These aren’t sacrosanct rules, but taken together they offer a good blueprint for designing print advertising that will work.


The branding has to be communicated


It is simple enough to get attention. That’s the easy part; getting attention while ensuring the brand message is taken away is where things get tricky. We’d recommend that branding is used in the main visual/core message, or the ad will run the risk of getting attention but not delivering the brand alongside of it. Print advertising has to get attention + convey the brand (or product) or it isn’t doing its job.


Don’t overcomplicate things


If you manage to get the attention of the audience, you have a ceiling of around 15 seconds before their attention will waver. Our hunch is that you should plan for less – so make sure that the take home message is clear. What do you want people who see the ad to do as a result of seeing the ad? Strip elements back, whether copy or design, if needs be. Nothing should complicate the delivery of that message, and risk the message getting lost in the process. There is room for abstraction, but if it is hard for the unassuming viewer to draw the lines between the concept and the brand and key message, something is wrong.


But allow for some complication


There is an unwritten rule that you can, indeed, should deliver two on two levels. Readers will, in the first instance, scan the ad; a cursory glance where there is only enough time to deliver an interesting concept, visual or a recognisable brand. One of the great benefits of print, is that it allows for the consumer to pace their own ad consumption. If that first glance worked, if a familiar brand broke or innovative concept broke through, we are likely to spend a little more time digesting a secondary message. Print adverts are able to deliver depth but it’s important to remember that without the attention in the first place that depth is wasted.


Create an effective visual hierarchy based on the above


Where do people look first, where do they look after that? Composition is the method by which a designer will lead the audience through the narrative of the advert. How the various elements fit around the visual concept and the primary message needs to be considered, or left to chance.


Make us feel


Print advertising is both art and science. We can, thanks to eye tracking research, say pretty accurately how your ad will be seen for the first time: rapid, darting movements of the eye (doctors call them saccades) scan the page in a series of micromovements. Then, if something catches the attention during that first moment, a period of relative stability (a fixation) allows for visual information to be gathered. Which is all well and good but science can’t yet replicate invention and humour. Sometimes, just getting the audience to feel something is half the battle.


Know, then break the rules


Knowing all of this, sometimes it pays to ignore the rules. For a start, this isn’t an exact science: different audiences, different brands and different media spaces means there are times when one or more of the rules should be broken. And sometimes doing things differently is precisely what will get you the attention you need.


We design and place print adverts for household names, so for any advice on the above, get in touch with our team to find out how they could improve your next print advert.


By Oliver Brown