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Advertising Design Basics

Advertising Design Basics

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Advertising has been the mainstay and backbone of many businesses for centuries and of course it began with print advertising followed by more ways to advertise than could be imagined. Many designers made their mark in this field. Advertising has become social glue itself as consumers almost always remember ads from their childhood whether good or bad. One advertising campaign could either make or break a company as advertising holds much communication weight in the minds of consumers. Who can forget the era of advertising greatness as depicted in Mad Men? Today, a plethora of ads compete for consumer’s attention almost non stop. With digital publishing now widely available, advertising in this atmosphere of Brave New World has become within reach of virtually everyone and due to this non stop barrage many consumers have learned to just tune advertising out. Only time will tell if advertising has been the bell weather of greater communication deterioration but today it is a very hard market to compete in, and ad design is a multi level specialty requiring great skill.

There are many tutorials about how to write good ad copy, what type of images to place in ads, ad styles, ad campaigns, return on investment, ad marketing including test marketing, and much more. 

Like many graphic designers one of my first jobs was in basic ad design for newspapers and small magazines and I had to quickly learn the craft to meet news deadlines. I still have a love for advertising and today as a design agency co-owner when the opportunity arises to create an ad for a client I think about how can I help them communicate their service with this ad in this very competitive market, and still answer the following questions in the minds of the viewer.

Who, what, when, where and why.

Who are you?

This is your introduction and it should be memorable. This is where your advertising style comes in to play. Are you funny, serious, trustworthy, expensive, colorful, simple etc.

What are you communicating?

This is why ad agencies garner the big bucks because it isn’t alway obvious what you are actually communicating. Many advertising campaigns weren’t intentionally created to achieve a bad impression (although it can be a ploy) but eventually it became their lasting impression and while some differ on whether this actually hurts the bottom line, historically speaking eventually it almost always did because it was usually a reflection of a greater underlying issue regarding their brand. You can’t polish a rotten apple because there is always a bite and if it leads to a bad taste in the mouths of consumers it spells trouble that may cost a fortune to try to undo.

Is it your product or service or just an overall impression to introduce either yourself or a business opening?

Where are you (how can customers reach you)?

Do you want customers to reach you primarily via email, web address, a phone number, a physical address or all of the above. How many of these are really necessary for your business?

And most importantly, why should they want to reach out to you?

This may seem like a no brainer but advertising is not to sell something. 

That’s right, an effective ad should not be to sell someone something or to get yourself hired.

The most important reason for anyone to pay attention to an ad is that you are showing someone what you can do for them.

As you formulate your advertising plan think about all of the ways you benefit your customers. Only then concentrate on who, what, where, when and your advertising style. This is the formula that introduced an era of advertising from simple fact compilation to relay to viewers to communicating brand awareness and eventually trust and finally maybe even love.

Today, advertising has reached a whole new pitch as social engineering combined with a heavy handed dictatorial approach as seen in bygone eras of Govt. speak as the new form of advertising. Whether proselytizing combined with consumerism is successful remains to be seen as ad viewers as consumers are still bread and butter to the advertiser. Companies should not forget their place, no business is too big to fail as seen by collapsing ad revenues in some markets today.

Other markets are still thriving and one area where advertising is still profitable is tourism. Tourists still rely on advertising to navigate their new surroundings whether if looking for a restaurant, a place to shop or the very basic, a place to stay. They also may need services. Entertainment advertising still thrives as does ‘the announcement’ form of advertising, a sale, a new store, product, etc. However, any advertising can thrive as long as you remember to show someone what you can do for them and do it better, faster, less expensively or whatever the case may be and then it is up to you to make sure that is the core message. It is all about service.

The following is a very basic overview of simple ad design for the types of ads as seen in newspapers. There is no fluff regarding graphic styles as newspaper advertising primarily relied on readability. Ads were always in black and white or maybe had the addition of one color. Basic layout principles apply as the ad campaign moves up in scale to more expensive magazine or other full color forms of advertising.

The ad example will be for an announcement type ad. It is for a new gallery and artist co-op opening. It offers a sip and paint as a teaser to generate traffic flow. It is created as a one, two and three column ad in the local newspaper.

One Column

Since newspaper advertisements will be of poor print quality a small amount of fairly large body text will be appropriate as legibility will be a critical factor. A layout that can be easily adapted to suit a variety of column widths is required. The headline is pared down to the basic announcement and used as large as the width will allow. No formal grid is employed. In most circumstances caps only headlines require less leading because the space between lines is not interrupted by descenders. As all caps headlines get larger they need less leading. While it is not always possible to keep the relative proportion of the headline to text, ideally the proportion should be kept when an ad is adapted to other sizes and formats. In this ad demonstration instance the headline proportion to text will not remain constant as it would make the layout much weaker in larger ad formats. Keep text paragraphs (elements) in their own space and allow space between them no matter how small the ad. One font with several different weights is more helpful than the use of different fonts in a small ad.

Typically a one column ad is the most difficult to create and text should be kept to a bare minimum. Generally, try not to go below 10 pt. text size. Keep borders at .5 or 1 pt. max. on all ads. Here it is 1 pt. The headline is at the top of text hierarchy. There is minimum graphic embellishment but a call to action is placed within a contrasting box to attract attention as the reader follows the ad downward to its heaviest bottom. While this ad is very simple it can still teach the basics while not relying on graphics or photos to lead the eye as it is simply a what, when, who, where and finally a why (or call to action).

 
Actual size 1.875 x 4.5"

Two Column Ad

Next is a two column ad. Again brevity is a prime requirement but here I am able to utilize more graphics to capture attention. While ad campaigns should be similar in layout it isn’t always necessary and in this instance I placed an introduction as the lead graphic to guide the eye by using the logo as my graphic. In page layout I would prefer more space above and aligned with the natural starting point for reading but ads don’t always offer generous spacing. The large text size of the heading still enables prominence. I am also able to add another graphic. 

A simple layout guide rule is utilized in this two column ad and it can be used for other size formats. That is to place elements within the design by following a backward S pattern. The use of contrast is used to follow this pattern. I used large text to contrast with smaller text and also white on black. This naturally helps lead the eye through the ad and has a final resting place for the eye which would be a call to action. Calls to action are an important feature to place in ads but are also one way to test market with a measure for ROI (Return On Investment). In this instance it is a booking followed by a phone number. The backward S is an easy formula to remember for page layout and is useful for meeting strict deadlines and creating multiple ads for campaigns.

Actual size 3.25x4.5"
Actual size 5.25x2.5"

Three Column Ad

In this ad I continued with an introduction to help balance the graphic shape yet the announcement is still the most prominent headline. I used the graphic shape to help disconnect elements and give them their own space. In some ads this might be done with simple paragraphs, ensuring proper spacing. Today, this ad layout style is mostly seen in banners or covers but the same rules apply. Remember your type of ad, here again it is an announcement and to include who, what, when, where and why and to give each element its own space. Don’t overwhelm with too many blocks, lines, borders or other graphic elements around these spaces as this can get confusing. If this were a cover and most of your page visitors are not local some info may not be required such as address, phone number and hours. In that instance you should add some other way to find info like a web page address but you should still utilize a call to action. 

Advertising is a specialized field with many sub skill sets required to create effective communication across many platforms. In many instances hiring the services of an agency is out of reach for small business. Many newspapers and small magazines have departments that specialize in ad management and can help guide businesses along the way to create local or regional campaigns with a degree of the expertise as would be found in a larger ad agency. It is useful to learn all you can about advertising before beginning a campaign and basic ad design is one skill set that every self publisher should learn to gain the most advantage from digital media self publishing. While this is a very simple overview of just some of the skill sets in this field, learning a few basic principles and practicing in black and white and with few graphics can help you quickly hone this skill without relying on photos or color to do the work for you. 

The advantage for digital publishers

Choose a safe place to do test runs of ads like your own social pages before investing in expensive print or other forms of advertising like commercials or radio advertising. This is a great advantage for digital publishers as they can experiment with more freedom without cost before making communication mistakes that are widely distributed, unless of course you are testing before a huge audience and your bad ad gets shared. If learned well you can quickly move up with ease to more advanced advertising layouts, concepts and campaigns. 

Order Espresso Press Ad Design

Espresso Press now offers ad design services as a product. With this service product you can quickly order any ad size for any format whether print or web without spending the time to learn ad design skills yourself. You supply the copy, logo and up to five images and your ad will be created and delivered to the email address provided. Three revisions are offered in this product after your first spec to ensure you receive the desired finished result. It also offers a deadline feature for fast turnaround and two ways to communicate your brand style for advertising cohesiveness as well as a project brief field in one simple form.

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