steven powell

The Fine Art of Advertising

By Steven Powell

As a professional creative who made the decision early in his career to focus on business communications, I’d like to address the art of advertising. Is that too pretentious, do you think? Categorizing advertising as an art form? Are we getting a little too carried away here?

From the moment we wake we are inundated with visual imagery; billboards, brochures, posters, newspapers, magazines, television, business cards, games, computers, junk mail, the internet, sides of buses, e-mail. Sophisticated computer art and hundreds of high-impact graphics call to us every day.

It’s no wonder we, as a society, have hardened ourselves to virtually ignore what we don’t wish to see.

Unfortunately for the average marketer, this means that bad advertising is a waste of money and adequate advertising becomes lost in the masses. But there are ways to get the most out of your advertising if you keep a few key thoughts in mind.

It is a matter of attitude.

As we glance through a newspaper or magazine how many ads really grab us? How many reach out and force us to notice them? To remember them? To respect them?

An effective ad will disrupt casual skimming through hundreds of attention-begging graphics and headlines. It will grab attention by message or visual impact or placement for that split second necessary to implant a brand or call-to-action in our conscious, or subconscious, thoughts. Remember, ‘safe’ rarely increases sales. At best, it maintains – at worst, it bores.

It is a matter of presentation.

To disturb someone’s sense of normalcy is not at all the same thing as to offend them. Here’s an experiment to try in your business. Hang a competent, but boring, poster on a prominent wall for 2 weeks. Count the number of comments it receives from visitors, if any. Now replace it with something bold and unusual, maybe even a little bit crazy. Count those comments. Welcome to the art of advertising.

Consider a small retailer with a limited budget who’s one print ad in a weekly paper always read, “$10.00 off WITH THIS AD.” Now, consider her surprise as responses doubled when the same ad was run upside down with the new headline, “What’s wrong with this ad?” and the promise, “$10.00 off if you guess right.”

It is a matter of message.

A local home builder was putting up a development of townhouses in a glutted market. As he leafed through the real estate section, page after page of developers’ ads screamed at him, promising everything from image enhancement to a better sex life. How could he compete with them? His ad? An ultra-realistic hand reaching down from the sky tearing townhouses out of the ground. Tiny people surrounded this spectacle, gawking in disbelief. The headline? They’re Moving Fast…GRAB ONE WHILE YOU CAN! Guess who sold all of his townhouses.

It is a matter of courage.

I’d like to tip my hat to the brave clients through the years who have been willing to try something different. Something that stood them apart.

Yes, I conceived and pitched the upside down “What’s wrong?” ad, but it was the client who said, “Okay, let’s give it a shot.” And, yes, I labored as hard and as long on the pencil illustration of townhouses torn from the ground as on any canvas I’ve ever painted. But it was the client with the courage to say, “Let’s not settle for something that looks as good as theirs. Let’s try something different than everybody else. Let’s BE different than everybody else.”

Attitude. Presentation. Message. Courage.

Now, that’s art.

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