Advertising for Artists – Elements of an Effective Ad

In the first part of this series, Advertising for Artists – The Advertising Medium we looked at some of the many venues where advertising can appear. Creating an effective ad is more than just having eye catching graphics. Some of the things you need to be concerned about are:

Target Audience

Without having a solid concept of who your target customers are and a good understanding of why they buy, you are probably wasting your advertising dollars. If you need some help on targeting your customers and finding their hot buttons check out:

Customer Analysis For Artists and Creatives (Part I) – Focus On Your Customers!

Customer Analysis for Artists and Creatives (Part II) – Customer Segmentation and Target Markets

Five Simple Steps To Grow Your Creative Business

Talk to your customers and find out what they read, the websites they visit and more importantly why they buy from you and not your competitors. Also take a look at your competitive advantages and the product features that make up your “secret sauce”. Check out: Business Plan Basics for Artists and Creative Entrepreneurs – Your Product Attributes to help you with some ideas.

Objective of Your Ad

You need to have an objective as to why you are developing and spending money on placing an advertisement. In most cases it will be to promote a product or service and increase your sales but not always. The objective of your ad may be to increase awareness of your company and not offer any particular product. Your ad may also be used to promote a cause but even these have an objective of gaining more support(donors) in addition to increasing awareness. Before you start to develop any advertising make sure you are clear on your objectives.


In order to stand out in a sea of advertising messages it really helps to have an ad that is unique and captures your target customer’s eyes and/or ears. A creative ad will work better than one that is plain and just like everyone else’s. When you are developing your ad be sure to try several concepts. Test these concepts with your customers and determine which resonates the most. There is a saying in advertising, “Only half of my advertising works, the problem is that I don’t know which half.” – test, test some more and keep testing.


Like uniqueness, design is a key element of creating an effective ad. This is not to say that your ad can stand alone on design only. In developing your design keep in mind an old marketing adage – “you can’t put 10 pounds of stuff in a 5 pound bag”. There is evidence that well designed advertisements perform much better (increase sales) than ads of lesser design. Check out this article in Advertising Age Magazine about ad that have won awards: IPA Report: Ads that Win Awards Are 11 Times More Effective ( And while you are there check out this article: The Best Ads in Weekly News Magazines (


A good headline will grab your audience’s attention – that is its purpose. I will argue that a headline can be words or an attention grabbing image or graphic. Whatever its form, it must make your ad the focus of attention and cut through all of the other messages vying for your customer’s attention.

Good headlines or titles are not only found in advertisements. You will see them in newspaper, magazine and web articles. They can also be seen as book and music titles and even on product packaging. Take care in choosing a headline – if you miss the mark here the rest of the ad really doesn’t matter. Test your headlines and choose the ones that resonate with your target audience.

Try to keep your headline short and to the point. Remember you only have a few seconds to capture attention. The headline for a billboard or trade show banner should be shorter than a magazine or newspaper advertisement.

The Story

Unless you and your products are household names then you may need to tell a bit of a story about your company and its products. Focus on your really important features and ideas, keep the story short and easy to read. Think of the story as a version of your elevator speech.


Most ads need a proposition or statement of benefits that you provide. These benefits could be a tangible thing like “you get art to cover up the bare spot on your wall” or intangible like “our art will transform your space into an area with positive energy”. You may need to try several propositions to see which works best. Again, test your advertisements including the proposition.


Many ads, especially those that are promoting products should have an offer. This could be a limited time offer, a sale you are having or an offer to try out something new. When crafting your offer I would recommend that you stay away from the word “free”. Research has shown that this is one of the most if not the most mistrusted word in the advertising world. Try to use other words such as complimentary, at no charge, special gift etc.

While we are on the subject of the offer it may be appropriate to offer a guarantee. People like the idea of less risk, especially when they are buying from you the first time. Make your guarantee simple and easy to understand – this will go a long way in making your customer feel comfortable with you and your products.

Call To Action

Every ad needs a call to action. You need to tell your audience what to do next, if you don’t then you shouldn’t probably expect a great response to your advertisement. Have you ever wondered why in an informercial that you hear something like “Call 800-123-4567 now and order your …..” a million times? – it’s because it works! Here are some examples of a call to action:

  • Call this number
  • Visit our website
  • Order today
  • Return this card for more information
  • Stop by and visit us

You may also want to include a free gift or discount if people respond to your call to action but remember to avoid the word “free” if you can.

Tracking the Response to Your Ad

Remember the saying “only half of my advertising works, the problem is that I don’t know which half” is a problem that all advertisers face including you. How many people saw your ad, how many read your ad, how many responded to your ad and finally how many bought your product or service?

Advertising is expensive and you need to keep track of these investments to grow your business. You may have multiple ads(or the same ad) running in different media at the same time. How do you know where the responses are coming from and how do you know which ad is producing better?

Certain types of advertising are easier to track than others. If you are running a television ad with a call to action such as “call this number” then it is fairly easy to measure your ad’s response, the same goes for direct mail pieces. Some forms of advertising such as billboards or signage are more difficult to gauge their effectiveness. In these cases you need to ask your customers if they have seen your advertising or how they found you – you should be talking to your customers anyway!

If possible include some type of offer code in your call to action. An offer code could be to “mention this radio station” or the “secret word”. Use different offer codes for each advertisement / media venue you are using. If you do it right you won’t be wondering which part of your advertising that is working for you.


CHECK your phone number, physical address, web address, offer and everything else in your advertisement. Don’t check it once but two or three times. Have other people check your ad for grammar and spelling, call your number, visit your website and make sure that the message you intended is the one received. Major companies have been embarrassed by a message that had a negative double meaning, a wrong telephone number or a web address that was bad – don’t let this happen to you.

Try new things with your advertising. It is doubtful that you will get it right on the first try. Keep good records and track your efforts. Advertising is fun – especially when it works!

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About Neil McKenzie

Neil McKenzie is an author, educator and consultant to artists and arts organizations. He is the author of The Artist’s Business and Marketing ToolBox – How to Start, Run and Market a Successful Arts or Creative Business available in softcover from Barnes & Noble and Amazon and as an eBook from iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He has developed and teaches the course “Artrepreneurship” at the Center for Innovation at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and is also a visiting professor at University College at the University of Denver. Neil has over 30 years’ experience as a management consultant and marketing executive, working with some of the world’s top brands. Neil is a frequent lecturer to artists and arts organizations, a guest columnist for Colorado Biz Magazine, where he covers the creative sector of the economy, and the author of several articles for Americans for the Arts, a national arts organization. Follow Neil on Twitter: @neilmckenzphoto