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Self-Help Articles on Psychological Marketing 

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How to Write An Effective Ad:
Part 2: The Picture
by Gary A. Witt, Ph.D.

In Part 1 of this series, I offered some suggestions on how to write an effective headline, one of the most important parts of any print ad. The primary job of the headline is to attract the reader's attention and lure him/her into reading the body copy. Its secondary job is to support the sales pitch.

The headline is often partnered with a picture. Together they are the way you reach out and grab readers as they skim through the publication. If you don't stop them, you can't talk to them. People will generally stop to look at a picture far more readily than they will read a headline.

But how do you know what picture to use? IHere are some suggestions about how to choose an effective picture for your ad. By the way, research shows that, all things being equal, photos attract more attention than drawings, although cartoons do well.

Your pictures will be the most effective if they can do three things:
1) Attract attention. (2) Support the headline. (3) Support the sales pitch. As you read the following guidelines (a few of the many we use), remember that you want a picture that will do all three jobs. Be creative, but use common sense. Try to put yourself in your customer's place. One of the best ways is to be aware of your reaction to ads as you look through a magazine or newspaper. Apply that disinterested approach in evaluating your own ad.

1. Use startling pictures. Look for a picture that is odd or amazing. A man going to work without pants, a close-up of a fly's head, an aerial photo of the acres of trees knocked down by the Mt. St. Helens' volcano are examples. You could couple the volcano photo with a headline like, "You never know when an ill wind will blow," and you've got the structure of an ad which will lead readers right into your body copy.

2. Use people. People love to look at other people. The people in your photo should be doing something interesting or puzzling or fun, rather than just standing around like they're waiting for a bus. General crowd shots without a clear focus don't work well, nor do the usual shots of a few people standing at attention and wearing a plastic smile. Closeups work. It is hard to avoid stopping to look at a close-up photo of a person's face staring out at you.
If the person is also doing something odd or startling, such a staring at you with two pencils sticking up his nose, all the better. Of course, you must have a reason for the photo you choose. The last example could be accompanied by a headline reading, "Got That Stuffy Feeling?" followed by body copy for a nasal decongestant.

3) Place a common object in an uncommon setting. A little girl on a playground may not be eye-catching, but a little girl standing by an automobile assembly line, in an African village, or on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange will grab viewers' attention. We expect people and things to be found in certain settings. When the setting is far outside that normal range, it doesn't make sense, like a cow in a tree, so we stop to investigate. A hallmark of this type of picture is that it contains familiar objects in unfamiliar places or relationships, like a cat riding on a dog's back.

4) Place a person or small animal in a dangerous situation. Imagine a small kitten alone in the middle of a busy street or on the ledge of a tall building, and you've created a picture which viewers will instantaneously recognize as dangerous. That emotion, danger, focuses their attention on the ad.

How can you tie such a picture to a headline?. Here's an example: Select a picture of a man in a suit reading the Wall Street Journal while almost walking off a cliff. Couple it with a headline reading, "Is your company a step away from disaster?" Together they lure the reader into the ad's sales pitch for "slip and fall" insurance policies. The picture plays its role perfectly: it attracts attention, supports the headline, and dramatizes the sales pitch.

5) Show a desirable picture. All readers have desires. If you show an object of desire, or a person in a desirable situation, readers with those desires will stop. For example, many women desire a well-decorated home. If Paradiso Decor in the Airpark shows an elegant living room furnished with their sofas and accessories, they've stimulated that desire and offered to satisfy it. Michael's Creative Jewelry does the same by using close-up photos of expensive jewelry to stimulate many readers' daydreams.
	It's often effective to pair your product with other desirable products for the reader, such as a lovely woman wearing a designer gown, standing on the staircase of an elegant home, and wearing your diamond jewelry. Such pictures encourage readers to see themselves in that setting, vicariously "possessing" these items. Keep in mind that desirable pictures must be well photographed. Your snapshots won't work.

6) Show the product in use in a novel way or in a novel setting. A car going along a mountain highway, a dress worn by a runway model, a woman applying perfume are all examples of products in use. Often these pictures are pretty dull. You can spice them up with novelty. For example, show the product being used in an odd location (such as a man shaving in the desert), or shot from an odd angle (looking up at a towering file cabinet), being used in an odd way (a monkey knotting a tie), or being used by an odd person (a tattooed biker grooming a cute French poodle). Be sure that you link your odd picture to your headline, or it won't make sense. For example, if you show a man drinking a beer, surrounded by miles of desert, then your headline might read, "Coors -- When You've Got a Mighty Thirst."

Don't settle on the first idea you come up with. Create several ideas and try them out on your friends. See which one they like best. Your first effort will seldom be the one you select when you give yourself choices. 	Pictures can make or break your ad. The captivating ones will pull the reader in. The dull, common ones will zip the reader away faster than a stone skipping on a pond.

>>>> DON'T MISS THIS: These are just a few of the tips and techniques for creating a print ad that gets results. Click HERE to see how you can get several hundred similar tips to help your advertising and brochures bring in more customers. Specially written in practical language for businesses. <<<<

  • Are your current marketing materials your Secret Enemy? Do they contain hidden problems that are losing sales for you? Click HERE to find out what to do.

To read Part One (Writing a Good Headline), click GoTo1
To read Part Three (Writing Effective Body Copy), click GoTo3
To read how to analyze an ad or brochure, click AnalyzeAd




(c) Gary Witt, 1999

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