Here's Why Some Print Ads Work and Why Many Completely Fail

Consultants Say Creative in Mags is Often Bland, Short on Selling Power

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Magazine ad pages have been down slightly this year, and newspaper revenues have been tanking. But the problem might not be the medium, the readership or even that pesky shift of reader attention and marketer dollars to digital.
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AdAudit docked this Tab Energy magazine points for not conveying a clear message. Click the link below to read the full review and more.

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It might just be the poor quality of print ads, contend Suzanne and Bob Grayson, longtime beauty-industry consultants for the likes of L'Oréal, Procter & Gamble Co., Avon and others. While TV ads -- particularly in the beauty and package-goods industries -- usually are vetted by copy-testing services, magazine ads normally don't get any form of pre-testing, largely because of the cost of testing vs. the media.

"Their print advertising isn't pulling, so they're shooting the messenger [media] rather than aiming the gun at their own ads," said Ms. Grayson, partner with her husband in the consulting firm Grayson Associates.

New system
The two have been marketing consultants in the beauty industry for years, which, at least on the prestige side, relies almost exclusively on print. So branching into a service for vetting print ads was a natural step, Ms. Grayson said.

As they've begun looking beyond the beauty industry, the Graysons say they've found a host of bland, look-alike ads without much selling power -- a problem also common in the beauty industry, with which they're more familiar. "The automotive category has one ad after another showing back views of cars going through mountains," Mr. Grayson said. "If you took the logos away, you wouldn't know what car it is."

Grayson's AdAudit analyses aren't high on high-concept advertising that lacks product benefits or strong positioning. The system uses a highly structured, analytical approach, with 31 evaluation points grouped into four categories, which is certain to go over badly with many creatives.

Personal opinions -- even expert ones -- have no consistent means or language to communicate reasons for ad preferences without such structure, Ms. Grayson said.

Many words
AdAudit analyses tend to favor copy-heavy, claim-laden ads. One for Johnson & Johnson's Neutrogena Helioplex Suncare products gained a high score with an ad using more than 300 words, two charts, seven product shots and at least five direct or indirect comparative-superiority claims.

David Ogilvy might love it. Bill Bernbach, maybe not so much.

Barry Linsky, exec VP-emeritus of Interpublic Group of Cos., who has evaluated AdAudit, said it's a potentially useful tool, but said it might be better to also incorporate a holistic measure of all the parts working together. "A lot of these ads may be more than the sum of their parts," he said. "I'm not sure how Bill Bernbach's early Volkswagen advertising would have fared in such an evaluative tool as this, if you think about 'Lemon' or 'Think Small.' But I think a great deal of advertising might benefit from something like this."

Mr. Linsky, who said he was speaking on his own behalf, not Interpublic's, believes AdAudit may be more analytical than some advertisers or agencies would ever want, but that more analytically inclined clients may want to experiment with it.

"Even if they're doing quantitative testing with rough executions," he said, "this is a deeper tool that could provide more-informed insights."
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