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Print Advertising Secrets - Good Ads vs Bad Ads

On page advertising offers a great vehicle for promoting a brand if used correctly, but many get it wrong.

I’m not entirely sure what’s caused a decline in proper branding adverts making it to press, but I suspect that it is mainly down to an increase of financially driven decision makers involved in the sign-off process. Running creative branding campaigns requires a leap of faith from those who may instinctively feel that adverts should explain all the features and benefits of products and have measurements in place to allow for an immediate and measurable return on investment. Here are some simple rules to check if an advert is fit for purpose.


To explain the bigger picture, this diagram shows how a marketing campaign should use what we call ‘above and below the line’ tactics.

As you can see, advertising falls into the ‘above the line’ camp and should be selling the idealism of a product or service. Any detailed reference to features and benefits should be left to below the line activities such as websites, once a prospective customer has engaged with an advert that has stimulated interest to find out more. Don’t be under any illusion that trade adverts work any differently – human beings love brands and brands add additional perceived value to everything.


Know your audience and consider the publication readership. You need to be able to communicate in a way that can be related to and identified with - something that your audience can start to build a relationship with. So tone of voice, personality and speed of delivery need to be considered. The quicker someone can ‘get it’ the more likely they’ll engage.


This may well be a claim that your strapline promises (straplines were covered in our last article). While it’s important for an advert to gain attention, the creative execution ideally needs to reinforce that proposition if it’s going to work well. As an example, a McDonald’s advert with the strapline ‘I’m lovin it’ would obviously look wrong if the theme carried imagery of dull customers or serious messaging.

A test would be to imagine a competitor’s logo replacing yours and asking ‘does that still work?’. In this example shown below, the Seeland strapline used to be ‘The expert in the field’. It would be impossible to swap this logo with another boot manufacturer’s logo because it wouldn’t make sense. As such, we call this ‘non-interchangeable.

The message here is that gundogs instinctively know what to do


Now this is one of the most important rules that’s going to need some examples to help explain it. A proper branding advert should use either a ‘bent or straight’ heading and a ‘bent or straight’ image – but they should never BOTH be either bent or straight in the same advert. By ‘bent’ we mean that the heading or imagery should create intrigue. ‘Straight’ means that the heading or imagery should provide a solution to the puzzle.

The result of this combination creates what we call ‘the gag’ which is rewarding and this in turn fills the reader with a small sense of indebtedness. It doesn’t necessarily have to be humorous, but should always have an element of cleverness that the target audience can relate to.

This can be the beginning of a relationship and, in some ways, this is how one would feel if a friend carefully selects and delivers you a recommendation for something or tells you a joke that they know you’ll love - you automatically feel you owe them one back. Because that’s not possible in this case, you buy the product instead by way of balancing the equation. It’s all about psychology.

In the old Seeland advert featured, the image is a bent image, while the headline (in this case, also the strapline) is a straight headline. The old Harkila advert featured was one of a number of adverts that formed a themed campaign that positioned Harkila at ‘the business end’ of the market ie suitable for professional deer stalkers. The straight heading ‘FOCUS GROUP’ uses a play on words to form ‘the gag’. This demonstrates that for more top-end/serious products and services, straight headlines tend to work better.

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