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National Mail Order Association (NMOA)
Direct Marketing
and Mail Order

Principles of Print Advertising
By Alan Rosenspan

Did you happen to pick up the latest issue of InStyle magazine?

You might need some help.

The October issue weighed 2 lbs. 14 ounces! It had 528 pages, and included an extra 18-page section on fashion, 6 special inserts, and 2 BRC’s with subscription offers.

There were also three gatefold ads, including one on the cover. And the vast majority of all that paper was used for ads. So how do you make your print ad stand out in that environment?

Particularly since you’re paying as much as $80,000 per page for the privilege?

My agency is known for direct mail (and now e-marketing) but we also do a lot of print advertising for our clients, and I would like to share some of the things we’ve learned.

What makes print advertising unique?

Direct mail has more of an impact. E-mail is more personalized. Why would your company select print as a medium in the first place? There are three reasons to use print.

1. To announce a new product or service to the widest possible audience in the most cost-effective way.

2. To take advantage of a special section in a magazine, or a magazine where your product is being featured or reviewed.

3. To determine your target market, or expand it.

This is one of the most important reasons for direct marketers to use print. By advertising in a general publication, you can analyze the response and identify pockets of opportunity you may not have suspected.

For example, suppose you’re advertising Post-it notes. You think that they are mainly used for business, however when you advertise, you are surprised to see that nurses and medical practitioners are responding.

You now have a new target market — and it may be one that you didn’t even know about.

Print advertising can also add credibility to your product. The very fact that it will be seen in a well-known, established publication will add some weight and authority to your claims.

What’s the first principle to consider?

The first goal of any print ad is to stop the reader — literally stop them from turning the page. (Unlike direct mail, where the goal is to keep them reading, even when they turn the page)

This is one reason why it’s so hard to make two-page spread ads work. The reader can easily skip over both pages, without stopping and worrying about missing any content.

So how do you stop them in their tracks?

There are two main ways.

1. A compelling headline. Set in large, readable type.

Remember that your ad won’t be presented to your audience on a conference room wall. It will be in a sea of other ads, as the reader causally flips through the pages of the newspaper or magazine.

2. A "grabbing" graphic. Not an ordinary graphic, or an expected graphic, but something that people haven’t seen before.

Let’s take them one by one.

Are you wasting 80% of your money?

In his book, Research in Advertising, Dr. Henry Durant classified all headlines into five different categories. They are Teasers, Word Play, Brag and Boast, Say Little or Nothing, and Direct with Benefits or News.

Analysis of results showed that ads with headlines in the last category were on average, four times as effective.

And no less an authority than David Ogilvy said, "Some copywriters write tricky headlines, puns, literary allusions and other obscurities. This is a sin! Every headline should appeal to the reader’s self-interest. It should promise the reader a benefit."

He further observed that 4 out of 5 people only read the headline of an ad. If your headline doesn’t promise a benefit, you are wasting 80% of your money.

And what about those ads you see that don’t even have a headline?

Let’s look at some headlines from a recent issue of Time magazine.

You may have seen this ad, and puzzled over it. The visual shows a close-up of either red wax flowing over a bottle — or a lava field. The headline is obscure, "Ask for it by name."

Ask for what by name? Beats me — but maybe I can find out if I go to

Of course, they haven’t given me any reason to go there. That’s why, even though I’m writing about the ad, I still haven’t bothered. What a waste of money!

Or what about the ad for the new LS from Lincoln Mercury. The visual shows an apple. The headline says, "Look what fell out of the family tree." That’s exactly what I’m looking for in a car, aren’t you? I want it to remind me of an apple.

The headline, besides being blind and completely benefit-free, is also an example of a company talking about themselves. And they should be talking about what they can do for me.

I have two more suggestions on how to write effective headlines

from my own personal experience.

1. Ask a provocative question.

We just launched a new software product for developers called ObjectSpark. The main benefit is that it speeds up the time needed for coding. So we positioned it as a UFO, which stands for Unbelievably Fast ObjectSpark.

The headline of the ad read, "Have you ever seen a UFO?"

2. Use numbers in your headlines

Specifics are always more interesting than generalities, and much more credible.

A recent ad for the insurance company UNUM had this headline, "How do we know our disability management plan will work for your company? Because it’s working for ours."

Um…so what? However, the copy in the ad was much more specific.

It included facts such as "For every $1. invested, we saved $8.89." and "Our clients reduced lost workdays by as much as 25% and new long-term disability claims by 30%"

Every one of these specifics would have made a far more interesting, credible and effective headline than the one they used. Unfortunately, because of the bland, no-benefit headline, very few people would have read that far.

Think visually. Everyone else does.

Direct marketing people are usually copy-oriented. However, ordinary human beings remember less than 10% of what they read. But more than 50% of what they see.

So unless you’re advertising to another species — make sure your advertising has a terrific graphic.

What works in graphics?

1. Pictures of people. People love to look at photographs of other people — they get far more attention than photographs of "stuff."

And don’t just show me models. Use real people, unusual people,

people I don’t see in every other advertisement.

2. Show your product in use. Don’t just show me a box. This is a particular problem in business-to-business advertising, because showing the product in use may be difficult.

3. Show me something I can recognize. I don’t want to have to squint and try and figure out what I’m looking at — unless that’s the point of the ad.

4. But make sure the picture has story appeal. The classic example

is David Ogilvy’s ad for Hathaway shorts. The model wore an eye-patch. Now that’s something you don’t see in every advertisement.

5. Show one big picture, not a lot of smaller ones. Every

advertisement needs a "hero" — the main visual focus of the ad. It could be a prominent headline; it could be a great visual. But there shouldn’t be too many little elements.

Of course, advertisements can be even more effective when a great headline and a great visual work together.

For example, Harley-Davidson did a terrific ad with a motorcycle parked inside a church. (That’s story appeal) The headline read, "You commit 4 of the 7 deadly sins just looking at it."

What should your ad include?

Your ad should start with a great headline and a compelling visual.

But that’s only to get people’s attention.

Once you have it, that’s when your real work starts. Here are some things that can help make your print ad more effective.

A "You" orientation. Ads that are focused on the product or the company have less of a chance to succeed than ads that are focused on the prospect. Simply by putting the word "You" in the headline and copy increases readership.

A coupon. Yes, I know your ad has your web address, and your 800 number. But research has shown that the presence of a prominent coupon increases ad readership by 13% no matter what the offer.

The reason is that a coupon alerts the reader that "we’ve got something for you!" And please put the coupon on the lower right hand side. Clever coupons that need to be carefully cut-out are rarely effective.

Read-aloud copy. I’m not talking about a children’s book here. The best way to know if your advertising copy reads well is if it sounds well. If you can comfortably read it out loud to another person, it’s probably good copy.

Captions. They are the second most-read part of any advertisement, after the headline. Put them under every photograph. And don’t settle for descriptive captions — make them selling captions.

Easy to read type. Use big typefaces (at least 12 point type) with serifs, and make sure your copy isn’t printed on a color or reverse background.

One company I know faxes their layouts before they make them into ads. The reason is that they can see how easy it is to read.

How to get people to respond to your ads

Many of these suggestions have been to get people to notice and read your advertisement. And that’s where to start.

But I also have a few suggestions on how to get them to respond.

1. Have a good offer, and highlight it.

Print is just like direct mail — the offer is incredibly important. And please don’t bury it in the copy. Make it an important part of the ad.

I recommend showing a photograph, even if all you are offering is a brochure.

The reason? It makes it "real." This is exactly what you get.

2. Use a BRC, if possible

A bound-in reply card will multiply your response 4 to 10 times over. It costs more, but it’s usually worth every penny.

First, it makes position irrelevant. Magazines typically charge more if you want your ad to be placed in the front of the book. A BRC makes the magazine naturally open to your ad, so you don’t have to worry where it appears.

Second, it makes it easier to respond. Your prospect just has to rip out the card, fill it out and mail it. They don’t have to search for an envelope or a stamp.

But even if you do a BRC, you should still include a coupon for pass-along readership; and an 800 number and web address for people who prefer to respond another way.

3. Test small space advertising

Smaller ads can be highly effective when it comes to generating leads, if you have a good offer.

How small? That’s a question that only testing can answer. However, with a strong offer, small space advertising will usually be more cost-effective than larger units.

I always recommend buying what’s called a "junior page" rather than a full page, whenever possible. A junior page is an ad that takes up approximately 2/3 of the page.

The reason it works is that the newspaper or magazine usually runs an article around it, so more people stop before they turn the page.

4. Involve the reader

Who says a print ad can’t be involving? You can invite people to take a quiz. You can challenge them. You can be creative.

I wrote a classified print ad for the last agency I worked for that was so successful it actually won a Silver Echo. We were trying to hire a proofreader, so the ad had the following headline:

"Proofreader wanted for rapidly

growling direct marketing firm."

The copy invited you to "correct this ad and return it to our human resources director, with a copy of your resume." We received over 300 responses!

My favorite print ad of all time

In my seminar called "Improve Your Direct Mail in One Day — Guaranteed," I share a lot of terrific direct mail samples.

But I only show a single print ad.

It’s for GEICO Auto Insurance, and they’ve won a number of awards for their innovative and highly successful work in all media.

But they’re not just creative — they really understand direct marketing. Because the headline of the ad that I show is as follows:

"No one wants to read a long ad about car insurance. So we made this a long ad about saving money."

When I show it, I say, "No one wants to read even a short ad about you. But they may be willing to read a long ad about what you can do for them."

And that’s a principle that applies to any media.

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