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In Your Eyes

Take it from American Express: The right visual cues draw readers into your ad.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the February 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

One of the most venerable of American advertisers, "supported" by a few generations of professional pickpockets, is American Express Travelers Cheques. The famed credit card company continues to get its message out in captivating ways, and its advertising offers lessons you may be able to use in your own campaign.

A great example is the ad shown below. It's a bird's-eye view of how you can unknowingly be relieved of your wallet by a passerby, who then toddles off with your vacation cash. The ad gets an A+ for ad composition, plopping the two-part headline, "You" and then (drop your eyes) "Your Wallet," where you least expect them. Each part is set in a small, black balloon that points to where you should look in the picture. This unexpected assemblage of elements is a fresh way to draw the reader's eye, because most ads have their headlines nailed to the top of the page. Together with the visual of the beach and the juxtaposition of the vacationers and the thief, you just can't get much better at conveying an advertising message in a veritable eye-blink.

Although the headline and visual practically do all the selling needed here, a little body copy seals the deal. It starts out, "Every ten minutes someone traveling in America loses their cash. If American Express Travelers Cheques are lost or stolen, they can be replaced, usually within 24 hours. Cash can't." Say no more. Where do I sign up? The ad is co-branded with the American Automobile Association (AAA) to let readers know they can get their Cheques free at AAA before they set off for Miami or the French Riviera.

What to take away: The use of copy balloons as visual aids to draw prospects into and around your own ad can be quite attention-getting. For example, let's say you operated a chain of Italian eateries and wanted to promote your pizzas in your advertising. Imagine an ad with the headline, "How our pizzas help you live longer." You'd then display a pizza with a few such balloons around and on the pie, each one pointing to a different ingredient that's life-extending, such as "olive oil: good for the heart," "tomato sauce: healthy for the prostate" and so on. The point here is that breaking the visual format of traditional advertising can give you a much better chance of getting noticed by the desensitized, indifferent public.

Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising.

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