Evaluating Your Advertisement – How To Tell If Your Advertisement Is Good Or Bad

Ed Burghard

Don’t Blame The Tool For The Mechanic’s Lack Of Skill

The blog post I wrote on features versus benefits received a lot of attention, so I followed it up with a little exercise and a reprise of an earlier blog post on assessing advertising.

One problem I have observed is that the blame for poor results from investment in print advertising campaigns is blamed on the medium. However, more often than not the real reason for poor result is because the advertisement is poorly designed.  For whatever reason, there is more bad print advertising in economic development journals than good print advertising.  The problem isn’t that professional journals are a bad media choice to reach site selection decision makers.  The real issue is that the advertisements are ineffective and do not communicate a compelling message to win the heart and mind of your target.

So How Can You Tell If Your Advertising Is Good Or Bad?

Here are 10 questions I have used to evaluate advertising throughout my career.  If an advertisement fails on one or more of these points the probability is high that you will not see a return on your investment. If you are looking for the advertising that is effective but still affordable go through Grassroots Advertising services.   My strong counsel is to 1) stop and take a deep breath, 2) delay your investment in that print ad, and 3) rework the creative until you have satisfactory answers to all 10 questions.

10 Questions to Evaluate Your Advertisement

In that post I identified 10 questions to ask about any print advertisement.

  1. Is the advertisement focused on communicating your community’s promise?
  2. Does the advertisement make you want to learn more?
  3. Do you feel rewarded for having invested the time to read the advertisement?
  4. Is the advertisement distinctive so you’ll stop to read it?
  5. Does the idea focus on the benefit of your community’s promise?
  6. Is the advertising idea meaningful to your target audience?
  7. Does the advertisement make you think AND make you feel something?
  8. Is there drama in the advertisement that brings the benefit to life?
  9. Does the advertisement visualize the benefit?
  10. Does the advertisement include an authentic reason to believe the benefit will be experienced?

Two Real World Case Studies

Let’s take a look at two real advertisements and try to assess them against these criteria. The comments are based solely on information presented in the advertisement and represent one person’s opinion.  The comments are provided for illustrative/educational purposes only.  They are totally judgment based, not data based. If data exists to the contrary, the data based answer should be the one that is paid attention to.

Chesterfield Economic Development

  1. The promise appears to be that Chesterfield County is business friendly. The headline “The grass is greener. The sky’s the limit.”, suggests Chesterfield County may be a superior location option.
  2. The claims are fairly standard (i.e. educated workforce, low tax rate, business friendly government).
  3. The advertisement doesn’t offer unique insight about Chesterfield County.
  4. Visual likely has average stopping power.
  5. Advertisement is feature focused, not benefit focused. The reader is actually directed to a website to learn what the benefits are.
  6. The claims are about meaningful topics to capital investors.
  7. The advertisement makes logical, not emotional claims.
  8. No real drama in the visuals.
  9. The visuals support the headline.
  10. No “reasons to believe” the claims are provided.

Greater Fayetteville, North Carolina

  1. The promise of the community appears to be a “hometown feeling”, but the promise of the advertisement appears to be low operating costs for pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms.
  2. Yes, the advertisement makes an offer of a free copy of a study that the reader is likely to want to explore further.
  3. Yes, the translation of the 32% savings versus national average into a case study that illustrates how a company might save $8.9 million a year makes me feel reading the copy was worth my time.
  4. The headline and visual has stopping power.
  5. Advertisement does translate the feature of lower cost into the benefit of savings, but could go further.
  6. Yes, the concept of lowering operating costs is meaningful.
  7. The advertisement makes you think. But, it does not make an emotional connection with the reader.
  8. No. The advertisement relies on a pun for stopping power.
  9. The visuals support the headline, not the promise.
  10. The body copy does a great job of offering proof and the call to action encourages a deeper exploration of the reason to believe the claim.

Industry Observations

The community promise is not driving the copy in either advertisement. Instead, it is treated as a logo element. This is a sign that the community promise may not be sufficiently compelling. A disciplined approach to branding would suggest there were only two courses of action for an advertisement that does not communicate your community’s core promise – 1) reject itfor being off strategy and send the Agency back to the drawing board, or 2) revisit your community promise to be certain it meets the criteria of being relevant, competitive and authentic, if not then align behind a promise that does before directing the Agency to do more creative work.

Weak drama. Drama in advertising is key to creating engagement and making your advertisement memorable. Drama is about capturing the reader’s attention so you have an opportunity to tell your story. Place branding advertisements tend to rely on puns for stopping power. Puns are a real challenge in B2B promotion. When they work, they work great. But, if the reader doesn’t “get” or appreciate the pun it can be a disaster. And, if the pun does not support the promise, it could be very distracting. If you get a reader to spend 30-seconds looking at your print advertisement you are doing well. Wasting any of that 30-seconds for for your reader to try and puzzle out a pun needs to be challenged.

Visuals tend not to strongly support the promise. My best advice is to think about a billboard. The words and pictures need to be reinforcing for a billboard to work. If they are not interdependent, then there is a risk the message will be confusing. Many Agencies like to use the visual to reinforce a headline that they feel is clever. But, if the headline does not communicate your promise, then clever simply doesn’t cut it.

There is often a call to action that can be used to measure results. Advertisements that direct the reader to their community’s website offer a good opportunity to track click-through rates. I particularly like the concept of offering additional, believable proof of your community’s promise as an inducement to take the action.


Place branding is fraught with many examples of feature based advertising, and advertising that was not developed as a creative transformation of a community’s core promise.

Take a look at the two case studies. On an A,B,C,D,F basis what grade would you give each? Do you have a differing point of view on how you might answer the 10 questions? Do you have examples of community advertisements you believe can be considered as best in class?


My special thanks in advance to Fayetteville, NC and Chesterfield County for being understanding in my use of their community’s advertisement to illustrate how to apply the 10 questions.  The critique should not be interpreted in any way as a reflection on the success of the respective campaigns.

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