Entry points crucial to design

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Presenting an ad's selling proposition in a logical sequence sounds as easy as 1, 2, 3—except it's not. The art director has to juggle visuals, headlines, text, Web addresses, logos and taglines, not to mention decisions about colors, typography, white space and overall design.

Selling in a logical sequence is like guiding someone through a long hallway with dozens of doors. The guide, like the art director, must throw open the right doors—otherwise the journey becomes an exercise in confusion. Avoid the confusion: There's precious little time for it.

Start by providing the reader with an unmistakable point of entry. In most cases, it's a visual; but it can also be a headline or even the text. Whatever it is, the single dominant component becomes the starting point from which to develop the sales pitch effectively.

Yet b-to-b advertisers often seem to struggle with this concept of guiding the reader through the ad. Take Hitachi, for example. An ad that describes the company's efforts to be energy-efficient goes so far as to provide the reader a flight path in the form of a red ribbon that wends its way through a series of visuals and captions. But in our estimation, the bread-crumb trail defies logic. The largest and most dominant element in the ad is the large globe at bottom left. The gravitational pull of that image is irresistible.

That's a problem, as Hitachi intended for readers to begin their journey at the other end of the spectrum—at the top of the page—where the tiny image of a group of people appears at the upper tip of the red ribbon. We read the series of captions in reverse order, which, of course, didn't make much sense. Hitachi's green message was lost on us.

The art in an ad for Best Buy for Business provides more distraction than it does direction. The dominant element is the border of colorful images—a series of photos of Best Buy customers and employees. Our eyes scanned the colorful periphery and moved on, failing to seize upon the core of the ad, which promotes an all-in-one printer from HP. The ad is much too busy. The art director needs do a better job of creating an unmistakable point of entry before he or she can hope to guide readers through the material in a logical sequence.

Now, for some examples of ads that provide proper guidance. United Parcel Service touts its prowess with logistics in an ad that begins with the image of a happy customer brandishing an envelope that serves as the backdrop of the headline: “I ♥ Logistics.”

Readers will note the UPS Express Envelope on the man's desk before their eyes fall naturally into a friendly sounding patch of text that explains how UPS can help its customers keep promises made to their customers. After the call to action, UPS presents its Web address. Floating on an attractive river of white space are the UPS logo and tagline. The art director did a superb job of arranging all the elements of the ad so that the reader absorbs the UPS message about logistics in a most logical sequence.

The law firm of Nixon Peabody sells its legal expertise in logical sequence by featuring the image of a stern-faced client whose musings are captured in the headline that tracks across his folded arms: “I don't need theories from my lawyers. I need answers.”

Following the strong combination of the visual and the headline is a burst of text that reinforces Nixon Peabody's initial message. The art director was obviously conscious of the top-to-bottom, left-to-right path that a reader's eye typically takes. Our only nit is that the Web address gets lost in the firm's laundry list of locations. We'd find a more logical place for something so critical.

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