How to Design an Effective Ad

Bombarded by the daily ad onslaught, you and your fellow urbanites have trained themselves to ignore most advertisements. But suppose now it’s your job to captivate this jaded audience and persuade them to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. Your Jedi mind tricks are of no use to you on page 72 of Sactown. Welcome to the ad biz.

Unsexy though it may be, your ad must start with a roadmap—we call it a brief—and woe is to the project manager who skips it. A brief clearly defines all aspects of the job:

Who are you really talking to? Purchasers or influencers? The low-hanging fruit or the skeptics? What is the target’s age, gender, income and self-image? Shotgun approaches can work, but a highly-targeted ad can deliver more bang for your buck.

Are you trying to sell a particular product or promote a whole brand? Should the reader go to your store, visit your website or call NOW? At the very least, create an association between your business (say, legal defense) and something your audience values (such as not going to jail).

Primary message
If you tell someone three things, they’ll remember none. What’s the “takeaway”? In your brief, state it as one plain, complete sentence, such as, “Acme Rocket Dog owners enjoy peace of mind.” You can have other messages, but they will be supporting players. You can only have one starring role.

Supporting details
Back up your primary message with facts or claims, such as “Acme Rocket Dogs have three times the range and impact of traditional rocket dogs.” Don’t lie.

Creative approach
Now comes the fun part. And the hard part. What visuals and headlines will work together to grab your audience by the lapels, knock them out of their chair and send a message that’s surprising, amusing, touching or stimulating? To suggest Acme Rocket Dogs offer peace of mind, you might show someone experiencing the opposite—a wide-eyed astronaut left behind by his inferior rocket dog knockoffs. Or you might exaggerate the benefit with an astronaut who’s relaxed in the middle of a Saturnalian storm, knowing his Acme Rocket Dogs will bring him back safely.

Confirm the dimensions and colors of your ad placement. Keep in mind that any ad smaller than a full-page will compete with everything else on the page. Whatever the size, don’t cram too much in. Establish a visual hierarchy of information. And remember, white space is your friend. It helps everything else do its job.

There are a lot of things to create here: brief, concept, headline, body copy, layout, initial proofs and the final file. Create a schedule by working backward from your deadline, allowing ample time at each step for review and feedback. Without wiggle room, one missed deadline can throw everything off. No matter what, have a smart person or two proofread it before it goes out the door. After all that effort, one typo or misspelling will haunt you for a very long time.

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