As long as people keep creating new products, they will keep creating ads. Here are 30 advertising design tips that will turn heads. Guaranteed.
It’s the age-old way of announcing to the world ‘I have a product, this is what it does, and this is why you should buy it’. In more recent times, ads have gotten far more creative, to the point where we have pretty high expectations of them. But how do we meet those expectations?
When a lot of us picture advertisements we picture extravagant images that flaunt the product, the features and the reasons we should buy it. You can definitely go down that route with your ad, or you can go down a simpler one.
Check out this ad by Lego that strips things back and relies on one image and idea. With no copy, just a plain and easy to digest message, this ad captures the complex concept of imagination in its simplest form.
Capturing a much simpler, more general idea in a simpler way not only makes for an effective ad, but also gives this ad a greater chance of appealing to more people. The only people it directly targets are those that have played with lego and have experienced imaginative play, which is a pretty vast target market. So, keeping things simpler (both in terms of message and design) can be a one way ticket to a great ad.
Calls to action are used a lot in promotional designs, particularly advertisements. In case you’re not familiar, a call to action is a piece of copy that urges or invites the audience to take action. Some calls to action you may be familiar with are things like “Buy now”, “Come in while stocks last”, etc.
Calls to action work particularly well in advertising when used thoughtfully and cleverly. For example, have a look at this multi-purpose call to action for Monarto Zoo. Not only does this call invite consumers to come visit the zoo, but it also helps to explain and contextualise the image above.
Since this call is accompanied by such a clever graphic and concept, it is kept simple and direct and a main focal point of the page. A lot of other ads may lower the hierarchy of their calls to action so that they are small, almost subliminal type. But, if your call to action is a part of your key message, don’t be afraid to make it big, make it bold, and put it in the forefront.
As with all designs, you are producing a piece of work that targets a specific consumer group. Representing this consumer group directly in your ad is a great way to signal that you’re talking right to them. But, how do we do this if our target market is quite broad?
For example, the Wilkinson Sword brand of razors has a very extensive target market. Their ad campaign is a series of three ads that are each designed to appeal to a variety of users. By featuring people with a different facial features and the hairstyles that might look good on them, each ad is able to target a very wide range of people.
By using a campaign of four ads instead of one, Wilkinson Sword is able to use one strong and clever concept, and expand it a little further in terms of direct market targeting by using different people and genres. In short, Wilkinson Sword has been able to appeal not just to one specific type of person, but to razor-users as a whole.
One big technique in the advertising game is visual metaphors. Much like a written metaphor, a visual metaphor represents one concept by comparing it to another (often unrelated) concept. Confused? Check out this example from Elter Drugs.
This ad warns the public about food borne illnesses by comparing an unwashed artichoke to an explosive. By creating a visual metaphor, Elter Drugs is able to impart a strong message about food safety and Elter Drugs’ own Gastric and Antibacterial Therapy Division without showing any sensitive images.
When devising a visual metaphor, work until you get one that seems obvious enough for consumers to understand in an instance. There’s no worse feeling than showing someone your design and having them say “I don’t get it”. Work to develop a clever and smart but clear and obvious visual metaphor. Is it easy? Not really. But is the payoff worth it? Almost always.
A surefire way to create a clever ad is to find hidden visual relationships that surround your topic. I know, that sounds like a big ask, but lets look at an example that does it well.
This ad is for online matchmaking service Parship.com, and it depicts symbols of men and women being brought together by a zipper. For this ad, the designer would have sat down and brainstormed visuals that represent men and women (the universal restroom symbols) and visuals that encompass the idea of bringing two things together (the zipper).
Finding hidden visual relationships can give you a unique way of promoting your product. Try to brainstorm concepts related to your message that have similar shapes, lines, or contours, and try to think up a way to bring these two concepts together to promote your message.
There are a certain amount of icons in the world, people, ideas, objects, and concepts that a majority of people are very familiar with. Advertisers often play up on these iconic elements of life in their advertisements in order to create new meanings.
This example for Samsung represents the famous figure Vincent Van Gogh. Signaled by the use of color, Van Gogh’s likeness, the paints, pipe and sunflowers, consumers are given a whole heap of iconic visual cues to make meaning from in a quick instant. This quick recognition of Van Gogh helps to drive home the tagline message of the ad “For self-portraits. Not selfies.” as people familiar with Van Gogh will probably also be familiar with the fact that he was an avid painter of self-portraits.
By using an iconic figure and concept and giving it a new, funny spin, this design creates an ‘inside joke’ of sorts amongst consumers, while also bringing in a dash of culture to the product. So, get cultural, get topical, and don’t be afraid of using iconic ideas and concepts and giving them a new meaning.
One of the fundamentals of design is scale, the sizing of certain objects can create all kinds of effects, so naturally, scale is a big technique in advertising.
Check out this ad for Staedtler, a stationery company. Staedtler uses scale in a big way in this example – first of all, the pencil has been scaled up quite a bit, but the focus remains on the pencil tip that has been carved into a cathedral with insurmountable detail.The use of the vastly scaled down type not only invites the reader to look closer, but also reinforces the message of ‘big things starting small’.
So, playing with scale in your design can not only create a strong message, but can make for a stunning visual. Scale items up to create drama and zero in on detail, and then scale other elements down to make things look more intricate and delicate.
Exaggeration is a fantastic tool in advertising, when used within reason. Implying that your product can do something that it can’t is a fine line to tread, and the one way to make sure that your ad stays funny or impactful and not misleading is to introduce a little hyperbole into your design.
This example for Raid bug spray shows the product having ‘killed’ the musical notes of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight of the Bumblebee”, implying that Raid is strong enough to kill absolutely any trace of bugs, including musical interpretations of them. This claim is ridiculous, and so clearly untrue that it’s made funny and satirical, not deceptive or misleading.
Don’t be afraid to manipulate your imagery a little to create a strange, surreal or even impossible effect to complement your message.
This ad for Ikea’s assembly service is inspired by the Penrose triangle, that famous ‘impossible’ illustration of the 3D triangle. Ikea channels the Penrose triangle by manipulating an image of their product in a similar fashion to illustrate the concept of ‘difficulty’ and ‘complexity’, poking fun at the infamous difficulty of building their flat pack furniture.
Just as the original Penrose triangle, this design is fascinating to look at, and also very cleverly captures Ikea’s message with a simple but impossible and surreal spin on an everyday image.
In many creative schools of thought, there’s a general rule of ‘show, don’t tell’, which dictates that you should never explain something when you can show it, and there is no exception to this rule when it comes to advertising.
This ad by Curtis Tea has opted to show rather than tell by visualising the senses of smell and taste. They could have simply put some copy on the page that said “This tea tastes very strongly of orange and chocolate”, but instead they have shown how it tastes by rendering an orange into the shape of a teapot.
If you’re designing your own ad, keep in mind that there is probably a myriad of other brands that are advertising a very similar product to you, and making similar promises, so take the chance to show off the features and ideas that surround your product rather than telling people about them, in order to create a much stronger and lasting effect.
Ads are designed for an audience to make meaning from, so why not bring the audience into the process of that meaning-making? Consider how your audience will interact with your piece – can they add something to it, or interact with it in some way to draw more meaning from it?
This ad by Berrge Tattoo grabs attention instantly by asking consumers to implement the skills they’d be applying for in order to apply. Not only does this help the brand filter out inexperienced hands but also helps construct a detail-oriented attitude for Berrge Tattoo as a brand, killing two birds with one (very interactive) stone.
The first generation of advertisements used to be just copy—a block of type that explained the product, the features, where you could get it, etc. But, times have changed, attention spans have shortened and time has become more valuable, so now, short and sharp copy is where it’s at.
A really good piece of advertising copy is definitely nothing to turn your nose up against, but sometimes a super short and simple piece of copy can be the most effective, especially if it’s accompanied by a strong visual.
This example for Land Rover uses just two words of copy and a super strong visual to create an attention-grabbing, clever and smart ad. They focus on one feature of the car and put a simple amount of punchiness to it.
Keep in mind when designing your ad, that short and sharp copy is much easier to remember and consume, as your audience will instantly read your message as soon as they glance over your ad – getting the message right away, loud and clear.
We communicate in hundreds upon thousands of symbols every day, from app icons, buttons, road signs, even emojis, so symbols are a quick way to make meaning (across many languages too!).
Check out how this example for Capacitate uses a customized version of the location pin symbol to symbolize putting a business on the map. Not only does this reinterpretation of the icon create a strong visual, it also helps this ad appeal to a certain market—more technologically-savvy people who use online maps and technology.
Consider using symbols in your advertisement to create a strong, quick and fairly universal message. It’s amazing how a very simple shape, like a circle with a pointed bottom, can signal in an instant the idea of location. So, why not capitalize on that!
If it suits your brand’s message, using optical illusions can create an engrossing, shareable and memorable effect, particularly because many optical illusions require you to literally stop and stare—and isn’t that the ultimate aim of the advertising game?
This example for acne treatment brand Oxy asks consumers to focus on the image of the product for 20 seconds, at which point the spots fade away, replicating the effect of the acne treatment. This piece is especially clever because in order to see the illusion, you have to stare at the product, strengthening the association between the illusion and the brand.
Do your research into optical illusions, discover what is possible for your medium and your message, and experiment with creating an engrossing illusion that really helps drive home your message.
Colour is a very strong tool in all of design, particularly advertising. You can set a particular tone or scene with color, conjure up certain emotions, or color can act as a motif.
This series of ads for the French dentist office Centre Dentaire Paris Loft uses color as a motif by depicting commonly yellow objects as a pearly white color, topping it off with the tagline “We don’t like yellow”. This use of ‘incorrect’ colors is pretty jarring and captures lots of attention whilst making a pretty strong statement.
So, consider using color as a motif in your design, whether you choose to use color in a jarring, intriguing, or eye-catching way, do it intentionally and have purpose. For extra tips on using color in your design process, be sure to check out these 10 color secrets.
Whitespace is an incredibly useful tool in design, it helps to let your designs ‘breathe’ and it keeps your design neat and uncluttered. However, whitespace isn’t just an aesthetic tool, in fact, it can also be a functional tool, one that can help create meaning for your ad’s key message.
Have a look at this example for Kit Kat that uses whitespace to draw attention to the main focal point of the design. The use of the whitespace here also helps to capture the idea of a break – silence, relaxing etc. There is no clutter, no loud colours, no big and bold type, the whitespace creates a peaceful and serene tone, perfect for this situation.
Using whitespace for the first few times can be pretty tricky, you get tempted to fill it all up with colour, type, larger elements etc. but hold off. Let your whitespace speak to consumers, and let it keep your design simple and clean, but also let it say what you want it to say. Sometimes less really is more.
Want to represent speed, agility, and movement for your product, but can’t quite figure out how to do that on a 2D medium like a print ad? Well, let’s look at an example that does it well.
Check out this example for Ajax wet wipes that pairs two pieces of movement and motion. The pink liquid that spills out and down, is sharply contrasted against the left-to-right shape right in the middle. The use of motion lines, highlights and shadows helps to capture these two contrasting shapes and create individual pieces of movement.
Using movement in your advertisements helps to create a dynamic design out of an otherwise flat medium, and helps to represent speed and movement. So, if you want to display how quick and speedy your product is, consider working with shape, shading and motion lines to create a dynamic effect.
If you’re marketing a certain product you are probably trying to promote a message that is very similar to every other product in your market, so endeavor to construct and promote that message in a new way.
This example for Extra Gum uses the age-old message of chewing gum being good for your teeth, but it presents it in a clever, new way. By using specific shadows, alignment and composition, Extra manages to make that same claim but in a clever and new way – by presenting the gum as a toothbrush substitute.
If you’re trying to promote an idea that has been ‘done’ before, don’t simply follow in the footsteps of other brands, consider a new way of presenting the message, find relationships and forge a new path.
We all know how powerful words are, so naturally, typography is pretty important too. But, it’s important to keep in mind that typography isn’t just limited to the fonts on your computer. Creating custom type by hand can add a personal touch to your design and it could be that one added element that makes your ad stand out from the rest.
Check out this ad for Nutella that renders the type in, well, Nutella. The use of a messy, custom piece of type reflects the playfulness of the Nutella brand and creates an eye-catching and pretty funny effect. On top of that, the copy itself is very effective – a little reverse psychology can have a big effect.
So, consider constructing your own type, whether this is handwritten, made out of your product, or created by any other means, a strong piece of type that is unique to you and you alone is memorable, personal, and super effective.
A lot of design will try to leap off of the page, or appear so realistic that you forget they are on a page at all, but what about drawing attention to the fact that your design is on a page?
Check out this example from ice cream brand Kibon that very cleverly makes use of the medium that it’s on by simply using two ice-cream-related textures. This design plays on the shape of the product and the medium and creates a playful, simple and clever design that does the best thing – makes people think ‘why didn’t I think of that’?
While creating designs that add depth and dimension to the flat medium, don’t be afraid to draw attention to your medium, get playful with it and create something simple but fun.
Think of the last diagram you saw, and think of how it was laid out. It probably had lines or arrows pointing in certain directions and to certain things in order to explain them, right? These lines are called leading lines.
Just like pointing in real life, or drawing arrows on an image to help point out something, using leading lines in advertising is a great way to direct your consumers’ eyes right where you want them to look.
Check out this example for Celcom Broadband that uses a strong leading line to point to and from the product image and the logo/tagline of the brand. This example uses sharp contrast and hierarchy to produce such a strong example. Since the design is so heavily weighted at the bottom, your eye likely goes to the bottom of the page first, and then gradually you move upwards along the middle leading line toward the product image, and then back around again.
So, if you want to be 100% sure that your audience sees all of the important pieces of your design, consider using some leading lines and shapes that direct the eye from point A to point B.
A lot of design works to appeal to certain emotions. I’m sure we’ve all laughed at, felt sad about, or smiled at an ad at some point, without even realizing the myriad of little elements that work together to produce that reaction from us. Let's have a look at an ad that evokes a sentimental and somewhat upsetting emotion in consumers and discuss how it does just that.
This ad by Unicef uses an emotional image, a child who is looking for a family in-store mannequins, and an equally as emotional message. But this appeal to emotions is enhanced greatly by the use of handwritten type. Clearly executed in the style of a child’s handwriting/drawings, the scratchy type makes it seem as though the message is coming directly from the child, and not a corporation.
Consider how your message is read, what little adjustments you can make to enhance the effect of the emotion you’re appealing to, and gauge reactions from there. So, whether you want to appeal to happiness, humor, sadness or any emotion in between, orient your design around that emotion, from the image, message, right down to the type.
Repetition is a powerful tool in the world of design, especially when it comes to advertising. Creating a pattern of items, symbols etc. and then subverting it or adjusting it in some way is a strong way to create movement and meaning.
Check out this example for stationery brand Luxor that cleverly plays on the old adage “finding a needle in a hay stack” by creating a repetitive pattern of the word “hay”. This example draws attention and creates meaning through color, by highlighting the one subversion (“needle”) with color.
Patterns are great aesthetic elements, but subverted patterns are great elements for when it comes to sending a message. So, consider repeating an element and creating a pattern, and then subvert it in some way, change one piece of the pattern, take a chunk out, highlight a piece of it, do something unique to your pattern to create a strong message.
Got some clever and sharp copy that you’d like to let shine? Go ahead, but don’t forego the chance for a clever typographical design. A little earlier we discussed the idea of producing hand-crafted type, but a few graphic elements and digital type adjustments can be just as effective if you’re not keen to go down that handcrafted route.
Have a look at this example for Triss’ scratch and win that uses a clever piece of copy, and subtle but effective graphics evocative of scratch and win cards. The type has been kept uniform, with the small adjustment of the lighter typeface weight to differentiate the two messages.
This design uses simple graphic elements and type adjustments to create a very clever message that relates directly back to the brand. A lot of the time, you will see ads that have type that complements the graphics, but don’t be afraid to switch that around.
Making grand statements is a great way to get a lot of attention, so be sure you do any bold statements you make justice by making the type equally and big and bold.
This ad for Daihatsu attracts attention using bold type, a bold statement, and hierarchy. The type is at the highest hierarchical point (thanks to the scale and weight of the typeface) so it attracts the most attention, meaning consumers read it first, and then the message is made humorous when the image is then viewed.
So, if you have something to say, say it loudly, use big, bold type, put it at the top, scale everything a bit smaller, make sure that the message is received loud and clear.
When creating an ad that uses a bit of humor or a clever approach, it’s normal to be worried and to fret “What if they don’t get it?”. But, have faith in your audience and try to avoid spoon-feeding them the message, let them infer certain things and let them fill in the blanks.
Have a look at this ad for Heinz Hot Ketchup that allows consumers to put the pieces together themselves, inferring what events lead up to the image, before revealing via the product name, what really went down. Like most ads, this one positions the product logo/image down the bottom of the ad, so that the joke is understood after viewing the image.
Note that there’s no copy that says “Sauce so hot that you’ll sweat” or anything too expository. The ‘getting it’ part of the ad is left up to the consumers. Try to think of your advertisement like a good joke, if it’s clever and strongly put together, you shouldn’t have to explain it.
Don’t let its name fool you, negative space is a huge positive to the design process. For those not familiar, negative space is the space around an image, the area, and shapes ‘in between’ your focal point. This tool is used a lot when creating a logo and making a poster and there is always welcomed room for it to be used in advertising.
Check out how cleverly IBM have used negative space in their ad. This example fits together with an illustration of a chicken and a woman’s face to perfectly encapsulate the main message about ‘tasting fresh food’.
Negative space looks tricky to master, and that’s because to beginners it totally is. But, you can create your own clever negative space designs by brainstorming objects and concepts related to your brand or message. Think of these objects and concepts as shapes, which shapes can fit together? When you’ve done the hard part (figuring out your design), execute it with high contrast colours, just as IBM have done in this example for an extra sharp and crisp effect.
Ever heard the phrase “hidden in plain sight”? Consider adopting this phrase into your design by creating an image that required consumers to do a doubletake in order to understand the image.
This example by oral care brand Colgate plays on this ‘hidden in plain sight’ method and uses it to make a strong point. Check out these three images. Did you notice anything different about the people pictured besides their teeth? Like how the woman in the first image has 6 fingers? Or the second image has a mysterious third floating hand? Or the missing ear on the third man?
Colgate use this method to make a solid point about how distracting dirty teeth can be with this ad that really requires a second look to fully understand. So, consider hiding some things in plain sight and inviting your consumers to do a double take to see what they’ve missed.
As effective as a good piece of copywriting can be, if you have a strong visual, there’s often no need to accompany it with type.
Have a look at this ad for Lenor fabric softener. A simple, strong, and clever visual occasionally means that there is no real need for copy. This piece’s composition simply allows for the viewer to first look at the focal point—the bear transforming into a teddy—and then down toward the product image, allowing that to speak for itself.
In many ways, this point relates to the idea of minimalism. When planning your ad, ask yourself, do I need this element or can I remove it without harming the effectiveness of the message? If the answer is yes, then take it away. Subtract until it breaks and you’ll be left with an equally as strong, but radically less cluttered design.
We’ve spoken about the power of type a few times now, but let’s discuss it one more time. This point parallels the last—a strong piece of copy doesn’t need to be accompanied by imagery.
This design by Seagram uses simple typography, strong copywriting and a sharp palette to make an impactful and plain as day message that doesn’t require any added graphics or imagery to enhance its message.
Relating this topic to minimalism once again, ask yourself what is crucial to your design and what is not, and cut down on any elements that are just weighing it down. While some of the graphics, or borders, or frilly typefaces may look good, ask if they are contributing to the understanding, or worse—taking away from that understanding.
Author William Faulkner once famously said “Kill your darlings”, meaning that while you might be attached to a certain element of your work, if it’s not serving a proper purpose, or it’s weighing down the message, cut it out. Easy in theory, difficult in practice, but effective at the end of the day.
The rules, techniques, methods and approaches to creating an ad are extensive and seemingly neverending.
While knowing and playing by design rules most definitely helps to create a visually stunning and effective ad, a lot of the effectiveness of an ad comes down to creative thinking and daring to be different.
Look at your product, look at your brand, and try to think laterally. What new perspective can you put on this product? What devices can you use to promote it? Would a visual metaphor work well, or perhaps an iconic image, or maybe a symbol or two.
Once you have your concept down pat, work on the design. Apply it on your flyers, rack cards, and other promotional materials. What technical methods could you use to do this piece justice? Perhaps some dramatic scaling, or a distinct palette. Mix and match techniques, seek inspiration, and have fun with it.