Les Roka, PR denizen and writer of pithy and poignant prose, and I often discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of the many ads in the local City Weekly dining section. As he clearly pointed out during one such conversation, "The quality of the business can be seen by the quality of the ad."
The often cited phrase, "a picture is worth a thousand words" gives us a good indication that much can be learned by looking at various ads and asking ourselves some questions. In my opinion, the key factors when looking at an ad are the Design and the Offer.
The aspect of Design covers several issues and asks several questions:
Is there Is there a good use of white space? Is it distinctive? Is a location easily identified? Is there a clear target? Is the logo professional? just to name a few.
On the aspect of the Offer we can ask:
Is there a clear offer? Does the offer raise or lower the value of the product? Does the offer speak of desparation--increase short term sales? Does the offer speak to position and brand--increase long term sales? Is there a clear target?
The headline can be actual text, or it can be a picture, but this should define and differentiate this particular business from all other businesses.
Correct Use of Fonts:
At most, two fonts. One for the headline, and all other text being one font. Multiple fonts, multiple sizes too confusing on the paper. Shows a business with no focus, this will carry through their entire operation.
Is the ad balanced? Left/right? Text vs. Visuals? Whitespace vs. ...
Physical location of the store/restaurant/shop should be clearly indicated.
Does the ad target a specific niche? Does it have a clear message? Is there evident positioning going on?
Is the logo a clear indication of the business? Does it work in black and white? Does it work in color? Does it work large? Does it work small? Is it too busy? Is it "good artwork" but not a good logo?
Is there a clear offer? The offer could be something easily tangible such as a coupon (usually BAD choice) or the offer could be an experience, such as "excellence" or "Authentic Mexican", etc.
Does the offer raise or lower the value of the product?
Coupons, BOGO, and the like (with the exception of NEW offerings during opening) Always devalue the product.
Is the offer desparate?
Often Coupons, BOGO, and the like show panic or loss of business. The business, not understanding the dynamics of long term sustainability, choose to reap short term windfalls in place of establishing a long term customer base.
Does the establish position and promote the brand?
An offer of "traditional Japanese fare" will establish a position and build the brand.
An offer of "2 for 1 Dinner Entree" will also establish a position and build (negatively) a brand.
Who does the offer target? An offer in terms of "a good deal" is clearly a different audience that an offer that appeals to quality, authentic XX, ambiance, etc.
Those who coupon shop are a different category, their only loyalty is to their very tight wallets and if a business promotes itself via coupon, BOGO, and the like, then this is who they are appealing to. The notion that customers through the door equals long term dollars is an illusion that will be the downfall of many a poor business owner.
Ads don't always translate to immediate sales. Sometimes an ad exists to establish position and build brand on a long term basis, and while a quick fix is sometimes tempting, it can often leave the business owner with an empty business, and emptier pockets. So if you take the time to study the ads in your local weekly paper, ask yourself the above questions and check out a few of the businesses; soon you will understand that a while a picture is worth a thousand words, an ad speaks volumes.