Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Why Newspaper Ads Fail - And How You Can Fix Yours

I just was reading our local paper and couldn't get over the number of boring and just plain poorly laid out ads there were in this publication. Leading the list of boring ads were the ones placed by a well-known Ottawa furniture retailer and a shop that sells fitness equipment.

Why were the ads boring? Well, both of them looked the same, even though they were supposed to be advertising completely different businesses. Next, the ads featured unappealing and uninteresting pictures of chairs, tables, sofas, exercise equipment -- the kind of pictures that could be in anyone's ads. Finally, the headlines in the ads weren't prominent enough to attract a reader's attention, and they didn't sell something that a reader would really want.

It just never ceases to amaze me how much people will spend on large expensive, four-colour print ads, yet how little time they spend thinking about the design and copy in these ads, or how to get their ads to stand out and get read, especially in today's "scan and click" world.

Think about the last time you were in a Second Cup or Starbucks watching someone "read" the newspaper. For most people today, especially working adults 25 to 55, "reading" is really "scanning", an exercise that is more about flipping through the pages until they see an interesting headline, than it is about reading each page as it were in a book.

Think about the last home page you visited. How much time went by until you clicked to another web page?

I read today's paper in about five minutes, including the section I started off with, Sports. Two hours later as I write this blog, I cannot truly recall a single ad in this newspaper.

There's an art and science to designing ads that work in today's scan and click world. Here are a few tips to make your newspaper or magazine ad more successful this year:
  1. Make sure the headline is the most prominent visual priority in the layout. Devote at least 20% of the space in the ad to the headline.

  2. Add punctuation (quotation marks, exclamation or question marks) to the headline. This will help it attract attention and make a connection to the reader.

  3. Whatever you're selling, include really good pictures of customers in your demographic in the ad -- pictures your customers can relate to. Research shows that you will increase the readership of your ad by more than 25% just by following this strategy.

  4. Make sure that you have a clear "call for action" at the bottom of the ad. Always remember that the purpose of ad is to motivate/compel real people to do something -- like visit a store and buy something. If you don't tell a prospective customer what you want him or her to do as a result of reading or seeing the ad, chances are, they won't do it and the ad won't work.

  5. Write the copy as if you were having a live conversation at the kitchen table with the customer. Make the copy exciting, credible and relevant.

  6. Compare your ad against your competitors and ask yourself honestly -- are we noticeably different (from the customer's point of view)? Are there enough exciting reasons for a prospect to call or shop or choose us?
Finally, ask yourself -- who's the creative leader in charge of your advertising? And "do you have the best professional leading your team?"

To advertise successfully, you have to pitch the right things, to the right audience, at the right time, and in the right place ... and you also have to have the right coach in charge of your advertising team, someone who has mastered the formula behind a winning campaign.