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  • Writer's pictureL. Darryl Armstrong

Research, experience and common sense – allows you to build memorable ads

  19 June 2007

Recently, I completed a series of focus groups for a company that wanted responses from consumers on three ads they had run about their services. The focus group in less than 90-minutes confirmed what most of us know from common sense — you really don’t have to spend a lot of money to create memorable ads but you do have to design ads that can be remembered, are consistently used to market your goods and services and that explain clearly what the benefit is for the customer. 

Kim Gordon, a reporter for Entrepreneur magazine, says every ad must do four things: 1) engage prospects; 2) add color and contrast; and 3) communicate frequently; and 4) use memorable benefits.

Integrate it into memory

The more time someone spends with your ad, the more likely they will remember it, Gordon says.

“When people actually stop and take time to process an ad — they see it, feel it and integrate it then it leads to better memory storage,” says Elizabeth F. Loftus, University of California, Irvine. Loftus is a distinguished professor of psychology, and an author of 21 books and an expert on memory.

“The best ads get the advertiser or brand into the minds of prospects as they consider different possibilities,” Gordon notes.

Get prospects to spend more time

How can you get prospects to spend more time with your ads?

The most memorable print ads have messages that grab the reader, says Philip W. Sawyer, director of Starch Communications, a testing firm specializing in readership studies.

Ads that include headlines, which contain a benefit and a strong visual focal point, such as a close-up of a model looking directly at you work best.

For magazines one large photo works best, while in newspapers, you can use multi-product visuals.

A Starch Communications study on behalf of the Newspaper Association of America showed that when three-quarters of ad space was devoted to illustrations, recognition rates improved by 50 percent.

Add color and contrast

High-contrast images also boost recognition in magazines.

When Starch Communications tested two identical ads for Stolichnaya vodka–one with a white background and another with a black background–twice as many people remembered seeing the version with the black background, even though everything else in the ad was the same.

Testing also shows that, on average, larger ads in print media are more memorable. However, a creative ad in a small space can be more memorable than a so-so one that takes up a full page.

Sky blue, golden yellow and shades of blue-green enhance readers’ ability to remember ads that are run in print media. Red is a good spot color in newspapers, where Sawyer says color increases recognition by 20 percent.

However, there is new information about four-color ads in magazines: A few years ago, color ads earned 24 percent higher recognition scores than black-and-white ads. Now, full-page black-and-white campaigns are breaking through the clutter, and four-color ads have lost their advantage.

Repetition is essential

If you don’t repeat ads you will not get the results you want. Jay Levinson, the Father of Guerilla Marketing is emphatic when he says that research shows a reader must see your message at least 27 times before it is integrated into the decision making process.

Repetition also is important for readers to remember the ad.

At the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, psychologist Mark E. Wheeler conducted a study of memory in which a word was paired with a picture or sound many times over several days to test subjects’ recognition rates.

He says exposure to information in different contexts helps you remember it.

Therefore, when you see a message in different formats, such as a print ad, a billboard and a TV commercial, he says, “You associate the different impressions and that helps you retrieve the information when you need it.”

Use memorable benefits

What’s in it for me?

Ads that grab and hold a prospect’s attention are those that immediately communicate a benefit that answers that question.

The bottom line, says Sawyer, is that features aren’t memorable while benefits are.

“If you have a headline that states a benefit, people will read it, remember it and clip it out of the magazine or newspaper and hold onto it. That’s the key.”

Until next time.

L. Darryl Armstrong

Armstrong and Associates

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