A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Sales


We’ve all seen them — cluttered, clunky-looking ads that seem to have been designed by someone with an abominable visual sense and a case of color-blindness. They do the opposite of what was intended by repelling your attention and never pulling you into the message. They fail to communicate.

If you are spending time and dollars on advertising, you should get as much impact as possible. Designing a successful ad will take some time, but it can be done on a very small budget with limited resources.

Here are the top ad design mistakes and how to avoid them:

Mistake No. 1: Everything is important! Remember, the main objective of your ad is to grab the reader’s attention and ensure that he or she takes action. To do that, make sure you’re focusing on what is important. The surest sign of an amateurishly designed ad is when everything is screaming at an equally high volume. The fear is that the prospect won’t see something on the page if it’s not big, bold, underlined, italic and red. However, if everything is vying to be No.1 in importance, then absolutely nothing is, and you will have failed to communicate anything at all.

How do you decide what is important and what is not? After having gathered the copy, logo and image(s), the next step is to determine the order of importance for all of the elements. Usually, the headline should be first, followed up by an image that supports the headline. Third is the call to action, and then the logo. You will probably have body copy in your ad, which should be last. Of course, this ordering simply indicates the relative importance of the elements, not the order on the page from top to bottom.

Several factors determine the visual importance of an element:

  • Size: Usually, bigger equals more important.
  • Color: Try using lighter colors or gray for less important elements and stronger, bolder hues such as red or blue for those with the most importance.
  • Placement: Setting one element apart from all the others and giving it significant “white” space around it will give it much more importance, regardless of its size.

Mistake No. 2: Unattractive, uninspiring images, just for the sake of having images Don’t junk up an ad with poor images just to make it compelling. Some of the greatest ads have been copy-only (think Citibank’s current “Live Richly” campaign). Of course, if you’re going the copy-only route, you need a compelling headline. An image should do at least one of the following: 

  1. Grab the prospects’ attention by being surprising or compelling 
  2. Create or support the concept of the ad in combination with the copy
  3. Or show your product or service in a visually pleasing way. How   can you tell if an image isn’t worth using? It will suffer from one or more of the following: 
    1. It is hard to tell exactly what the image is.
    2. It is of poor quality.
    3. It is a generally unattractive image.
    4. The image doesn’t stand out and/or support the headline.

Use an image only if it adds to the main message of your ad. Otherwise, create a copy-only ad.

Mistake No. 3: Too many fonts, or illegible fonts Too many fonts clutter a design and distract from the main message. An ad should never feel like several disparate pieces fighting with each other. It should feel like one cohesive unit working in harmony. When selecting fonts, the classics are sure wins, while trendy fonts can be traps. Classic fonts (Times, Garamond, Caslon, Helvetica, Univers, Futura) are flexible and easier to work with. Trendy fonts (Khaki, Band-Aid, Spumoni) are often harder to read.

Ideally, you should use one font with multiple weights. Keeping in mind hierarchy, try heavy (extra bold) for the headline, roman (book) for the body copy, and medium for the call to action. To see a selection of fonts categorized by style, usage and classification, go to www.adobe.com/type. When you click on one typeface, you can type in your own word or two and the entire catalog of fonts will repopulate with that word.

Mistake No. 4: Warped, twisted, puckered and bloated type You’ve seen this — the type looks like it was run over by a Zamboni. You can barely read it because it’s so grossly distorted. It’s very difficult to distort type well, so the safest bet is to not do it at all. If the type says something compelling, it isn’t boring.

Mistake No. 5: Misused type alignment When all of the type on a page is centered, it’s not only uninteresting, it’s very difficult to read. At the same time, justified body copy is one of the most difficult formats to use well because of all the “rivers” of blank space that usually run through the middle of your column of text. (Think of those instances in the newspaper where there are four letters on a line and lots of space between the letters.)

The easiest way to design professional, legible type is to use leftaligned body copy. That irregular shape on the right, called the rag, adds an organic shape and left-to-right motion to the typography. Right-aligned type can be used effectively on small amounts of copy. It shares the organic quality of left-aligned type but is difficult to read in high volumes.

Mistake No. 6: No call to action, or one that is hidden Your call to action is the entire reason for creating the ad. It directs your prospect to buy, get more information or contact you. Your call to action should be the payoff for the ad and should logically follow, in both message and placement, all the other content of the ad.

Mistake No. 7: Using default colors Regardless of what design program you’re using, there will be default colors. Usually, these are bright colors that, when used together, will make your ad look unrefined. Try mixing your own colors to soften the vibrancy, and use fewer colors to create a more cohesive design. For helpful hints on using color effectively, visit www.liquisoft.com/colortheory.html.

Take a look at ads that caught your eye and consider why. Use those as inspiration for a rough layout. Finding creative inspiration can help eliminate the intimidating blank page, which is often the most difficult hurdle to overcome in design.