How Do You Make An Ad? (Print)

I was recently facilitating a brainstorming workshop in Montreal for a large pharma company, and we had the senior management do a special exercise in order to get them to think insightfully about how their brand might communicate in the marketplace. We asked them to separate into small groups and, for the duration of the afternoon, develop a faux advertising campaign for their corporate brand. In the course of it, I had to think about something that I take for granted on a daily basis: The process of putting an ad together.

While it’s not an algorithm or simple procedure, and techniques will vary by agency, what’s universally true is that the average consumer or viewer vastly underestimates what it takes to put together even a nominally effective ad. Try this at home, ladies and gentlemen – but don’t be surprised if you throw up your hands and conclude: “This is not as easy as I thought it would be.”

So let’s assume you’ve persuaded and acquired a client, who is willing to pay your agency to create an advertising campaign. Lucky you. Now you have to actually deliver on your promise of a good campaign.

One of the first things you’ll do is to choose a creative team, consisting of a copy writer and an art director. Your copy writer may have studied English or Journalism or Communications at school. Your art director will likely have attended an art school and received either a B.A. or Masters in fine arts. In other words, you’ll choose people who are well-trained, and who have some demonstrated competence in the industry sector or type of campaign you’re creating.

Next you’ll develop a creative brief, and make sure the client provides input and approves it. Without a good creative brief, you have no basis for briefing your creative team or for you or your client to judge the work that you’ll be receiving.  (Note: there is a previous blog post that outlines how to write a creative brief, if you’re curious.) This presupposes that you have some market research into the brand and the consumers that are the target audience for the brand. If you don’t, then you’ll have to commission some thoughtful qualitative (focus groups) or quantitative research.

Then you’ll ‘brief’ your creative team by taking them through the creative brief and giving them both context and inspiration for what you’re asking them to do, which is to come back to you in a week or two with dazzling creative ideas that will not only blow the client away, but hopefully generate notable results when it’s in market.

Their task requires that they:

–       Develop some arresting headlines designed to turn heads

–       Write some body copy that explain a bit more what the brand is about and generate deeper interest

–       Develop a ‘call to action’ that directs the audience to do something, such as go to the website or Facebook page.

–       Design the layout and look/feel of the ad so that it’s easy to read, attractive, compelling, appropriate for the publication or medium, stands out in the midst of numerous other ads, etc. This includes choosing or developing illustrations and/or icons and/or photography.

You’ll then spend the next few weeks worrying, cajoling, reminding, checking in on, shepherding, and hopefully relying on your creative team to develop some strong ideas. You’ll meet with them and be taken through the ideas. You’ll hate a number of them, possibly like one or two, and argue about it. They’ll go back to the drawing board, muttering under their breath, and resolve to come back to you and dazzle you into submission at the next meeting.

Then, at the appointed time, you’ll take the rough or finished ad to the client and present them, hopefully with a preamble and a good story to frame up the work. And if you’re lucky, the client will like one of your recommendations, and you’re off to the races. If not, you’ll go back to your agency, muttering under your breath about ungrateful clients, and hope to dazzle them into submission at the next meeting.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is a very simplified description of what it takes to create a print ad campaign.

By the way, at the end of the brainstorming workshop I mentioned at the top of this post, several of the clients came up to me and said, “Making an ad is not easy! I totally underestimated how much thought this takes.” Which was a deeply gratifying moment for me, as you can imagine.