As I seem to be back in the world of print advertising after six-months of only creating for the web, I thought this would be a fitting topic for the month—and it can be especially beneficial for the layman wanting to create his own ad.
There are actually many things, and combinations of things that can work to make your piece stand out in the sea of similarity you’ll notice in any magazine. I’ve pulled out five basic approaches and highlighted them below using examples from my own portfolio.
Let’s start with a concept—an ad is always better if there is an idea behind it. And it’s important to give this some thought before you put anything to paper. For example, in the Pearson piece below (which was actually a poster, not an ad) we’d been charged with getting ‘at-risk’ students to enter an essay contest to win money towards their college education. We could have said ‘tell us what inspired you to stay in school’ but we didn’t. Knowing the motivation that these particular kids had, we gave the idea some thought before coming up with something they could relate to: ‘Failure is not an option’.
One of the most important things you can do to make your piece stand out is to find an image that is both compelling and also works with your concept. In this business-to-business print ad for Sprint, the idea we wanted to convey was that ‘your business could profit when it teamed up with Sprint’.
Here I used the image of a dollar bill, but blew it up beyond life-size to only reveal a portion of George Washington’s face. The detail and coloring let the reader know immediately that it’s money. It’s the powerful image here that pulls you in to read the rest of the ad.
Typography can play a very important part in the advertising print ad, but surprisingly very few art directors use it to its full potential. As you can see by the ad below, it’s not always the concept or the image that makes you look at an ad twice. In this case, it’s the type design. (See image below).
This ad for Virgin Atlantic does not even have a headline but uses the body copy to ‘complete the visual’. The seat belt becomes ‘attached’ by the handwritten text that curves to add dimensionality and drama. This ad breaks all the rules, but its uniqueness is what makes you stop and look at it again.
Does your idea have legs? Is it something you can follow through on with a second ad? This is important because chances are good that if you’ve had an opportunity to create one ad, and it was successful, you’ll want to create more.
In the example below for Capital One Bank’s Small Business division, I incorporated business cards from different small businesses directly into the ads. (Images 4, 5 & 6) I also wanted this campaign ‘ownable’ so using Photoshops’ amazing abilities, I drizzled and smeared aspects of the small business onto the cards and kept a similar background throughout. Not only do simple tricks like this give an ad the ability to keep on going, but it also makes the piece memorable.
In these ads for Mirabegron, I used a paper doll cutout as a ‘stand in’ for the real person, who unfortunately due to her condition, spent a lot of time in the bathroom. The unusual contrasts of color, smoke and blowing sand also make these feel like they belong together even though they do not use a common background.
I do a lot of photocomposing in my work (using Photoshop) and none of these elements were in the same picture to begin with. Having some basic knowledge of what different programs can do and jumping back and forth between them is key to obtaining some unexpected imagery in my opinion. It gives you an edge others may not have and usually makes for an interesting looking ad. You may want to look at one of my articles on "Simple Photoshop" to gather up some basic skills.
I also suggest opening up magazines to see what the competition is doing. If you’re doing an ad for dog food and everyone else shows a happy dog at his dog dish, stay away from that and come up with something entirely different. Maybe it’s an unhappy dog who has decided to rebel and has overturned his dish, or maybe he’s so angry at what he’s been given that he’s taken to eating the cat’s food. I think you get the idea. Try to stay away from things that feel familiar. Break out of your comfort zone and try something different. It’s well worth the extra effort.
So in summation, if you have the opportunity to create a print ad for a publication (whether newspaper or magazine) here are some questions to ask yourself before you submit the same old ad:
Any one of these things on their own will be a good start, but why not try combining elements. You may not like what you see at first, but there are numerous variations to any ad, be it headline on top, headline on bottom or in the case of the Virgin Atlantic ad, no headline at all. Take some time to play around; I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with something imaginative and unique.