Assess good vs. bad ads with five questions

July 6, 2015

By Jo-Ann Johnson
Metro Creative Graphics Inc.

In most ways, today’s advertising landscape has been completely redrawn. With the explosion of digital and mobile advertising in recent decades, both advertisers and media outlets have been required to abandon business as usual and adopt a new set of rules—many of which are still in flux. At the same time, technology has not altered the key design principles governing effective advertising. A great ad layout from 1965 is still a great ad layout in 2015. To get a good read on a layout, ask these five quick questions about every ad:

1. Are the visuals captivating?

Images are intended to quickly engage consumers and whet their appetites for the ad’s message. Simply showing a product or service doesn’t get the job done. A captivating image is one that grabs viewers’ attention and doesn’t let go until they have moved into the message. Selecting type that is appropriate for the product or service, easy on the eyes, and doesn’t compete with the images is important, as well.

2. Is the message clear?

A clear message begins with a strong headline that grabs readers’ attention. The best headlines not only offer key information about the product or service, but about its benefits. When it comes to headlines and ad copy, witty wordplay and humor can work well—as long as the message isn’t lost in the attempt at ingenuity.

3. Is there good eye flow?

Because Western cultures read from top to bottom and left to right, the exit point of an ad is typically at the lower right corner. Effective ads take advantage of that knowledge by placing headlines at the top and logos and/or contact information at the lower right. Good eye flow also benefits from ample white space. Crowded, congested ads muddle both the flow and the message.

4. Does it benefit consumers?

Legendary Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt nailed it when he said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” In evaluating ads, make sure they are selling benefits—comfort, convenience, well-being, ease—rather than products.

5. Is there a call to action?

Every effective ad has a clear and concise call to action. Without it, an ad might grab readers’ attention, but it won’t seal the deal. Simply stated, a call to action is a statement that urges readers to do something, such as visit a retailer on specific dates for a sale or use a coupon for a discount. The best calls to action not only encourage reader action, but also communicate that the action is a targeted solution to a problem identified or implied in the ad.

To receive Metro’s introductory guide to the “10 Elements of a Good Ad,” call 800-223-1600 or e-mail

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