Make Your Own Ads More Successful


As a graphic designer I come across a lot of ads that can – ahem – use some help. While you should always consider hiring a professional designer like me, sometimes you just have to do it yourself. So if you’re going to create your own ad, here are a few quick tips that will help you craft a successful design.

Most of my business comes from people looking to take their image to the next level. With desktop publishing becoming increasingly accessible to the public, it is getting easier to create your own ads for your business. But as we play with this new ability we often overlook key design elements that help create a professional look and feel that is important to the success of our business.

Local Chiropractic Before

What a bad ad looks like.

Local Chiropractic After

A bad ad made better by simplifying it.

While you should always consider paying someone like to me to help you with your design work, there are times when you need to do it on your own. So to help you get off on the right foot here are a few things you should keep in mind as your create your own designs.

Ads Are Post-It Notes. Clutter is probably the most common issue among small business advertising. We love to tell people all about the different things we do. We like to think customers might be interested in some of our other services they may not know about, and we like to believe that customers are impressed about our hard work too which should demonstrate that we are good people to work with.

But these conversations all have their place and advertisements are not it.

Ads are meant to be reminders. Like Post-It notes on your computer monitor or the shopping list on your fridge. An ad works as a small fragment of a larger system that uses strategy to get your message to the customer at the right time and place. And an ad is usually coupled with several other ads over a period of time (aka, campaigns) to help remind people that your business is there to help them solve problems.

While I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of strategic marketing here, it is important to make this connection, because people new to advertising tend to think of ads as a one-off event. Sometimes we don’t have the advertising budget or simply don’t believe in the returns of advertising, but using an ad as a one-off is very ineffective.

Customers Are Busy Too. Ads created with this “one-off” mindset tend to force us to put all our cards on the table. We believe that we have to tell customers everything because it’s the one shot we have to get our message out. However, we are all busy people and can become quickly overwhelmed when there is too much information.

When you vomit information onto your business flyer, it makes people sick, so don’t just spew junk onto paper. Think about how it relates to your customer. A great piece of advice that I stumbled on was to imagine the perfect customer as a single, real person. Then try to imagine what that person does and where they spend their money. Figure out how that person will react to your business and your advertisement and then plan accordingly. This well help you get organized and focused on what is the most important thing to remind people of.

Simple, Stupid.  The old saying goes, “Keep it simple, stupid.” Designers love this phrase because it defines so much of what we do, but it is more than a catchy statement. It reminds us that we need to have a focus.

Any great design has a strong focus and some of the best ads are reduced to one short phrase written on top of a simple photo. This formula works for two reasons: first, people don’t have to think about it. It is easy to digest and remember (which is the job of advertising) despite our busy lifestyles; second, it reduces the amount of time and money you have to spend on advertising, giving you more opportunities to expand your marketing.

If you were to create a single, black and white ad with one short sentence and a simple image, you would save some money on getting that ad printed. That money you saved could then be reinvested into having the same ad reprinted throughout the year or in other media. Therefore, you would be reminding people about your business repetitively – hopefully catching people at exactly the moment they were thinking about buying your services – or you could be expanding into new markets.

You see, it’s not about fancy pictures necessarily; advertising is about reminding people about your business.

Lather, Rise, Repeat. The reason a Post-It note works is because it is constantly in your face reminding you to pick up bread from the store, or get that report from James in Accounting. It is always there and it stands out from the rest of the stuff on your desk, sometimes.

In advertising people like to talk about these traits as repetition and branding. Repetition is a key element for a couple of reasons, mostly because people aren’t always thinking about your business – so it helps to gently nudge them once in a while – but also because you need to catch people at the precise moment they need your services or products.

It is really hard to guess when that moment is going to take place so the easiest thing to do is to have constant reminders present nearly all the time, but sometimes we can make educated guesses. If someone is in a bakery looking for wedding cake, you might assume that they will be looking for other wedding services as well, for example. So you could offer to create a cross promotional campaign with the bakery if you happen to provide wedding services.

Branding can cover an entire post by itself, but let me say that by having consistent colors, fonts, and imagery, you can create a look and feel that helps to distinguish your business. Post-Its are typically yellow and square shaped, about three inches by three inches. We recognize them as Post-Its because they always conform to that general pattern.

When you are creating your own ads try to use as few colors and fonts as possible. The best thing to do is chose one font and one color. You can have different shades or values of your color, but make sure it doesn’t change between ads. Also, take a moment to think about what color and font says about your business. Serif fonts (or fonts with an extra line at the edge of lettering) tend to be more serious and authoritative, while Sans Serif fonts (no extra line) tend to be modern and relaxed. Dark or subdued colors tend to suggest professionalism and seriousness, while bright colors suggest fun, vigor, or warning.

If you have trouble deciding, you only need to take a look around in your industry to get a sense of what is “standard” and go from there. The thing you have to remember is that people will become familiar with your business over time. It could take a year or a few days, but unless people have a clear and memorable reference point your ad will get lost in the crowd.

Remember. Remember that in order to make an effective ad keep it simple, repeat and stay consistent. Use as few elements as possible and have a direct point to make. The less information that customers have to compute and the more frequently they see your ad, the better your chances will be to get their business.

Try to spread your information out over several pieces. If you take out a newspaper ad that tells people you are a photographer for hire, then have a website that provides a portfolio that can be found in the ad. Have business cards and post cards that you can leave with clients when you are finishing a contract, and make sure to follow up with emails that tell old clients about new deals or other services you offer.

It takes a lot of work, but you don’t necessarily need complicated graphics to earn good customers. And you don’t need to be pushy either. Just be honest and focus on what the customer wants and you will see a difference.

Good luck! (And tell your friends)