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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