A message runs through it

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It starts with the color purple—in the boxing gloves the businesswoman in this IBM ad has donned to duke it out with the barriers to efficiency. The reader's eye naturally gravitates to the gloves because of their unusual color and the improbable use of them on a woman in a business suit and high heels.

The art director in this ad for IBM's WebSphere Business Integration Server Express made this an efficient read for the target audience by providing an unmistakable entry point. The reader's eye prefers not to bound about the page in search of a starting point. A single, dominant component in the ad reduces the guesswork.

Although providing an unmistakable entry point is critical, it's only the first step to guiding the reader through the material in a sequence that's consistent with the logical development of the selling proposition. The reader's eye needs to know where to go next.

In this case, there's no question as to where the reader goes next. Astride the well-dressed pugilist is a headline set against a white square that says: "You vs efficiency barriers." The "vs" appears in purple ink to ensure the linkage between the visual and the headline.

The reader's eye tends to drift from top to bottom and from left to right on its journey through a page. The headline, slightly to the left and slightly below the dominant visual element, is well positioned to take advantage of that diagonal flight path.

With a logical connection between the visual and the headline in the IBM ad, the reader should finally descend into the text, appropriately positioned at the bottom of the page. Like the headline, the text is attractively set against a white background.

Copy makes the case that a user of the WebSphere product can become more productive and can shrink costs. The last element of the ad is the call to action. It, too, has been placed in the right spot-in the bottom right-hand corner. In the single line of all-cap purple type, IBM invites readers to see a demonstration on one of its Web sites. The flow is flawless.

Dell diverts from the flight path by placing the headline above the dominant visual of a businessman and a storage system. The risk is that the eye will not absorb the headline because it's conditioned to heading down, not up a page. But the headline is prominent enough to lure the eye to the top before it must descend through the visual and into the text, where the real selling takes place. The flow may not be as fluid as the IBM ad, but readers are provided enough guidance to logically absorb the selling points.

An ad for Statlistics, a list management and list brokerage company, confronts the reader with a riot of images, none of which says: "Start here." Is the reader to begin his or her journey with the visual of the collection of magazine covers, with the visual of the street scene, with the list of titles or with the headline? The headline is sometimes a good place to start, but in this case, it gets entangled with the background of the street scene.

With so little guidance from the art director, the reader will be inclined to flee to another page.

The art director for an ad for ProCurve Networking by HP probably intended for readers to digest the four lines of headline text from top to bottom, like the flow of a waterfall. The headline reads: "More from your network means a network that does more."

However, our eyes lighted on the third and fourth lines of headline text first. That's because the third and fourth lines of the headline appeared in black type on a white background. The first two lines were reversed against the busy background of metallic tubes. In other words, the ad-whose dominant element is the headline-gets off on the wrong foot.

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