Principles of Effective Print Advertising

Time is a scarce and precious resource.

Marketers need to keep that fundamental premise in mind when creating a print ad. Readers will decide in a second or two – or perhaps even a split second – whether or not an ad is worth their time. After all, there are 100 more pages to go through in the publication, two more magazines in the stack waiting to be read, followed by budgets to review, customers to call and employees to evaluate.

As a marketer you face keen competition for the eyes and minds of your target audience. As much as you are convinced that your product is the most important thing in the world, remember that readers likely feel otherwise.

That’s your challenge, and it’s by no means a small one! Here are some tips that will increase your likelihood of succeeding.

Most of these tips are common sense practices for experienced marketers. But, sometimes common sense gets lost during the creative process and people get bored with the tried and true — “it’s time to break the mold” becomes the motto. More times than not, that’s not the case.

First, a quick disclaimer.

I claim no particular expertise in designing ads – no advanced degrees, no substantive design experience, and no discussions with higher powers telling me the meaning of life … and how to market.

Instead, the points that I make are based on data that my employer, Readex, has collected via thousands of print advertising studies. These are studies in which readers have looked at numerous ads in a publication and indicated, in a variety of ways, which worked for them: which they remembered seeing, which got their attention, which they took the time to read.

This is about the ads that work, not the ads that win creative awards.

Establish the Objective

In a college class I was involved in a group project in which, according to the professor, the goal was “to win.” After a quick discussion, our group realized that the way to score the most points included a strategy in which we deceived and lied to the other groups.

After several rounds my group was well ahead and we finished with the most points. Imagine how surprised we were when we were told that we hadn’t won at all. We actually finished on the bottom.

The goal wasn’t to get the most points, but to maintain and strengthen relations with the other groups – we simply inferred something else.

In advertising, the same thing is true. You need to understand what your objective is before putting words and images on a page.


  • Are you trying to sell the total company image or to sell a specific product or service?
  • Is this a new product that you are rolling out and introducing, or an established one that’s known to most of your audience?
  • Is it an impulse item or a capital purchase?
  • Are you trying to get the reader to take a specific action (“call within the next 30 minutes and you’ll get a steak knife set too!”)
  • Or simply to reinforce your brand or image in the mind of the reader (“Just do it.”)?

Unless you have a specific objective based on your particular situation, you will end up with a hodge-podge. Your objective will serve as your focal point – something that you can reference at all stages of creative development.

Present One Central Proposition

Once you’ve established the objective, stick to it and resist the temptation to introduce other points and concepts.

Avoid cluttering up your message (or the page) with additional information that isn’t germane to the objective. Your reader is continuously being bombarded with advertising messages; by diluting yours, your ad runs a bigger risk of being one of the forgotten.

Consider the lost opportunity created when your headline does its job of getting a reader’s attention, but the text is only casually devoted to the topic called out in the headline.

The reader that you had pulled in with your headline has now been hit with a bunch of unrelated messages — a history of the company, a picture of the manufacturing plant, a discussion of other products in the line — a print ad version of bait and switch.

The reader feels shortchanged, and turns the page.

Support the Basic Proposition with All Elements of the Ad

Since the ad must support a central proposition, then all elements within the ad must support that proposition.

For example, how many times have you come across ads where the goal of the ad is to help introduce a new widget, but the illustration is of a kid playing baseball, a puppy, or a woman on the beach — visuals which have absolutely nothing to do with the new widget.

While the illustration might have been a means of getting the attention of the reader – an obviously necessary function – this particular approach usually is viewed as nothing more than a cheap gimmick.

Reader comments for this type of ad usually revolve around the theme of “what does a kid with a baseball bat have to do with your new widget?” Readers aren’t dumb, and they don’t like to be tricked into reading something. They end up confused and in some cases, even resentful because their time has been wasted.

Go back to the premise that you only have a couple of seconds to reel in your reader. You’ll be more successful if all of the images and words you present are consistently touting and presenting the same basic idea.

Author: arunadevi

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