Ray Braun Design
Graphic Design for Business and Non-Profits

A Fitness Program for Flabby Ads

How did your ads fare last year? Were they well toned and full of energy? Or did they carry more fat than muscle?

To evaluate my ads the first thing I do is flip to the Copy Chasers section in my monthly issue of Business Marketing. A panel of advertising experts, the Copy Chasers critique business-to-business ads. They evaluate the elements — art, layout, headline, body copy, etc. — explaining what works and what doesn’t.

Last November when the Copy Chasers announced the winners of the annual Sawyer Awards for the year’s best business-to-business ads, they also published their rules. These are the guidelines they use to evaluate ads and judge their effectiveness.

I’ve paraphrased the rules below. Consider each one a special exercise designed to remove the flab from your ads.

Use high visual magnetism.

Some ads are passed by because the subject matter is of no interest to readers. However, many ads that would be of interest are passed by because they fail to stop the readers.Construct your ads so that a single component — a visual, headline, text (but not the company name or logo) — will stop readers from scanning the page to zero in on your ad.

Select the right audience.

Think of your ad as the first meeting place of two parties in search of one another. Your ad needs to say, “Hey, this is for you!” At first glance, readers should know that your ad relates to their interests and presents an opportunity to solve a problem they have.

Invite the reader into the scene.

If this sounds like a job for the art director, it is. Art and layout need to illuminate and dramatize the selling proposition, taking into consideration our previous exercise, selecting the right audience.

For instance, design engineers work with drawings. Construction engineers like to see how things work. Chemical engineers are partial to flowcharts. And managers like to look at pictures of people.
Audience characteristics provide the clues for how to use art and layout to attract the readers you want.

Promise a reward.

If you want your ad to survive the qualifying round, promise a reward, something of value to readers.
Brag-and-boast headlines, generalizations and advertising platitudes sap the energy from your ads. Avoid them at all costs. Instead, make a specific promise in a way that readers can’t miss.

Back up the promise.

Provide evidence that your claim is true. This could be a description of a product design or operating characteristics, comparisons with the competition, case histories, or, best of all, testimonials. “They say” always carries more weight than “we say.”

Talk person to person.

Copy is most persuasive when it speaks to readers as individuals, person to person in terms and language they understand. Write about your audience's interests with short words, sentences and paragraphs. Use the active rather than the passive voice. Avoid cliches. And, by all means, liberally use the personal pronoun “you.”

Be easy to read.

For easy-to-read copy, make type black on white and no smaller than 9 points. Keep it clear of other ad elements. Also, avoid column widths exceeding half the width of the ad.

Emphasize the product or service.

Many advertisers like to see their company name in the headline, their logo as the largest element in the ad, or perhaps each instance of their name set in boldface. Resist the temptation. Readers are more interested in the “what” than the “where.” Do a good job convincing them about the “what” and the “where” will take care of itself.

Reflect company character.

Even if not an accurate portrayal, messy ads say messy company. Brag-and-boast ads say look at how great we are instead of here’s what we can do for you. Advertising is an excellent opportunity to put your company character in a favorable light. Take full advantage. Shape up your ads and your company is sure to look good.

Neil Sagebiel is a freelance copywriter who has written promotional copy for dozens of national clients. Neil's specialty is B2B, including print and online advertising, marketing collateral, Web, email marketing, direct mail and PR materials. He can be contacted at 540-745-5472 or www.neilsagebiel.com.