Press & Print

Broadly speaking there are two approaches to writing a print ad. Like a good barrister, you can lay out a full argument, addressing every benefit and tackling every reservation in a barrage of logical persuasion. Or you can make a big, bold brand statement and appeal more to the imagination. I call these alternatives the comprehensive and the brand impact approaches to print advertising. What will work for you comes down to the nature of your brand, and the purpose of the ad.

 The Comprehensive Approach

This approach starts with a list. On one side you write down all the benefits of using the brand or product you’re trying to sell. On the other you write down all the reservations a potential buyer may have, and what you can say to counter them. You then write a print ad covering every point on the page with a clear call to action and a cracking headline. Bingo. Job done. Everyone’s a winner.

The brand impact approach

Most advertising creatives will tell you that an ad that completes the thinking for you, misses an opportunity to involve the reader. They would tell you that whilst we love to consider ourselves entirely rational beings, most purchasing decisions are emotional. They would argue that a print ad is most valuable when bringing people closer to a brand.

Brand impact ads are extremely popular with traditional agencies. They commonly feature a striking image, a logo and a snappy headline. Sometimes they have minimal body copy. Sometimes they dispense with the headline. The hard work is invariably done by visuals.

Although it’s hard to gauge the direct effect of this style of advertising, the popularity is sustained for a couple of reasons. Firstly, print work simply doesn’t command the respect it once did. Big campaigns today are spearheaded by other mediums, often TV or digital, with print used to offer a static interpretation of the campaign idea. Secondly, and probably more fundamentally, long copy scares the pants off most writers. Why would anyone commit to 500 words when they could get away with 15?

The truth is both routes can offer a brilliant solution, depending on what you need. If you’re expecting a direct response from your ad, if you want to a make a sale or inspire an inquiry, go comprehensive. In fact, in 99% of cases, I would start with this approach. First be clear then be clever is one of my favourite advertising mantras. As long you’re able to generate a list of compelling benefits, this approach promises some kind of result. Deliver those benefits with conversational copy, a headline that offers a reason to read on, and a clear call to action and you will be solid.  

That said, my favourite prints ads of all time have been fallen into the brand impact approach. I still remember the impact of Boddington’s print advertising. Simple visual tricks showing a pint of beer morphed into a piece of cheese, or an ice cream to illustrate creaminess. The visuals were rendered in the distinct black and orange of the beer, and the ads were always placed on the back page of a newspaper supplement with no copy apart from the tagline “The cream of Manchester”. Did it convince me? It made a traditional, northern English bitter feel edgy. And yes, I did become a proud drinker. Does this approach work best for established brands or categories where imagery is critical, like alcohol? Absolutely. And it probably only works when the idea is brilliant. But when it does work, it’s brand magic.

Whatever you want to do with a print ad, I can help you do it. Write me, as they say in America.