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.  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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16 Comments so far

  1. […] Evaluating Your Advertisement […]

  2. Charles Broadhurst

    May 11, 2012

    Keep with the core beliefs or values that the community is trying to convey in the “promise”. The hook or pun should support the core idea and transition in to supporting detail that should lead the reader to a call to action.

  3. James O. Armstrong

    May 11, 2012

    My experience over the years has taught me the following: the vast majority of ED clients in both the US and Canada don’t utilize an advertising agency or marketing firm at all because they don’t have the money ($s) to do so. For most of these clients, doing something is better than “doing nothing at all.” Next, “doing more of something” is better than “doing less of something.” Finally, “pulling out all of the stops” is always the best answer, if the budget is available.

    Next, my experience has taught me that many larger-budget clients as well as a series of smaller-budget clients are today focused on social media strategies and improvement of their web sites as a first step – – often before print ads come into the picture. Also, some clients in both categories make the mistake of pursuing a public relations strategy only.

    But, the good news is the state and local government budgets are now beginning to improve due to higher tax collections in many places, which I believe will lead back to the use of more print advertising,. This step can and should be one arrow in the overall arsenal of marketing options for ED clients of all sizes.

  4. James Glover

    May 11, 2012

    I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, “the city different,” that can boast these distinctions: #1 Cultural Getaway – Travel + Leisure; Coolest Small City – GQ; # 3 Best Destination – Conde Nast; Top Place to Visit in 2012 – LA Times. Despite these accolades and name brand recognition, Santa Fe still struggles. Marketing research determined that our older/wealthier visitors were dying off or had the attitude “been there, done that” and the younger crowd didn’t have know much about our offerings. So Santa Fe created a new ad campaign targeting a younger travel audience seeking an authentic and creative travel experience. The new campaign called “Travel to the Beat of a Different Drum” targets a much younger audience and plays up on Santa Fe’s rich history, Native American ties, and a visit that will be truly memorable. The ads depict real locals sharing their views about what there is to see and do in Santa Fe. I think the ad campaign is very appealing and does a great job addressing your 10 ad evaluation points. Heck, I live here and the ads motivate me to experience more of my town. Check out this link: http://santafe.org/SantaFeBeat/

  5. Ed Burghard

    May 11, 2012

    Great comments! I totally agree that if advertising development and deployment cannot be adequately resourced it shouldn’t be attempted. Investing funding in a poorly executed program is a waste of money.

    I also think the Sante Fe case provided by James is a good example of a program supported by a solid strategy. My gut suggests the campaign had the impact that was desired and is likely successful.

  6. […]   […]

  7. […] second post shared 10 questions to use in evaluating advertising. I tried to illustrate the use of the […]

  8. […]   […]

  9. […] Evaluating Advertising […]

  10. Advanced Bonded

    August 13, 2013

    That’s how to assess advertising for marketing! Keep it up!

    document storage in charlotte n.c.

  11. […]   […]

  12. Mike Philippson

    October 11, 2013

    I like your 10 criteria and agree with your assessments, Ed. But on a more positive note, I think the Fayetteville ad may be onto something. The idea I get from their ad (though it could be clearer) is that moving there lets your business punch above its weight. Even a smaller business can afford a prime site. To me that is a more positive way of selling the feature of “cheap”. However, the headline only hints at it in a negative way and the body copy is talking savings. The same data could be used to say you could have nearly 50% more business space in Fayetteville than on average for the same amount of money. The headline could also be more positive carrying the thought that it is the place where the facilities can match the dreams you have for your business. The reason I am making these points is that failing on one or more of the criteria should not make one abandon a good idea. The true skill is to spot the great idea, whatever form it is in and then build an execution of the idea to match its quality.

  13. Edward

    October 11, 2013

    Mike – Totally agree with the idea of not throwing the baby out with the bath water if in fact you have a winning promise to communicate. Your suggested changes would certainly make the ad a better execution. I don’t think the community has done sufficient work to define a truly competitive promise. And, being the low cost option is likely not sustainable (assuming it is even authentic). Your idea of the facilities matching the dreams you have for your business is interesting. The key would be to answer the decision maker’s question – Why do I care?. The answer is likely in it providing you flexibility for cost effective expansion. I’d want to test the competitiveness of that positioning though.

  14. […] on that challenge. I think the campaign is simply remarkable.  It does a great job of nailing the 10 Questions to Evaluate Advertising that I wrote about […]

  15. […] “From The Burghard Group | Sharp & clear Advertising evaluation viewpoint http://t.co/kiHqgDXEwA”;  […]

  16. […]   […]

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