Despite the rapid growth and popularity of internet marketing techniques, print advertising is still a popular, affordable and effective medium favored by many small businesses. The multitude of available options includes newspapers, weekly periodicals, local magazines, directories, catalogs, and various other forms of consumer-targeted printed matter.

Personally, I enjoy collecting various regional print media, in order to peruse the local business climate, and to see what small business owners are doing right – and wrong – when it comes to marketing their companies with printed advertisements.

I just spent the weekend in Ashland, Oregon,
home of the world-famous Shakespeare Theater Festival, where I collected several local rags and mags along the way. Glancing through these papers, it seems that most business owners think a quarter-page print ad is a chance to finally write that novel they’ve been pondering since college!

In paper after paper, tiny ads are jam-packed with more information than the reader could possibly digest in the split second their eye scans the page. From multiple bullet-point product lists to overly-detailed service descriptions, these advertisers presume the only way to make an impression is to over-inform. One restaurant printed their ENTIRE MENU in 6pt. type!

Apparently, most small business owners have yet to realize that, when it comes to advertisements, especially small ones, less truly is more.

Let’s take a look at a few examples,
good and bad, and dissect the formula for an effective print ad.

The Problem: Too Many Elements

You need some pretty strong brain muscles to lift all the elements packed into this fitness center advertisement. With its Fall Special promotion, oddly-cropped photo of an unidentified muscle man, mini mission statement, checklist of features, testimonial, employee quote, plus logo and contact info, there are way too many messages competing for attention. In cases like this, the reader ends up taking nothing from the ad.

The Solution: Focus On One Main Message

Let the ad be about the Fall Fitness Special. Keep the info related to the special, and let that take up most of the room. Keep the descriptive text that’s in the green oval (just the text, ditch that amateur oval graphic), because it speaks to the company’s point of difference. Create a strong call to action to drive readers into the facility to sign up, and play up the expiration date in order to create urgency. Obviously, keep the contact info.

Move everything else to the website. If the reader is not ready to come into the facility to sign up, they will visit the website, where they can discover the features, quotes, testimonials, and quite possibly, the identity of that mysterious muscle man.

The Problem: Not Enough Info

While the fitness ad suffered from too much information, this one has the opposite problem. It doesn’t answer the most important question at the forefront of every consumers mind, “What’s in it for me?” Readers need to know why they should care, how they’re going to benefit, and what’s unique about your company’s offering.

This ad answers none of those questions, and assumes that people will be interested in meeting at Munchies for the sole reason that they presumably serve food. Well, so do a million other restaurants, and at least the rest of them have the decency to tell us what type of food they specialize in. Heck, this ad doesn’t even bother to include a city in their address, nor do they list a website.

The Solution: Give Us A Reason To Meet You At Munchies

One of the more effective restaurant ads I saw
touted themselves as “Ashland’s meat-centric restaurant.” Another one specialized in “Casual, contemporary Italian cuisine.” Create a unique tagline that lets people know what your specialty is, and why they should try your offering over everybody else’s. Also, include your city in all of your marketing materials because you never know where they may end up. And, it’s 2011 for goodness sake, get a website!

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Peppered amongst the glut of overly-informative, poorly-designed ads, I did manage to find some that were eye-catching, compelling and effective. The following are a couple examples:

This ad has a quintessential “agency” feel to it. I was an Art Director in Minneapolis for many years, and this was the type of work being created by my colleagues and me. Snappy headline, related image, concise body copy, logo, contact info and lots of white space. Truthfully, that’s all you need.

Of course, clients always wanted less white space and bigger logos, but the eye appreciates a little breathing room. As for logos, they should be used like a signature on a work of art, not a main focal point.

Here’s another good one that manages to include all the right elements. The main focal point is an attractive, fun lifestyle photo that speaks to their target audience, with a vivid color scheme that begs to be noticed.

I also like the ‘three adjective’ headline. When I’m helping clients define their brand, it’s always helpful to have them choose three adjectives that describe their company. In this case, Deja Vu has chosen to use their adjectives as a headline, followed up with a catchy tagline. They tout their “Best Of” credentials, include their logo, contact and Facebook address, and that’s it. Nothing else needed.

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As you can see from this case study, the secret to effective advertising is to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Catch their attention
  2. Describe your offering
  3. Peak their interest
  4. Drive them to action

Anything else is simply extraneous information that will muddle your main message and create more obstacles on the road towards gaining a customer.

Do you agree or disagree? What do you feel is the most important element of your small business advertisement?