The best and worst small business print ads in Shopper's Source

Contrary to what you hear from a lot of small business marketing "experts", print advertising is not dead or about to die. Exhibit A is Shopper's Source, a free direct mail publication promoting home improvement services.

Thumbs up and down, representing the evaluation of small business advertising by the creative director of a Toronto advertising agency specializing in SEO, online marketing, internet advertising and web content writing for small business owners in Canada and the United States.

We have recommended Shopper's Source because it can be targeted and it answers a need – where can I find, in one place, multiple home improvement suppliers. Millennials won't give it a second glance. They live online.  But older folk (50+) who are not interested (or able) to search for home improvement services online love publications like Shopper's Source.

One half of a failed print ad, analyzed by Toronto ad agency executive Wolfgang Franke, President of Words at Work, a leader among Toronto ad agencies for small business advertising and marketing.
Can you tell what is being offered in this ad? Is it a house for sale? No. Is it roofing? Nope. Is it interlocking stone work? Nada. Is it something else? Yes. Click the image to see the complete ad and get the answer.

These folk also tend to in live in older home requiring a lot of contractor work and, better still, they have a lot of money to buy contracting services.  It's a match made in marketing heaven.  

Print ads by small business owners, presented by small business marketing Guru Wolfgang Franke, President of a Toronto advertising agency specializing in social media advertising, social media marketing Toronto copywriting, web advertising, facebook advertising and video marketing.
Instant ad fix: The quarter-page kitchen cabinet ad (top right corner) could have over powered the larger (and more expensive) half page (below) with this simple change: dump the largely useless before and after photo (too small to make any real impact) and use that space to present in a large headline font: Save $100 on quality kitchen cabinets.

We would make the font size about twice the size of the "GET A NEW LOOK" headline and can virtually guarantee that my version would have done better than what was published.
Click ad for larger view

Just one problem. Many of the ads in Shopper's Source (Sept/Oct 2017 issue) commit the deadly sins of print advertising:

1. Blinds ads

The test of any print ad is that you can instantly tell what is being offered and why you should buy it. All but a few ads fail this text. A Thumbs Up goes to Welda Windows and Doors (page 19) for passing this test while committing several other print advertising sins. A Thumbs Down to another Windows and Doors supplier, Majesticon, for doing a full page ad that offers a completely blind photo and headline.

2. Buried benefits

Some of the ads, about 50% have an offer. But you have to dig to find it and that means a huge percentage of the readers (up to 50%) will miss the offer.

3. Too busy layout

The mark of an amateur graphic designer is that they feel obligated to fill every inch of space with something, anything. This produces a design that is not only unattractive, but also unreadable.

4. Upside down layouts, starting with the logo

This is the most common design mistake, typically made by junior designers trying to copy what they see in packaged goods that often lead with the logo. Leading with the logo makes sense with packaged goods because the logo is well known and hence helps drive sales. It makes no sense in home improvement print advertising.

5. No humanity

People live in houses. You would not know this by looking at most of the print ads because the photos never include people, a big mistake because people relate to people, they do not relate to things, including pools, windows, doors, interlocking brick, sheds, roofing, potlights...

6. Box madness

Placing every design element in a box, yet another common design mistake,  turns a single large ad into what looks like several small ads – an advertising disaster for the advertiser because the potential impact of a large format ad, purchased at high cost, is lost.  One of the worst offenders is Ontario Duct Cleaning (Page 12).

7. Vague (we hope they call) offers

Hiding the specifics of an offer, with wording like "SPECIAL PRICE", makes no sense because it means only the curious will call and that represents a tiny fraction of the real sales potential. If an offer is truly special, spell it out and feature it prominently in the top third of the ad.

8. Unreadable text

The logo for Royal Paving Inc. (page 16) is in a font that would be best described as Worn-Out Gold. Someone thought it would be good to use that same color in the headline – a bad idea for three reasons:

  • it makes it impossible to tell what is the logo and what is the headline
  • the headline is almost unreadable
  • there is nothing "royal" about the font

9. Trying to do too much

The goal of a print ad is not to tell your entire story. That only makes it less likely that the reader will call to learn more (the real goal). We recommend a simple-is-better approach with one large, anchor element.  That is exactly what you get in the full-page Lennox print ad (Page 11), which has just three elements – headline featuring special offer, supporting graphic, contact info. Perfect. At the other end of the spectrum is the Wrought Iron Enclosures (page 8) print ad.  It is half the size of the Lennox ad, but has twice as many elements. Not good.


Free evaluation of your small business print ad

Interested in what we think about your small business print ad? Use this form to send us a scan of your advertisement. We will have a look and get back to you with some observations and tips. There is no cost or obligation and we will do our best to get back to you promptly.

Read WolfBites and Head to Head for more advertising and marketing tips from Wolfgang Franke, the Marketing Guru for small business. 

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