Why Do Most Print Advertisements Fail?

Print advertising can be an excellent way of sharing the story of your community with potential capital investors, if done well. Unfortunately, most of the advertising I see published in professional journals like Site Selection Magazine or Area Development Magazine is poorly designed and likely to fail. The unfortunate thing is the economic development organizations paying for the advertising placement are not getting their money’s worth and will likely conclude that print advertising doesn’t work rather than their advertisement fails to effectively communicate (statistically speaking – a type II error).

Creating an effective print advertisement is really not that difficult conceptually.  Based on my P&G experience, there are three key steps to creating a winning print advertisement. And, in my opinion, most economic development advertisements fail in all three steps.

  1. Grab the reader’s attention.
  2. Win the reader’s heart.
  3. Be memorable.

Capture Their Attention

The first thing to keep in mind is that rarely does anybody pick up a magazine or newspaper with the intent of reading the advertisements (okay I do, but that doesn’t really count). An advertisement must be intrusive. It must catch the reader’s eye and then the reader’s attention.

A great model I learned about at University is AIDA (attention – interest – desire – action). It succinctly explains the steps any communication must take the receiver through in order to be effective. There are lots of ways to capture attention and interest ranging from an intriguing visual to a catchy headline. But, if you don’t get the reader’s attention, your advertisement has no chance of success. To use a baseball analogy, you don’t even make it to first base.

Here are a few examples that I believe crash and burn –

The preferred home for business and industry.

Find out how the Valley can work for you.

Find out what Concord can do for your business.

Power up your business with our assistance.

Find the perfect site for your business.

None of the above statements are intrusive enough to stop a CEO or anybody involved in evaluating locations for a possible capital investment. The statements are dull, undifferentiated, and unimaginative. Why would anybody want to read more?

Hold a high bar on intrusiveness if you want to get your money’s worth from print advertising. Don’t let your Agency skate by with giving you creative that looks like the same old, same old. Demand they deliver you a more inspired execution and don’t pay them until they do.

Here are some links that illustrate what good looks like. Unfortunately, I had to pull from the consumer packaged goods world for examples.




Grab Their Heart

Once you have the reader’s attention, you need to connect emotionally. Most advertisements for locations try and speak to the rational side of the brain. The copy talks about things like cost of doing business, available skilled labor and/or wonderful recreational opportunities.

Think about it from the reader’s point of view. Every location that will be considered offers the same rational attributes. What separates your community from the others? What will make your location interesting and motivate the reader to learn more about what you have to offer?

Decisions are made based on emotion and then rationalized after the fact. It isn’t a judgment call on my part, it has been demonstrated scientifically with the help of brain scan technology.

As a consequence, your advertisement will communicate best if it speaks to the heart of your reader. Make the reader feel something about your community. You can use rational arguments as proof points and of course you’ll provide all sorts of facts and figures in the RFP response. Let your advertisement touch the heart and let your RFP response make the rational case for selecting your community as the best choice for a capital investment.

If you have doubts that it can be accomplished, then check out the Pure Michigan campaign. Ohio University’s print campaign doesn’t talk about the buildings and quality of professors, it connects on an emotional level.  Or check out the I Love New York campaign.

Speaking to the heart isn’t easy, but it can be done.

Be Memorable

Watch television for an hour and try to remember the brands you saw in the advertisements. Or, pick up a magazine and spend 10 minutes skimming through it, go get a drink and then make a list of the brands that advertised in that issue.

Your reader will have trouble remembering the advertisements in the print media you select as well. Research on the “awareness index” suggests there are three ways to improve memorability – 1) make it enjoyable, 2) involve the reader and 3) brand it well. Of the three, the strength of branding makes the greatest difference.


Advertising can be very effective in helping your community be more competitive for capital investment. But, it isn’t difficult conceptually, but it isn’t easy to do right either. If you want to invest in advertising as a component of your media mix, consider contracting with a creative Agency that has a track record of success. Such an Agency may cost you more initially, but will more than make up for it by delivering a campaign that actually works. If you do not adequately resource your branding work, it will not succeed.

What are Your Favorite Place Brand Advertisements and What Makes Them Good?

Leave a comment and share your example of a good print advertisement for a community, city or state. Thanks in advance.

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24 Comments so far

  1. Mark Litten

    August 3, 2011


    From a big picture standpoint, I think this article makes alot of sense. In my 25 years in the economic development business in Ohio, I’ve placed my fair share of print advertisements in economic development “trade” publications. However, to equate “economic development advertising” to “consumer products advertising” isn’t a relevant comparison and falls short. When you were at P&G and an ad campaign was devised, it was done for one “specific” product, such as peanut butter. In economic development the “product” is a little harder to define. Economic developers are “selling” things such as “community”, “workforce”, “available sites & buildings”, “business & industrial parks”, etc. In fact, development organizations are selling ALL of those things at exactly the same time in one print advertisement. The best ad campaign that an ad agency came up with for the E.D. org that I was directing, was a “series” of ad placement in the Columbus Business First newsmagazine. There were 5 different ads that ran. Only problem was to take that campaign to a national or international publication, such as Site Selection or Area Development, became “cost-prohibitive”. So, while that Business First campaign was really effective, it had only “regional” appeal. For most county-wide E.D. organizations, “marketing” funds in their line-item budgets are not very expansive or unlimited like a P&G ad budget. When P&G advertises a “product” and that product sells in the marketplace, P&G realizes actual “revenue” to replace the dollars they spent on advertising. Economic Development groups hardly ever see any additional revenue coming in based on their ad placements, even if for some reason the ad placement actually led to a company or business locating in their community. In 25 years, I’ve never had a business tell me they found my community from a print ad that they saw.

    Otherwise, your article does touch on the premise of potential effective ad placement techniques that economic developers should take into consideration before making an ad placement….

  2. Erica Wasserman

    August 3, 2011

    Fourth Step: Compel the reader to respond and provide a response vehicle so they can do so…

  3. Dean Barber

    August 3, 2011

    We have so much time in our lives and so much stimulai literally battering us daily. So protect ourselves to a degree from information overload by filtering out stuff that we deem not important.

    Advertising is so much clutter. I seldom pay attention to advertising because I am seldom interested in what you are selling. I have more important things to do than to wade through your ad, particularly if it is wordy.

    Economic development ads spotlighting place are so predictable that they are seldom of interest. Let me get this straight, you have a central location and a great workforce. Never heard that one before.

    Most of the time, I will mute television commercials because I simply don’t want to hear it.

  4. Ed Burghard

    August 3, 2011

    @Mark – I think you hit the nail on the head. Most advertisements in economic development focus on selling the features of a community and fail to communicate the core benefit of selecting the location for capital investment. Feature heavy advertising fails to communicate regardless of the category.

    The primary objective of advertising in economic development is to win the First Moment of Truth (the opportunity to compete). No capital investor will ever select a location based exclusively on the advertisement. But, the ad can create awareness of your location’s core benefit and interest in learning more. The call to action should take the reader to a source for detailed information that helps them move forward in the investment decision.

    I know when people think P&G, they think consumer package goods. And, I know economic development professionals have a visceral reaction to comparing their community to a package of soap. But, my branding experience at P&G was in prescription pharmaceuticals. It is as complex a marketing challenge as economic development. And, consistent with your experience, never once did I hear a physician say the advertisement sold him/her on prescribing the drug. But, our research indicated the advertising definitely helped build awareness and interest that led to further evaluation which for many physicians translated into prescribing behavior. My experience in branding Ohio reinforces the effectiveness of advertising done well. During the period of our Wall Street Journal campaign, national quantitative research among CEOs indicated a positive impact on the overall perception of Ohio (translate as an increase in willingness to put Ohio on the short list for due diligence), and the state won the Site Selection Governor’s Cup four years in a row.

    I believe the principles of product and corporate branding can effectively be reapplied in economic development. I don’t believe communication principles are category specific. The biggest challenge I see is the lack of place branding mastery in the industry. The examples I provided give me optimism that we can change that.

  5. Brian C. Andersen

    August 3, 2011

    Excellent analysis! I’m working with a couple of towns right now that are trying to bring in new businesses as part of their economic development program. They have placed ads in other venues and are hesitant to place them in ours, despite the fact that our publications are targeted directly to the audience they’re trying to connect with. The other publications that they’ve already placed their spots in are not. So far their campaigns have been ineffective. This is great information for me to disseminate to those prospective clients. I’ve just discovered a wonderful sales tool through your blog. Thank you Ed!

    @Erica – Correct! An effective call to action is always a critical component in any advertisement.

    @Dean – you’re mostly correct. Most people are inundated with advertising and don’t really look at it, because most of it is just so much drivel. Ed’s piece is a great warning and guide on how to avoid that. After all, large companies got to where they were with consistent, penetrating, creative advertising.

    On an econdev ad space, the best thing a community can do is advertise unique tax advantages, infrastructure benefits, trade zone allowances and other critical advantages – you’re right that the workforce stats and “central location” don’t cut the mustard. Mentioning that you’ve got access to international airports, rail trans hubs (commuter & commercial) and tax incentives from the city start to make the solution of that community appealing to a prospective building developer and owner.

  6. Dean Barber

    August 3, 2011

    “After all, large companies got to where they were with consistent, penetrating, creative advertising.”

    I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that. Advertising agencies exist. They rake in tons of money, but it’s all modern astrology.

    Despite all their research, 75% of Hollywood movies make a box office loss.

    I cannot recall a single memorable ad from Toyota, or General Electric or IBM. I have only a vague recollection of ad from Intel in which some fellow inadvertantly hurts the feeling of robot. But that doesn’t influence the laptop that I choose to buy, which by the way I have have never seen an ad for.

    I bought the computer and my pickup truck based on consumer reports, reviews and testing. I know that make impulse that are not based on any sort of due diligence on my part, but I’m not sure that it is based on advertising.

    No doubt large corporations manufacturing consumer products spend tons of money on advertising, but is there absolute proof that it works? I have never seen it.

  7. Ed Burghard

    August 3, 2011

    @Dean – Having worked at P&G, i was fortunate to review a number of in-market tests that demonstrated convincingly great advertising does work to generate incremental sales and deliver a positive ROI. The most persuasive of the studies were in market controlled tests that evaluated different ad spend levels. There is a plethora of scholarly papers and books on the subject of advertising effectiveness that provide data demonstrating the business value of a great ad campaign. One of the more recent, and exciting areas of research is the application of neuroscience methods to better understanding how the brain responds to advertising. Nielsen is one of the world’s foremost research firms and is leading much of this evaluation – http://www.neurofocus.com/Advertise.htm. There is also a great book on the subject I would recommend if you are interested, titled Buyology (http://www.martinlindstrom.com/index.php/cmsid__buyology_chapters). The author does a nice job of summarizing how this type of research is conducted. In my opinion, advertising is a science as much as it is an art. There is a lot that can and should be learned by any EDO before investing in a national campaign for their community. Done right, advertising can help you win the First Moment of Truth. Done poorly, it is a waste of a limited budget.

  8. Laura A. Hobson

    August 3, 2011

    One of the best print ads I have seen is a billboard with “Turn It Around” on it, only upside down. It was an ad for a local university in Cincinnati. The ad made me stop and think – and I was driving my car.

  9. Linda Dektas

    August 4, 2011

    All due respect to Dean …. I have heard it before ….. “I don’t pay attention to or am influenced by advertising” …… as people drink their Coke/Pepsi, use their Crest toothpaste and buy their Charmin toilet tissue. Point is …. there are many, many, options to Coke/Pepsi out there …. ABC generic cola, etc. however the advertising has for most people created an awareness that has people reaching for those products advertised ….. so mission accoumplished. Good ads are awareness of the product for the consumer.

    Advertising is a almost like a public service as I see it. Advertisers have to boil it down citing the products best attributes of a particular product so this saves me alot of time and gives me a starting point for my research as to if a product/service is right for me or not.

    Ed couldn’t have said it better at top of this page ….. 1.) grab attention
    2.) appeal to the heart 3.) be memorable …. all good measuring sticks for a good, effective ad ….. and it goes without saying, Creative Storm’s personal code of ethics …. protray the truth. This is what a good ad does.

  10. Dean Barber

    August 4, 2011

    Sorry Ed, but I remain a skeptic, maybe by virtue fo the fact that you, too, acknowledge that most advertising is done poorly, hence not effective.

    Here’s a quote that sticks with me by legendary screenwriter William Goldman, author of “Adventures in the Screen Trade.”

    “Nobody knows anything.”

  11. Linda Dektas

    August 4, 2011

    Without a doubt …. the greatest print ad I have every seen would be the one for the Sara K. Weston Fund for the Blind. Ad said “Look at this red and black butterfly against the pink and gold sunset” Huge black space in center of ad and then “your gift to the Sara K. Weston Fund helps a blind child see the world you take for granted” …. not only do I think it was the greatest …… it won the INTERNATIONAL ADDY BEST OF SHOW award …. the absolute best ad of the year!

    And oh by the way …… it was an ad created by my hubby ….. Mike Dektas!
    (Creative Storm)

  12. Mark Litten

    August 8, 2011


    Thanks for the additional comments.

    Conversely, I think those of us in the economic development field, especially those in rural communities, feel like we HAVE to place print ads or have a powerful website that attract our audience, because if we don’t keep our “name/community” out there in the public eye. I always felt that if the our community didn’t promote itself to potential new customers, no one else was going to do it, including the State of Ohio. Surely not a neighboring county, even though we all spoke the politically correct line of “regionalization”. Most politicians & E.D. directors figured if they couldn’t land a project in their community, they wanted it to go far away, not in the next county because they couldn’t pat themselves on the back and couldn’t stand to watch their colleagues next door pat themselves on the back.

    Again, thanks for getting those in the economic development field to think differently about place branding. It is sorely needed.

  13. Mike Henderson

    August 9, 2011

    When I read the site selection magazines I make it a point to look at the ads because I want to find out something”new” about what’s going on in communities around the country. As already pointed out here, generic statements about “great quality of life, strategic location, low costs, blah blah blah” tell me nothing. Replace the community’s name with some other city’s name, and the story is the same.
    What I want to know is: what companies are already there? Have any companies recently moved in/expanded? Is there an office or industrial park that just opened? Is there a new incentive program in place? Is there a downtown redevelopment program in progress? These are the types of things that provide some differentiation and make me store the ad in my memory bank.
    I also have a couple of nitpicky points about economic development ads: put in your website address AND a contact name/phone # in case I want more information. And if you’re a smaller community or one with a common name, please include something (a map maybe?) that tells me at least what state you’re in. If I can’t get an idea about where you are, I am unfortunately probably going to forget your ad.

  14. Mike Komives

    August 10, 2011

    Leo Burnett is credited with saying a print ad is a substitute for an in-person sales call. David Herzbrun, a personal friend and one of the great practitioners of advertising, wrote “Playing in Traffic on Madison Avenue” — a must read for people interested advertising. Take a look at print, outdoor and TV ads for VW, American Airlines, and Chivas Regal print ads from the 50s and 60s… they reinforced each other in dramatic fashion.

  15. […] bore people, make them want to learn more. Great communication grabs attention and forces people to challenge their existing paradigms. It makes them interested […]

  16. […] Getting a positive return-on-investment from your print advertising campaign is always a challenge.  But, too often when a positive ROI is not achieved the tendency is to wrongly blame the journal rather than admit that the advertisement is not effective. […]

  17. […]   […]

  18. […]   […]

  19. Ashley Konson

    July 15, 2013

    Ed, Another excellent post. You are doing great work, that is also good work. Look forward to more great posts.


    Ashley Konson

  20. Ken Sethney

    July 15, 2013

    Ed — I think you missed the single most important point. You said…

    1) Grab the reader’s attention.
    2) Win the reader’s heart.
    3) Be memorable.

    But all is lost without…

    4) Give the reader a reason to take immediate action.

    Visit our website, get $20 off. Call today, save 15%. Do something, get something.

    Without a call to action, an ad is just brand building. Action ads build brands too, but they also deliver measurable results.

    I spent 10 years in the advertising business and another 10 in strategic marketing. I loved to see image ads from competitors with no call to action. They were incredibly easy to beat.

  21. Edward

    July 15, 2013


    The second A in the AIDA model stands for Action. The following quote is from the post –

    “A great model I learned about at University is AIDA (attention – interest – desire – action). It succinctly explains the steps any communication must take the receiver through in order to be effective.”

  22. Carl C

    July 13, 2015

    Hey I am glad got a chance to read such a nice and informative blog, I completely agree with all the points you have shared and will definitely consider them. I have recently started my business advertisement campaign with an advertisement company in Sweden, åKOMPANI and they are doing quite well. I will keep all the above points in minds. Thanks for posting, you can check out website http://akompani.se/ .

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    October 7, 2020

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