Print advertising's most important role in the Internet era may be to drive readers to a company's Web site. It's there that b-to-b advertisers can do branding, selling and just plain informing with the kind of depth that can't be done anywhere else, including sales calls, trade shows or direct mail.
The better corporate Web sites have a way of engaging visitors with their multilayered treasure troves of information about the company's products or services. The trick, of course, is getting business decision-makers to the site. Some ads succeed on that count; others do not.
Let's take a look at four print ads that, in our estimation, clearly fall one way or the other.
Before an advertiser can even hope to get readers to visit its site, it first must stop them in their scanning of a magazine and get them to spend some time exploring the print piece. In the parlance of the Internet, the print ad needs to be sticky.
Towers Perrin, which specializes in human resources services, presents the image of a man walking along a beach who seems to be taking a quizzical look at a metal pyramid. The headline says: "Employee communication: If you don't get the connection, they won't get the message." This is borrowed interest that didn't click-at least with us. The visual and headline all but demand a second look, which is usually one more than most ads get from readers.
Copy tries to draw the connection between the visual and the headline by stating: "Too often, management communication seems like it comes from another planet." Towers Perrin goes on to say that it can help companies keep their workforce engaged and motivated. "Then you've got to connect with them in ways that make sense to them," continues the copy before concluding with, "Shouldn't you get to know us?"
A good place to get to know the company would be on its Web site, but there appears to be little effort at getting the target audience there. The Towers Perrin URL is placed in the bottom left-hand corner-the so-called "fallow corner"-of the page that tends to get overlooked by readers whose eyes naturally track from the upper left to the lower right on the page. In addition to the design flaw, there's too little call to action. Readers need a nudge to take an additional step, but this ad fails to provide that.
8e6 Technologies serves up a more focused visual and headline combination, as a pair of tech guys engage in a finger-pointing exercise accompanied by the headline "If one partner can take full responsibility for your Internet filtering issues, why have two?" Copy effectively states that 8e6 is a one-stop solution. Unlike the previous execution, this ad offers an incentive to visit the company's Web site in the form of a free productivity evaluation. Despite the boldfacing of the offer, however, the call to action seems to get lost. Our eyes went directly from the copy block to the eye-catching logo, bypassing the call-to-action to the left.
Now for two ads that we believe did an especially effective job of driving people to the Web:
IBM Corp., with its ever-entertaining advertising, all but points a pack of bloodhounds in the direction of its URL in the bottom right of this spread. If that's not enough, IBM further stimulates readers with the offer of a free guide to "simple, fast, secure I.T. management" that appears directly above the URL, which is presented in large, all-cap, bold letters. The familiar IBM logo, relegated to the less-visible upper-left corner, plays a secondary role.
The piece de resistance comes from Microsoft Corp., which fuzzes much of the photo of a woman at a computer to put the focus on the road sign near the center of the spread highlighting a special Microsoft URL. If readers missed it there, they certainly won't miss it in the headline: "Find tools and guidance to defend your network at microsoft.com/security/IT" Bulleted copy offers additional reasons to visit Microsoft's special Web site on IT security. That's how to get people to the Web.