I once conducted a 2 day sales training program for a chain of papers who were struggling to get more business. They had readers tell them that their ads were hard to read. As a matter of fact, their whole paper was hard to read. After looking over several issues of their paper, I saw the problem—their paper was crammed with reverse type ads—white copy on a dark black background—a sea of black ink everywhere. To make things worse, the ads were crammed full of type from border to border making them difficult to read.
I suggested that they change their ads to eliminate much of the reverse type. I also explained that ads need to be designed so there are units of thought—that each unit of graphic art and copy blocks need white space around them, making them far easier to read. Once these changes were implemented, the paper had a new look that drastically improved their readership. What had happened was the advertising sales staff had slowly caused the ugly look on a gradual basis. They felt by creating reverse type ads this would make their ads stand out. When their customers saw all the reverse type advertising, they even thought that was the thing to do.
Ugly ads in many cases are a production process
The more ads brought in and run rapidly through the production department, the better. I call this the “sausage grinder mentality”. Unfortunately well-designed ads fall by the wayside.
Many times, quality advertisers resent the look of a paper and its poorly designed ads. In a study by the Readership Institute, it gave the opinion that people will spend more time with a paper if they find the ads interesting and enjoyable to read. Also, editorial content was better read when the paper had quality advertising content.
On the other extreme, there are publications who spend excessive amounts of time designing ads with the hope they’ll somehow win awards in press association ad contest divisions. These beautiful ads are just that—beautiful ads. They aren’t designed to really pull business for the advertiser.
The impact on future advertisers
The publication with ugly ads needs to recognize the impact on future advertisers. The new chic restaurant thinking about running in this newspaper wants an upscale image and may go elsewhere for their advertising campaign. This movement can create a domino effect and can be devastating if large chunks of advertisers start rejecting the idea of advertising in the ugly ad newspaper. Worse, competing media will notice it too and take advantage of the situation.
So if you’re worried about declining readership, start looking at your ads—they may be ugly.