What Makes a Quality Ad – Six Templates for Effective Outreach

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(Owen Eagan has been writing about strategic communications. Click here for earlier segments)

By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group

When it comes to developing quality ads, there is strong evidence to suggest that a formulaic approach might be better than a brainstorming approach.  Specifically, a study by Jacob Goldenberg, David Mazursky and Sorin Solomon of the Jerusalem School of Business revealed that six creativity templates defined nearly 90% of award-winning print ads.

In an exercise I conduct in my Communication Theory class, I present my students with print ads from different types of publications.  One objective of the exercise is to have them determine which audience the ads are targeting and, hence, which publications the ads are from.  Another objective is to have them judge the effectiveness of the ads and whether they fit into one these six creativity templates.

Though the authors of the study caution that these templates are not static and are subject to change over long periods of time due to the influence of social norms and trends, they nevertheless provide a good model for evaluating ads, identifying patterns and enhancing the creativity process.

The six templates are summarized as follows:

  1. The first is the Pictorial Analogy Template in which a symbol is used to represent the product.  This type of ad has a replacement version and an extreme analogy version.  An example of an extreme analogy is an ad using a croissant-shaped tennis ball to represent the U.S. Open Tennis Championship in France.
  2. The Extreme Situation Template uses unrealistic situations to highlight key attributes of the product.  These ads have three versions including the absurd alternative version, the extreme attribute version and the extreme worth version.  A commercial in which an old lady scares away burglars by barking at them is presented as an absurd alternative to buying a certain type of lock for your house.
  3. The Consequences Template consists of the implications of using or failing to use the advertised product.  Therefore, the two versions of this ad are the extreme consequences version and the inverted consequences version.  An ad depicting car loudspeakers shaking a bridge on which the car is parked portrays an extreme consequence of the product attribute.
  4. The Competition Template involves comparing a product with its competitors.  The three versions of this ad are comprised of the attribute in competition version, the worth in competition version and the uncommon use version.  An uncommon use would be an ad where a pair of jeans is used to tow a broken-down car to demonstrate their strength.
  5. The Interactive Experiment Template helps the viewer realize the benefits of the product through an interactive experience.  This can be achieved through participating in the experiment via the activation version or simply imagining participation via the imaginary experiment version.  A commercial that asks consumers to perform actions suggested in an anti-dandruff shampoo ad would be considered an activation version.
  6. The Dimensionality Alteration Template alters the dimension of the product in relation to its environment.  This template’s four versions include the new parameter connection version, the multiplication version, the division version and the time leap version.  To illustrate, a wife arguing with her late husband over life insurance through a séance would be categorized as a time leap ad.

Interestingly, among the ads in the study, 38% were categorized as Pictorial Analogy Templates and 21% were categorized as Consequences Templates, far higher than any other template.  Not only does this present us with a better understanding of patterns that emerge in print advertising but it also provides us with a sense of messaging strategies for other forms of media such as direct mail, etc.

In fact, the consequences message is one that we frequently use in our education and outreach efforts.  However, as a caveat, while tongue-in-cheek exaggerations can be used in product ads, any exaggerated claims in your messaging on development issues, even if meant facetiously, will be harshly criticized by your opponents.  While that might affect the entertainment value and the stickiness of your message, there are other ways to increase the effectiveness of your ad such as through emotional appeals.

In addition, you want to be sure to address both the consequences of adopting and not adopting your project.  For one of our mixed-use development projects which included thousands of residential units, we highlighted both the benefits of the project in terms of jobs, tax revenue and affordable housing and the costs of not developing the project.

That is, this particular project was slated to be developed within an urban growth boundary.  Moreover, because this community was also experiencing a sustained population growth, the question became a matter of where this growth would go if these homes weren’t built in this area.

So, if you need a quality ad, yes, there is likely a template that can help with the creative process.  Just be careful how you use them.

Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for Saint Consulting, an international management consulting firm specializing in land use politics.  He is also an adjunct faculty member at Emerson College, the nation’s only four-year institution dedicated exclusively to communication and the performing arts. Email Eagan@tscg.biz

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