Marketing Matters Featured

10:03am EDT July 22, 2002

In real estate, three words mean everything: location, location, and location. That picturesque four-bedroom colonial with the wrap-around porch, hardwood floors and all the extras you want just doesn't seem so attractive located next door to a sewage treatment plant, if you know what I mean.

In print advertising, positioning can help grab customers' attention, but it isn't everything. This raises the question: "How much attention do you pay to ad message vs. ad placement?" Both are important factors in advertising success, but research reveals that it's wise to focus more on ad messages and quality than becoming fixated on positioning.

Many advertisers think their ads will be better noticed earlier in a publication, for instance. But again, this is unsubstantiated logic. Studies show that magazine readers don't read issues like books, beginning at the beginning and turning page by page until the end. They start reading just about anywhere in the publication and jump around throughout the issue.

Starch Roper Worldwide conducted a series of studies that measured the readership performance of ads based on placement within an issue. According to the research, there is absolutely no difference in the readership of ads appearing in the first third, middle or last third of a publication. An analysis of 74,000 ads revealed virtually no difference in ad readership scores for left pages in the back of the issue and right pages in the front. The one exception is the page facing the table of contents; ads in this position received a boost from the high-profile position. Interestingly, the research also showed that ads appearing opposite an article performed at levels lower than ads placed opposite of other ads.

Another study, conducted by Audits & Surveys, Inc., showed the average reader was exposed to 85 percent of the ads in a single issue. A related study found that a reader is exposed to a typical ad page 1.7 times.

What does all of this mean? Readers tend to enthusiastically read the front, middle and back thirds a publication, and a strong creative advertising execution will command attention regardless of where an ad appears.

So focus on the execution. Obviously, in developing your ads, your overall objectives and strategy will drive the creative approach. But in general, here are several tips to help create winning print ads:

  • Sell benefits, not features. Instead of listing the ingredients in your loaf of bread, tell them it tastes good and is fresh. Address buyer needs and tell them how your product/service can meet them.

  • Be positive. Negative advertising rarely works. Communicate the positives of your product/service rather than listing the faults of competitors. Plus, why would you want to make prospects aware of your competition in your ad?

  • Use creative design elements. The creative design approach can make your message more compelling to the reader and have a greater impact on readability. But don't go crazy with design elements; have compelling reasons for any element you use in your ad. Use visuals that bring your ideas home to the reader.

  • Build on the brand equity of your company. Make sure the reader of your ad knows that your company is behind the product/service being offered. According to the PreTesting Company, the corporate identity in 50 percent of all advertising is either hidden or too small. If your ad is effective and stimulates interest, make it easy for readers to choose your company over others.

So, instead of location, location, location, think message, creative execution and frequency. And be honest in your advertising. Sell the benefits, but don't portray that beautiful house next to the sewage treatment plant as being located in a scenic setting next to natural wetlands. That approach could flush your credibility right down the drain.

Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc. Comments and questions can be sent via e-mail to