What do Successful Print Ads Have in Common?

Posted on Sep 2, 2009 by Kerry O'Malley

Too often, ad concepts get evaluated on gut instinct – especially when you’re sending them around for approvals from other managers.  Rather than letting the project stall as opinions fly back and forth, I’ve found it’s useful to offer some objective criteria for evaluating the ad.

What works?

Here’s a checklist you can use.  In my experience, I’ve found that successful ads usually share some of the same characteristics.

Contains images or artwork that is arresting enough to stop the reader’s eye. Arresting doesn’t necessarily mean attractive.  Ask the people critiquing the ad to imagine it the way it will appear in the magazine:  mixed in with editorial copy and competing ads.  Would it stop them?

Targets the right audience. Is it clear to whom the ad is speaking?

Invites the reader in, with graphics that relate to their interests or concerns. Does it use words, images and themes that resonate with the target audience?

Promises something better than what they have. Can readers identify how they’ll benefit?

Backs up the promise. Is there proof, or just talk?

Presents the selling proposition in logical sequence. Ask reviewers to tell you what they think the selling proposition of the ad is.

Talks person to person.  Can they visualize a real person writing the ad?  And a real person reading it?

Is easy to read. Is the text clean and readable without the use of extra verbage?

Emphasizes the product or service, not the source. WHAT to buy is more important than who’s doing the selling.

Reflects the company’s character. Does the ad reinforce the image you’re trying to create in the marketplace?  For example, edgy creative may get you excited, but if customers buy from you because you’re reliable and predictable, it may confuse them.

Author: Kerry O'Malley


Marketects was founded in 1999 by Kerry O’Malley, a proven marketing communications professional in international, manufacturing companies. Working on the “other side of the desk,” she hired ad agencies to manage her employers’ advertising and P/R programs. Frustrated over the lack of attention and level of enthusiasm she was looking for in the marketing agencies she worked with, Kerry realized that there was a definite need for a full-service marketing firm that specialized in working with industrial companies. She resolved that her clients would always receive the highest level of service possible and never feel like the last kid chosen for the team.

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