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Secrets Good Ads Have and Bad Ads Lack  

By Selena McIntyre   


Advertising is everywhere, from the subways to the sky. As advertisers, we are constantly coming up with new ideas and ways to spice up our current ads. Of course we all know how important advertising is, and how much more important it is to create good ads, but do you know how to separate the good ads from bad ads? 


I never really thought about this until recently. I just assumed that a cute ad that caught my attention was a good ad and an ugly hard-to-read ad was a bad ad. However, this is not always true. 


Andy Goodman, author of Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes said, "Design elements that work against reader tendencies are the primary cause of poor performance." Here are several tips to help your ads perform well. 




Studies have shown that people like to see ads that do not cut off parts of the model (like the forehead.) We also respond to models that are looking directly at us more than models that are looking away. Although having a model looking at the copy of your ad helps your ad flow well. 


Babies in ads are a very powerful visual aid. 


Full colored graphics will catch more attention than black and white graphics. When we use black and white graphics our readers will focus more on other parts of the ad. Single-toned graphics are great for paintings, but they do not perform well in ads. 


Photographs can be very powerful in ads if they are used correctly. The most effective way to use a photo is to make it tell an emotional story. Also make sure that the photo and the headline are easily understood when used together. 


Our school books taught us that under all photos are a caption and research has shown that we read captions more than anything else. With this in mind, it is easy to see why this is the best place to put your most important words. 


Research has shown that ads with large graphics perform better than ads without graphics. Small graphics sometimes annoy readers and don't attract a lot of attention. 




We all know that we must get people to read our headlines so they will read the rest of our ad. Did you also know that bad headlines will cause great ads to fail because no-one will read an ad if the headline doesn't interest them? Here are several common factors of good headlines:  

They grab our attention and make us want to keep reading.  


Good headlines are easy to see and read.   


They consist of clear, easy-to-read-quick fonts.  


They are big enough to be seen and read quickly.  


Effective ads let the reader make up their own mind instead of telling readers what to think.  


Good headlines do not say something that you could possibly disagree with.  


Headlines are usually placed at the top of an ad, but they can go in other places as long as they stand out.  


Don't split headlines. Keep them together so they will make sense.  




Focus on only one product and one benefit of this product in each ad. Do not try to put all of the details about your product in one ad. Less is best. 


Use short stories in your ads when possible. We tend to remember the story about how a ten year old boy killed his 15 year old sister while playing with his parents gun more than we remember the actual number of youths and gun related deaths. 


Bad ads change font style and size a lot. Good ads are consistent with colors, fonts, and sizes. 


Use upper case letters and lower case letters. Do not use all caps because this makes ads harder to read and it slows us down. 

Call to Action: 

All effective ads have a strong call to action. Tell your audience:  


who you are  


exactly what you want them to do  


why you want them to do it (what they will gain or lose)  


how to contact you  


when to act  


Flow of an ad: 


The flow of an ad is extremely important because if your ads do not direct readers where to go next, they will stop reading your ad. Bad ad flows are the most common design mistake, but the good news is that it's also very easy to fix. 


We need to remember the following basics when working with ad flows:  

We are taught at a young age to read from left to right then top to bottom, and we continue to do so with ads.   


If you place a graphic at the top of an ad, chances are that the viewers will automatically look down before they look anywhere else. This is why we so many ads that start with a graphic on top, followed by the headline and place body, then the contact information at the bottom.  


Good ads grab readers attention then directs the reader where to go next. Bad ads don't give readers any directions.  


According to a recent study done by Starch Data, when readers reach the bottom of an ad, they usually stop looking at it even if the ad is not finished.  


The best order of an ad is: (1) visual aid, (2) caption, (3) headline, (4) copy and (5) advertiser's information. However, if your headline is more important than your graphic, put it first.  


More Design Tips: 


Text is difficult to read when placed over graphics.  


Make sure your words, logo and other important factors are easy to see because the viewers will not take time to look closely at your ad.  


Offer exciting benefits, not boring facts. People would rather know that your toothpaste will help prevent tooth decay than what your toothpaste is made of.  


Remember that your audience does not know your product as well as you. They don't know all the basic terms, so your ads need to express it's benefits in simple terms.  


Use boxes, lines and other separators as little as possible. Research has shown that once we reach a separator, we usually stop reading the ad even if it's not finished.  


All great ads have strong focal points (the first thing you see when you look at an ad.) This should also be the most important part of the ad since it's seen first.  


Ads that give us a emotional connections perform best.  


Allow room for white space (empty spaces of the ad.) Cluttered ads are more difficult to read and they do not catch as much attention.  


After you've followed all of the design tips above, you must make sure that all the elements of your ad make sense and relate to your product. After all, one of the worst things in advertising is for people to remember your ad, but not your name.  


Keep your ads as simple as possible. Give away as much information in as few words as possible.  


Unfortunately, rules always change so it's important to stay updated. T.S. Eliot advised, "It is not wise to violate the rules until you know how to observe them." 


Additional Help: 


Find out how well you can separate good ads from the bad ones at: http://www.rwjf.org/news/featureDetail.jsp?id=54&contentGroup=specialreport and click the link on the right that says "Bad Ads Quiz." 


You can also download a great e-book called "Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes... And How To Ensure They Won't Happen To Yours" at http://www.rwjf.org/news/featureDetail.jsp?id=54&contentGroup=specialreport. Just look in the bottom right corner under the section titled "Related Links."   



Selena McIntyre has been a Creative Designer for BPS Outdoor Media since 1999. She has a Marketing Degree and several years of customer service experience. Selena has studied art most of her life and continues to do so now. She designs most of BPS’s billboards and has written several articles about the outdoor advertising industry. To see some of her work please visit http://www.bpsoutdoor.com/blog/


This article is provided as a courtesy from www.OutdoorBillboard.com  


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