There is a thread on the Pictage Forums where someone was asking for critique of a print ad. I see questions like this all the time and this one got me thinking that it’s time for me to do another practical, ‘how to,’ marketing related blog post.
I had a job in college with a well known producer named Ralph Winter. Ralph has become a good friend over the years but I learned a very important lesson from him (well, actually I learned a bunch) but one applies to creative analysis; Content, Structure, Style. Ralph didn’t originally apply this to advertising, but when I got into advertising school at Pepperdine, this method saved me more than once.
For most creatives this is exactly backwards. Most creatives start with style and then work backwards to structure and content, trying to figure out how to shoehorn the words they need into the cool graphic they created. That is a recipe for a bad movie and it is also a recipe for a bad advertisement, website, blog design, logo, etc. Here's a better method.
Content, Structure, Style works this way.
What do you want to say. By this I mean, what is the single most important point you wish to convey? Take some time to think about that. In an ad of this size you get to convey one, maybe two messages. What is the single most important message for your target? What is most likely to drive the outcome you desire? Before you start on your creative, write this down. Pin it somewhere. You’re going to need it later.
What are the principle elements you will need to tell the story in a complete way? Do you need an image? A logo? A graphic design? Do you need words? Take some time to really think about this. I know you like your fancy pink scroll logo underscore thingy, but does it need to take a lot of real estate in this piece?
The actual creative process of developing your piece. Obviously your style should fit your brand and be consistent with your site, blog, etc. (so the consumer knows they’ve gotten to the right place when they go there from the ad). The images you show should show the people you are targeting, or at least their archetypes. The piece should be different (differentiated) in the context of the environment in which it will be placed. If it’s a magazine and there are lots of businesses like yours how will your target market know you’re different?
Critiquing your ad.
If you started out understanding your most important message then your critique is pretty easy. When you show your ad to someone else and ask them what it communicates to them is the first thing they say on target? (Making sure the ‘critiquers’ are as close to your target market as possible helps. I often wonder why photographers ask photographers what they think. If you want to shoot photographers this is a good idea. Why not ask past clients?)
When you first look at a graphic where does your eye go? This is called ‘read order.’ Your eye will naturally go somewhere first. Where does it go? Does it go where you want it to go? Read order applies to both text and graphics. For a multi-element piece there remains only one read order. Your eye goes to the graphic first and then the main text and then to the phone number and then to the secondary graphic and so on. Does the first place your eye goes begin to convey your message in a clear way? That's good. What's great? When the first place your eye goes conveys the whole message.
Obviously there is a lot more to this science then this. I’ve found through the years though that if I just go back to content, structure, style, and develop a very clear idea of what I want to say ahead of time and then evaluate the creative with that in mind it’s pretty hard to go wrong.
I think you will to!