10 Rules for Print Ads


Most of the problems with print ads fall into well-defined categories. In no particular order, here are my 10 rules for print ads:

  1. Print ads should have clear, short, easy to read headlines. The exception to this rule is where the image is so clear and easy to understand that no headline is necessary.
  2. Images should illustrate the ad’s message. If your product is toothpaste, don’t show an image of the space shuttle and make the reader work to figure out how the space shuttle relates to toothpaste.
  3. The image and the headline alone should be enough to communciate the ad’s message. Readers don’t want to read your ad. If they look at it at all, chances are all they’ll see is the image and the headline. Don’t make the reader wade though copy to figure out what product or service you’re selling.
  4. Be concise. Limit the length of copy. As an advertiser, you may be enamored with your product, but it isn’t the most important thing in the reader’s life. She isn’t going to stop and read through columns and columns of copy describing how wonderful your product is.
  5. Don’t use illegible typefaces. Script fonts, handwriting fonts, and other experiments in type only serve to make your copy difficult to read. Why advertisers go out of their way to use undecipherable type is something I’ll never understand.
  6. The ad should stand by itself. Just as a movie shouldn’t depend on the audience having first read the book it was based on, your ad shouldn’t depend on the reader having seen your TV commercial. It’s OK to have a print ad that’s part of a campaign that includes TV commercials. But if your ad depends on the reader having seen the commercial in order to understand the ad, you’ve wasted your time as well as the reader’s time.
  7. Avoid hype. Over-exaggerated claims might help you sell a few products short-term, but if you create unreasonable expectations for your product, it will come back to bite you.
  8. Avoid false advertising. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t lie about your product. Don’t say “all-natural” if your product isn’t all natural. Don’t say it is “non-toxic” if it contains known toxic chemicals. If you lie about your product, you risk being exposed as a fraud and you could face litigation. The negative publicity this will generate will not help your company.
  9. Avoid fudging. Similar to false advertising, fudging is a lie that’s not technically a lie because of clever wording. Think of Bill Clinton saying that he didn’t have sex with Monica Lewinsky because he didn’t consider oral sex to be sex. Or when he said that he wasn’t alone with her because there were other people in the building. If you can’t sell your product by being upfront and honest, then you should be in some other business, like taking pictures of people on cruise ships.
  10. Don’t be too clever for your own good. Eveyone appreciates a clever, well-crafted ad. If your ad is clever to the point of being obtuse, you just lost the reader

By Marc Librescu


2 responses to “10 Rules for Print Ads

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