On average, readers only spend about 2 seconds looking at a print ad. Given the short amount of time you have to grab their attention, it’s important that any ad you create 1) grabs the reader’s attention, and 2) encourages them to buy your product or service.

Most print ads are composed of a strong visual, a headline, body copy and a logo or signature. But producing a great print ad isn’t as simple tossing these elements together. There are several do’s and don’ts that are essential to creating effective print ads:


  • Agree on your SMART goals. Your objective should be more than to simply “increase sales.” Get more specific with your goals, such as to “increase lunchtime store visits by 30% in 3 months” or “drive 15% more customers into our retail locations over the course of 60 days.” Specific goals are called SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Timebound. Design your ad around SMART goals and be sure to hold yourself accountable to them.
  • Hook the reader within 2 seconds. On average, readers only spend 2 seconds looking at a print ad. It’s important to use visuals and headlines that cause the reader to stop and look at your ad. Headlines that evoke an emotion from the reader are more likely to catch the reader’s attention. Using white space and bullet points in an ad have both proven to stop readers in their tracks and produce a higher response rate as well.
  • Use high-impact visuals. In the 2 seconds a reader takes to look at your ad, 1.5  seconds are dedicated to visuals while only 0.5 seconds are spent looking at your copy. Use bright, clear images to promote your product. Research shows that people recall photographs 26% more than artwork and are more likely to look at an ad where the subject’s eyes are looking directly at you. That said, your visuals should always support the concept of the product or service you’re selling. Using attention-grabbing visuals just so you can stand out can have a negative impact on your brand.
  • Put strategy before creativity. Many advertisers sacrifice targeted content for witty or appealing messages. Even if it would be interesting to use a cartoon to advertise your product, would that really be appropriate in an ad about fine jewelry? Think about where your ad will be printed as well. The message you might want to use to sell your orange juice will be different in a local newspaper than it would be in a specialty magazine.


  • Don’t stuff your ad with too much information. Less really is more. Too much copy or too many images can actually cause the reader to skip the ad because they feel overwhelmed. In most cases, brand-oriented ads should only use one or two images, have a one-sentence headline and keep the copy to four sentences or less. (There are exceptions to this rule such as when you’re running a promotional/retail ad. But if you’re running a branding ad, it’s a good idea to keep your ad clean and uncluttered.)
  • Don’t force unrelated connections. It may be tempting to use a funny visual of a baby with food all over its face in your ad, but if your ad is for a new desktop computer, the audience might not make the connection. Worse yet, research indicates that when an association in an ad isn’t clear, the audience will forget about the product and simply remember the funny visual — in this case, the baby with food all over its face.
  • Don’t create negative associations. You might think its clever to compare your energy drink to a cheetah, but the second you mention that a cheetah hunts and kills its prey, the audience automatically applies that association to your product. It’s difficult to avoid some negative associations when using analogies in your messaging, but think through all of the possibilities before printing your ad. In the same vein, try to forgo offensive or stereotypical associations in your message. What may be funny to one person might enrage another and forever damage your brand image.
  • Don’t let your brand disappear. It’s not unusual for a brand to disappear in a print ad. When the integration is stretched or when your logo and signature are not prominently displayed, people can forget what product an ad was about entirely. Be sure to place your brand’s logo at a readable size in one of the corners of your advertisement.

A few final thoughts: When crafting a print ad, compose your elements in a way that’s eye-catching, creative, thought-provoking and positive. Be sure to avoid clutter, negative association and bad integration. Print ads are still a prominent form of advertising and can be an incredible tool for your marketing when done correctly and effectively, so use these tips as guidelines the next time you create an ad for your product or service.

Francesca Pefianco is a marketing analyst and writer for the 60 Second Marketer.