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How we read

In a world that is getting ever more complex, it is easy to forget that simplicity really works... and there are some simple rules that, if followed will ensure that messages are conveyed in a way that is most effective.

 

In advertising, it is common place for advertisers to over complicate their message - to try to say too many things all at once, confusing customers and thus being in-effective. In digital formats, I have seen some glaring examples of overly complex messaging bombarding the reader to a point of inertia.

 

To understand how we read, and then to apply these rules to your work, I look to what I believe are examples of best practice. One such example is BBC Online. Much effort and skill has been devoted to creating content that is readable in the way people want to read it. In print advertising, I look to BMW and Volkswagen for examples of excellence.

 

What are the common threads that run through all great advertising and how can we learn from these?

 

The image tells a story and captures the audience

Advertisers only have a moment to capture their audience, so the image you select for your advert must tell a story, be simple, relevant and capture the viewers attention. It must convey a message and be in-line with your brand’s DNA. 

 

It is important that image style is clearly defined and consistently applied across all materials. Take BMW for instance. There is a very clearly defined image style used by this brand that is consistently applied in all media. Over time, subliminally, an audience will recognise the unique style and respond to it. The insurer Churchill is another good example in the UK.

 

Finding the right image is one of the most challenging aspects in creating any piece of advertising material. Do not cut corners, do not use stock imagery (you don’t want your brand image being used by a competitor, or worse still, by a brand that you do not want to associate with) and force yourself or your advertising agency to present you with options. Ask yourself hard questions:

  • Does this image tell the story I want it to?

  • Is this image beautifully simple?

  • Is this image inline with my brand guidelines?

  • Is this image appropriate to the audience it is intended for?

 

The headline must tell the story

Some of the greatest adverts of all time capture the message in one or two words. For example, Volkswagen’s ‘Drive Cleaner’ campaign for the Passat model. Read those words and look at the image and immediately we understand what the campaign is about.

 

 

When creating advertising, realise that you only have a moment to capture your audiences attention and convey the message. Any reader must understand the message from the image and the headline. Fail in this and your campaign will fail because 85 percent of readers only look at an image and a headline. 

 

Test this theory on yourself. You’ll be amazed.

 

The sub heading must tell a story

At this point, remember you are only talking to 15% of your audience, those that actually want more detailed information from you. Remember, keep the sub-heading short, explain a little more detail, give enough so that your audience gets what they want from you. 

 

The body text must give more information

At this point you are speaking to less than 5% of your audience, keep the body text as informative as possible and to a minimum. Do not over complicate. In some cases, like the Volkswagen example I gave earlier, advertisers do away with body text.

 

Having explained this simple principle, the next time you visit the BBC online, or read an advert, think about the way the messaging is structured. The image tells the story, the headline tells the story, the sub-heading gives more detail on the story and the body text expands on the detail. 

 

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