How to: Construct a Press Ad

In this how-to I'll be looking at adverts. You remember adverts? Those things we do in the rare instances when the marketing dept has a bit of spare cash? 

Admittedly those days for many of us are few and far between, which makes it all the more essential that the rare adverts we do place are constructed to achieve maximum impact.

"Wait a minute" I hear you cry, "aren't solitary adverts a bit of a waste of time, shouldn't we only really use them as part of an overall advertisement strategy"? No. If you've got the money to run a series, then great but single adverts, for instance in a trade show guide, can have immense impact even if that one advert is the only one you run all year.

What bits go where?

Whilst your copy is important, just as vital is the basic layout of the advert.

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With the help of the illustration to the left, let me introduce you to term 'optical dead centre'. Whenever we look at an advert the eye first focuses on the optical dead centre of the page. This point, about two-thirds of the way up from the base and slightly to the right, is the optimum site for your headline or main illustration.

After hitting this point, the eye drifts over to the left and follows the left edge of the advert down to the bottom of the page. From this point it gets a little more hazy. The eye drifts back up over the text, pausing at items of interest such as highlighted boxes containing bullet points, or tear-off coupons, or a pretty picture.

Or not. It's entirely possible that after hitting the headline/illustration and quickly scanning the first column, your reader will have lost interest. That first optical centre/left hand column pass is, psychologists think, a search for order and sense within the advert, a sifting of available clues that helps them to evaluate if the rest of the advert is worth reading.

Many optimists like to imagine that people actually read the whole advert! I wish it were so, in fact without prompting people start where they please and stop when they feel like it. It's vital that the important points of your advert are placed where the eye is most likely to alight and presented in a manner that attracts attention.

Style

OK, you've sorted out positioning, now style. In my illustration I've used a classic layout for advertisements - nice picture, headline unmissable from optical dead centre, a subheading to make the transition into the body copy easier for the reader and three columns of text.

There are many variations on this classic theme, not all of them good, so here are some rules to keep you on the straight and narrow:

Never use sans serif fonts

Studies have shown that if you reset an advert originally in a serif font into sans serif, comprehension rates can drop from 60% plus to a little over 10%.

DON'T USE CAPITAL LETTERS

Capital letters throughout an advert are simply too difficult to read. The human eye recognises shapes rather than individual letters, by forcing people to individually read each word you're making things too difficult.

Use of columns

In our illustration the advert uses three columns across the page, with good reason. If you only have one wide column you're forcing the eye to make long passes back and forth, promoting boredom and tiredness. If your advert has only a small amount of copy then one narrow column is acceptable but as a general rule of thumb never let that column exceed a third of a page in width.

Reversed copy is a no-no

People are simply not used to reading white text on a dark background, the unfamiliarity is tiring.

Don't place a headline below the copy

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Many people cannot be bothered to move their eyes the long, long way up to the top of the page to start reading after viewing the headline.

Don't wrap text all away around the headline

Marooning the headline in the middle of wrapped text simply kills the flow of the copy.