Simply Irresistible

Follow these advertising dos and don'ts to draw customers in.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the December 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When creating successful print and online advertising, less is definitely more. Too often, entrepreneurs stuff ads full of elements that can actually torpedo their chances of success. With virtually every advertising environment cluttered with ads all screaming for attention, today's cheek-by-jowl marketing environment mandates a clean, clear approach to content.

Even readers who are truly engaged are scanning quickly. Which ads get skipped over? The ones with these flaws produce the poorest results:

  • Competing visuals can make a small magazine or internet ad confusing and cluttered and fail to communicate a central message. Sale ads in newspapers, on the other hand, are an exception, as they draw more attention by featuring multiple products and prices.
  • Too much information will turn readers off. Don't expect them to slog through paragraphs of copy. Even readers of trade publications, who tend to look for new product and service information, will be turned off by copy that goes beyond giving a quick presentation of your product or service's core benefit and key features.
  • Busy designs and fancy fonts make ads hard to read. Keep it simple yet eye-catching by using attention-grabbing colors or employing contrast. For example, an internet ad with a black background will visually pop on websites with white backgrounds.

So what makes an ad succeed where others fail? Ads that produce results have at least three elements in common.

1. A clear, benefit-laden headline: Readers of your ad will have one question in mind: "What's in it for me?" So an effective headline must state a compelling benefit. Identify what your customers want most from your product or service--such as softer skin, a whiter smile, to save money on their taxes--and find a creative way to put that promise front and center in your headline. Then use the ad's body copy to explain how you will deliver that benefit. Detail critical features in a crisp, succinct style and close with a call to action that tells readers what they must do to realize the benefit you promise.

2. A strong visual focal point: A great eye-catching visual provides the focus essential for a successful ad. Your visual can show a member of the target audience, or you can follow the example of the iconic Absolut ads and depict a stylized version of the product itself. Another option is to create a visual that relates directly to your ad's promise, such as a depiction of the positive outcome of using your product or service. Ads targeting men are often effective if they show that a man has achieved success in the eyes of women by using the product.

3. A good fit with the chosen medium: One of the make-or-break elements of an ad is whether it meets the visual and editorial requirements of the media in which it will run. For example, print advertising on bus shelters is an excellent way to reach sidewalk traffic, bus riders and drivers in many metropolitan areas. But this kind of ad must be designed to be read from the street as well as close up, or drivers will see nothing but a headline and photo and will miss the call to action.

Advertising environments in print and internet media vary widely. To achieve maximum results, fit your design and copy style to the needs of the users of the media you choose. And create an integrated media campaign so that small-space ads in one medium send qualified customers to another, such as a website, where they can get further information.

Contact marketing expert Kim T. Gordon, author of Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars: The Top 50 Ways to Grow Your Small Business, at Her new e-book, Big Marketing Ideas for Small Budgets, is available exclusively from Entrepreneur at


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