How to Write Effective Print Ads

young boy reading magazine with an effective print ad on the back cover


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The move to digital has meant that print ads are no longer a key part of the marketing mix, as they were for decades. Think back to the last time a print ad caught your eye. However, there is still a need for them, especially if you have a business that relates directly to a print publication. However, with more magazines now available to read digitally, the ads still need to work well. 

Print ads are not easy to write and usually should not be attempted unless you're a professional ad agency copywriter, freelance copywriter, or creative director. But if you cannot afford that option, and are a small business owner managing your own ad campaign, these elements show you how to write print ads that help you reach customers and get sales.

Start With the Headline

Your headline is the first line of copy your reader is going to see in your print ads. A strong headline will hook the potential customer and compel them to read more about your products and services. You may come up with a great ad that doesn't require a headline, but those are rare. Usually, you need words to entice the reader. Good headlines from print ads include:

  • How will it move you?
    Wii Fit
  • Help Make Bedtime Worry Free
    GoodNites Sleep Pants
  • Power is Nothing Without Control
    Pirelli Tires
  • It's time to say no to fake food
    Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise

You May Need a Subhead

You won't find a subhead in all print ads, but a subhead can often expand on your headline and draw your reader in even further. If the headline asks a question, the subhead can answer it. If the headline makes a cryptic statement, the subhead can reveal more. Subheads from print ads include:

  • Headline: For nine months, you protected him as no one else could.
    Subhead: Now we're here to help.
  • Headline: All New
    Subhead: When was the last time you heard that, and it was actually true?
    The Saturn SKY
  • Headline: Feed Their Wonder
    Subhead: Introducing Lunchables Wrapz!
  • Headline: The La-Z-Boy Home Theater Collection.
    Subhead: Because customizing your home theater should also extend to your backside.

Don't Be Afraid of White Space

Just because you're buying a full-page print ad doesn't mean you have to fill the entire page with text and images. White space is just as important to your print ads as the copy you write.
White space makes your print ads more visually appealing, which will pull more readers into your ad. If your ad doesn't invite the reader in, they won't ever make it to the end.

Consider Images Carefully

Images are not always required in print ads, but society is very visual these days, and a copy-only ad is not going to win over a lot of people. Remember, any images you use should go hand-in-hand with your copy. They're not just for decorative purposes.

Original photos are best for your print ads, but you can also use illustrations if your product is technical and photos wouldn't tell the story as well. You can use multiple images as long as they are important to the ad, such as showing the product's uses. Just don't overload your ad with images for the sake of dressing it up. And stay away from stock photography, unless you have no choice. It's not original, and will not help your brand stand out. 

Don't Ignore Body Copy

Many ads these days are photos and logos, sometimes with a headline. These ads are not working hard enough. Unless you're a brand like Nike or Coke, you have a story to tell, and you need body copy to tell that story. The body of your print ads should be written in a conversational tone. Don't overwrite your ad.

You have a very limited space to write your copy, so make each word count. Every sentence should explain what it is you're selling and why the customer should choose you. Your customer has a problem, such as bad breath, a boring car, or a bulging waistline. You're offering the solution in your print ads, such as breath mints, a new sports car, or low-fat chips.

Most print ads you'll find in magazines keep the copy brief unless you're talking about a medical ad that requires legal information on the drug and its side effects to be disclosed. Take a look at a print ad for any prescription drug to see an example. Print ad copy doesn't have to be lengthy. You're not writing a book and trying to cram every single copy point about your company into the ad.

Take a look at print ads in the magazines or newspapers you want to advertise in. Make a note of how long the copy is to see what your competition is doing. Even if these ads aren't selling what your company does, they are still your competition because you're competing with them for the customer's attention. If your print ads are filled with text from top to bottom, and they're placed next to an ad with images and brief copy, your ad is likely to go unread.

What Is Your Call to Action?

What should the customer do now? If you don't tell them, they'll just put your ad down and move on to something else. Tell them to call now, visit your website, receive a discount for ordering before a certain date, get a free trial, or receive a gift with their order. You want to make your reader act now as opposed to whenever they get around to it, which could be never—without a solid call to action.

Include Contact Information

Do not forget your contact information. Don't just include your website because that is where you want people to go. Put every bit of your contact information in all of your print ads. You want to give each customer every possible resource to get in touch with you. Don't just assume everyone will want to visit your website or call you because they saw your number on the print ad. Give the customer options, so they'll choose to contact you.