels. In addition, the best ads utilize white space or vast areas without text or information. This focuses the viewer’s attention.

It’s About Your Customer

While it’s tempting to include information about your store, who you are, how many years you’ve been in business or the awards you’ve received, that information is better suited for the “about” section on your website. The best advertisements keep the customer in focus.

This means avoiding language like “we,” “us” and “our.” A logo, visuals, messaging and branding should convey your identity already; there’s no need to reference yourself. Rather, use words like “you” and “your.” How will your product or service benefit the customer?

Call To Action

Every advertisement should include a call to action (or CTA). If you effectively entice and inform your readers but don’t provide an avenue for them to act, then your ad will be a dead end. Make sure you finish the ad strong by telling the reader exactly what you want them to do next (test out a new product, check out a sale, purchase a gift card, participate in a shooting event, visit your new website, etc.)

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