scamp’s rule for writing newspaper ads

On Tuesdays Scamp, a CD at BBH across the pond, writes up an ad tip. They are always a good read, not only for the insight and though behind them, but for the comments for and against that inevitably follow.

His most recent post was about writing for newspaper ads. Or, rather, that you shouldn’t write for newspaper ads:

“Your ad is competing directly against Britain’s wittiest columnists. Against news stories about wars, financial collapses, rapists and amnesiac canoeists. Against a paparazzi picture of Lindsay Lohan falling out of a taxi…Don’t write headlines until you’ve miserably failed to come up with a purely visual solution.”

The comments, as you would expect, range from affable agreement, polite difference and misguided passion.

The problem with any sort of “guidelines” post is that nothing is ever true in every instance. And, in advertising, often it makes sense to do what others aren’t, if only to be different and to stand out.

But to consider the medium and what will be most arresting for consumers in that medium isn’t particularly problematic, though you may not agree with the conclusion. Initially I was torn on whether to agree with Scamp or not. On the one hand, it makes sense that a visual solution makes sense when consumers can easily turn past an ad to read the gripping story that they are reading…on the other hand, if they are there to read perhaps they may be more interested in reading your ad.

Upon further consideration, Scamp is (mostly) right.

Consumers are there to read the news (or sport, or look at Lindsay Lohan knickers or not) and, this is an unscientific assertion, aren’t all that likely to read your ad because they are already reading.

Not to say that a headline should be ignored – I don’t go as far as to say that there should be no copy in a newspaper ad (and yes, every situation is different). Ads that are all visual can work, but I’m a sucker for a print ad with a strong visual and a succinct and compelling headline. If I am going to spend a minute with your ad, I want to see and to read what you’ve got to say. But…why put long copy in a newspaper? Visuals will stand out from the newsprint. And you won’t compete with the written page.

Leave the long copy for another medium.

It just makes sense with what the consumer mindset would be. At least, I think that it does…


2 responses to “scamp’s rule for writing newspaper ads

  1. I agree with Scamp in theory–how can words describing the virtues, say, of Lord & Taylor cashmere twinsets compete with the words of the country’s wittiest columnists. But the country’s wittiest columnists rarely make an appearance in the papers I read. (Perhaps things are different across the pond.) I often find good ads more diverting than journeyman prose about Senate Panel votes or another financial collapse. And as I’m sure BBH’s CD would agree, not every great newspaper ad needs a strong visual. I still remember an all-type spread that ran in newspapers on Superbowl Sunday in 1984: “If you go to the bathroom during halftime, you’ll be sorry.” -Macintosh.

  2. Great article, would recommend visiting for more tips!

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