9 Last-Minute Checkups for Healthy Print Ads
by Dean Rieck
Print ads offer a simplicity and elegance of form that are hard to match. But these very qualities often lead to problems in the creative process.
One problem is laziness. Compared to a direct mail package with all the bells and whistles, a print ad seems easy to write and design. It's tempting to just crank it out and move on to bigger projects.
An opposite problem is fixation. While direct mail is a disposable medium, people often keep publications. Print ads can stick around for years. So you may be tempted to tinker endlessly with every word, overwork the layout, or force the ad to do things it was never intended to do.
Here are a few ways to get some perspective and double-check an ad before you place it:
- Take a break. You can't evaluate anything objectively the moment you create it. Set your ad aside and look at it again when you're fresh. Is it still as good as you thought? Have you forgotten anything? Is there a problem you didn't see before? You'll be surprised how clear your vision gets after a few hours or days.
- Use the 5-Second Test. Show the ad to a few people who are not in the advertising business, preferably those to whom the ad is meant to appeal. If they don't understand it at a glance (in about 5 seconds), it isn't going to work. Don't play with body copy. Revise the big things. Make your headline more clear and direct. Be sure the graphics telegraph your message. Highlight your offer.
- See how it looks as placed. After all, people won't see your ad tacked to the art director's wall. They'll see it in magazines or newspapers along with lots of other ads and editorial matter. Mock up the ad and insert it into some of your target publications. See how the ad works in context.
- Try the Stop-or-Go Test. You should generally speak in the second person, using words such as "you" and "your." And you should avoid speaking about yourself too much with words such as "we" and "our." So circle all words referring to your reader with a green pen. Then circle all words referring to you with a red pen. If you see a lot of green, your copy is a go. If you see a lot of red, stop and edit.
- Compare your ad to your objective. What do you want the ad to accomplish? Do all the elements of your ad lead to that goal? If something doesn't belong, delete it. If there's something missing, add it. And don't let the designer dictate the message or copy length. Words sell.
- Consider one other way to write the ad. Even if you have a successful formula, there are always other approaches that will work. If you keep an open mind, you just might find a better way. Or you may discover improvements you can incorporate. One advantage to writing a second ad after completing the first is that you will feel free to experiment and try something different.
- List all the negatives. What's wrong with the headline and copy? The layout? The illustrations? The coupon? The look or tone? Be brutal and honest. Don't get attached to particular words or images. After all, this isn't art. It's not your personal vision. It's business. So if something needs to be changed, change it.
- Ask a consultant for a copy analysis. It gives you a level of objectivity you simply can't get from staff and employees. And since there are as many ways to write an ad as there are writers, you're sure to get some good ideas. Even one small improvement can mean the difference between success and failure.
- Make corporate ads work. If you're going to all the trouble to position your company or products, why not distribute some literature and give your salespeople some leads at the same time? Offer a free fact kit, video, brochure, report, or anything to generate a response. This doesn't hurt your image. It shows that you want to make a connection and that you want to help.
Copyright © 2003 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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