"Readers are exposed to thousands of ads a day and only a few ads are going to catch their attention."
By David P. Kowal
What is the first thing that attracted you to your spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend? Chances are, your initial attraction was based on looks. We're all superficial to a certain extent. We buy cars, clothing, furniture and houses because of their visual appeal. We diet, work out and change our hairstyles to look good.
Yet when it comes to advertising, there is a tendency to go for the cheap date. An ad or a brochure doesn't necessarily have to be visually stunning, but it shouldn't be a dog, either. We're exposed to thousands of images every day. For your ad to be noticed, it has to have more going for it than a nice personality. Readers are exposed to thousands of ads a day and only a few ads are going to catch their attention. If your ad doesn't stand out, it doesn't stand a chance.
Some advertisers try to save money by having the publications in which they are advertising design their ads for them. If the same designer designs half of the ads in a publication, half of the ads will look alike, so, of course, your ad won't stand out. You don't want your ads to look like anyone else's, but you do want a consistent look to your communications materials. If you're advertising in more than one publication, and you're relying on the publications' in-house designers, every ad will look different.
The publications in which you advertise may have competent in-house designers, but presumably they don't know you or your firm as well as your advertising agency does, so they are unlikely to do as good of a job for you. They are also working under tight deadlines and don't have time to give your ad the scrutiny your agency would give it.
Regardless of who's designing your ad, let your designer dare to be different. If, for example, you're advertising in a publication where color is rarely used, it's probably worth the extra cost to add color to your ad. If your ad is the only color ad on a page, it will be noticed.
Signage and Collateral
Design plays an important role not just in advertising, of course, but in all types of visual communication. Real estate agencies, for example, tend to be frugal with signage and collateral, even though they're selling high-priced goods. Likewise, many companies put little thought into designing a logo, even though a visual image can play a major role in differentiating a company.
Another common design mistake is the tendency to use different designers for different projects. Consider all of your communications materials to be part of the same package. They should share a common look. If you have a designer work on a project for you then bring in someone else to work on a second project, you can guarantee that it will look nothing like the first project. Designers are creative people and don't like to copy each other's ideas.
As important as design is to your communications materials, keep in mind that communications should not be all style and no substance. A striking design will attract readers to your ad, but the copy has to hold their attention and deliver the right marketing message. Ideally, you should strive for both good looks and a nice personality.
David P. Kowal is President of Kowal Communications, Inc. of Northboro, Mass. He can be reached at email@example.com.