Help with typography/layout on ads

mystic's picture

Hi, I'm doing some preliminary ads for a service called BorderConnect. Again, I'm not really a designer or an ads person, whatever that job title is. I was just wondering if you guys could point me in the right direction and let me know what doesn't look right with these. Thanks.

dan's picture

Ken, justifing that much text copy is hard to read. Make it Flush Left, Rag Right. Also (if you can) allow for some hypenation for better color. The banking industry here doesn't allow hypenation. You might also look into making a two column layout. Remember most people read newspapers and magazines and they generally don't have wide columns. Just because the logo is in a sans serif face it doesn't mean you can't have a serif face for the body copy. I would think the separation would help the communication. Think again about newspapers and magazines.

One last thought the 97% ad is unreadable with the body text like that. Its also inconsistant with your other image ads. How about getting a picture of a rig and in photoshop put the 97% on the trailer of the rig. Reinforce that its about ground transportation.

mystic's picture

What serif font do you think would look good with Dax but not seem to old fashioned? Or maybe since the audience might just be a little old-school when it comes to technology, maybe something the opposite then?

I'm not sure what you mean when you say "allow for some hypenation for better color". Do you mean to add more hyphens and make them one of the logotype colours?

I like your other suggestions and will implement them surely. Thanks again Dan for your input.

errata's picture

I'd say what Daniel means when he refers to "

mystic's picture

Okay, I made all the changes that I understood and just uploaded 3 versions of them. The first I columnized the layout and then went with a serif font just to see how it would look. The second is a column that just uses dax-light again and the Vito advertisement is flush left, rag right like you suggested. I columized the first two because their copy was larger than the other "person envy" ads.

Of the two column layouts, which do you think is better? I like the Dax one better still.

Now I'm going to fix up that 97% ad.

dan's picture

Now Ken I have one more bone to pick with your ads. Way too much copy. You need to tease the reader into action. In this case either calling the toll-free number or going to the web site. At the web site or the telephone operators can give the full story. Also I'm confussed do you only handle ground traffic or air traffic as well? If you handle air traffic you somehow have to make that clear too.

I like the two column format but not the justification. To justify copy it creates wholes throughout the paragraphs as letter spacing and word spacing is compromised to make it flush. Thats why the color of Flush left, rag right copy reads better. I don't think it matters if the serif has any relationship with Dax, the body text is not the logo and should probably be kept separate from it. Keep up the good work

geraintf's picture

>Because Borders Were Made For Crossing

Great Line, But I'm Not Sure Why Your Tagline Uses Initial Caps Throughout. (when i read ads, i find this practise as irritating as SHOUTY ALL-CAPS)

although you'll have to take my advice with a pinch of salt, because i spurn caps at every available opportunity :-)

timd's picture

This is some good work. As a first comment I would make sure that you do not use double word spaces after a full point (or in any other place) this will improve the colour of your type, for certain combinations . W and . T it is worth kerning the space to help. As pointed out justified type can be a bit of a trial, for example, in your first (and to a lesser extent in the second) the second line of the righthand column is a bit spacy, if you are in a position to rewrite/have rewritten to suit that might help, or there is no reason that the two columns couldn't be different widths. To aid readers and potential clients I would try to get all three elements of the date in the same line. In the second layout the leading in the righthand column is not the same as that of the left not being the same results in an ugly step. To get picky, if you have a full point or comma at the end of a line in justified text it can make a step in the righthand vertical margin, an easy way to deal with this is to insert a white (or the same colour as the background) full point/comma at the end of each line to create hanging punctuation (remember that you have done this when it comes to changing/updating a piece of text). I might consider moving the logo so that the t of Connect aligned with the righthand margin of the body copy.

mystic's picture

Thanks for all the comments everyone. Here are the next versions of the ads that incorporate everyone's comments.

I didn't move the logo so that the 't' lined up with the right side of the second column because then it makes a big uneven space on the right side of the ad. Either I move the paragraph over so it's not centered you the tagline is too far to the right :/ I noticed this before when I was positioning things earlier before the comment but wanted to try it again. I don't see how it could work. I do realize now after looking at it that something is still odd about it but I printed one of the ads and it looks better when its aligned with the tagline.

I just picked the proforma serif font. I used the light version and the semi-bold for the website, phone, etc. Your right Dan, once printed I can read the text much better. It also gave it this rich kind of feel that I wouldn't have expected and got this warm feeling that it started to actually look like an advertisement.

I made sure the punctuation is hanging. This was a great comment and I would have never saw this on my own. It's a good thing my program has an option for it actually so I didn't have to add in those extra white periods at the end of each line.

Also Tim, I removed the double spaces. It looks weird on the screen actually, but the space is very adequate once it's printed. I'll make sure to not double space after sentences anymore. That's a good tip.

I never even realized the problem with the leading on the first ad. Again, this is just stuff I'd never notice unless I was taught. Thanks so much for that because after looking at it, it's kind of embarassing. Told you I was not a designer :-)

I'm actually marveled at how you guys can see a problems with the line "employee, but also because her company uses" because again, that just didn't jump out at me. I'll have to internalize a lot of these techniques for future works. Very useful. The problem is still there, but I'll remove it once I reword the text so that "BorderConnect" is on the same line.

The one thing I didn't do was flush left the columns as Dan had suggested, mainly because the right column looked weird with "BorderConnect" on the next line. I think the rest of sentences actually look fine besides that though. I think I just have to reword it to make justification or the flush left to work correctly.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, I shrunk all the copy by a few lines. You'd notice that more if you compared these new versions as single-column layouts like the original ads. I think the columnization and the extra leading makes it even appear as less text too. I also started to use the active voice a bit more, as one copywriter website had suggested.

I think the problem with the service that we are providing is that a lot of carriers don't really know what it is, so it's imperative to give them some use-cases to visualize what the software can do in their minds. At least, that's what we try to do on the phone when selling to potential customers and the hit rates are higher.

We also don't have any competitors really, so we can't say our solution is "faster", "safer", "cheaper", etc. like other brands can. We also don't have a point of reference like normal products do (like cars, etc.).

Anyway, here are the new versions and let me know what you think. Thanks again for all the amazing comments. You guys astonish me all the time.

mystic's picture

Oh, the reason why the letters are capitalize was due to the web. It's just not readable at high resolutions with small caps when the logo is only 50 pixels high. I basically did like 100 different versions of the tagline actually with all kinds of cases, positions, weights, etc. I'd rather use the same tagline for consistency than have a different one for print and web, or is that the wrong thinking?

Actually, the more I look at it, the more the headlines look weird to me. I started trying to use some different sizes, letter-spacing and weights, but I can't really make it look right. Hrmm.. any suggestions on fixing that?

dan's picture

Ken, Change your Headlines and subheads to a display face. Leave Dax for the logo only. Don't worry about making the ads matching the website. No one will take the ad and compare it to the website. Its two different kinds of media. Just make sure the message is the same. Have you considered changing the photos to a duotone or tritone. Right now they look like stock photos.

timd's picture

On the Vito ad I would try to make sure that the last word of a line is not the first word of a sentence, especially if the word is a 2 or 3 letter word. On the second two column version the hanging punctuation looks good, however I would avoid having the paragraphs set on forced justification, the last line of the first paragraph in the righthand column and the sixth line of the lefthand column look particularly spacy. I should have made it clear that I was talking about punctuation that occured at the end of the line except the last line.

mystic's picture

Thanks again for all the great feedback Dan and Tim. I think I get the general principles associated with justification. I'm finding it fairly easy to fake justification with the flush left, ragged right by changing words around and adding hyphens. However, if I can fake it, making it justified actually looks pretty good too, so I guess you can use flush left, ragged right as a guide to perfecting it the spacing problems and then justify it afterwards. I think the justified look is superior visually, but I also see the problems with letter and word spacing, so I want to have the best of both worlds.

I went back to my old fast company magazines and it seems that 65% of the ads justify their text (single or two-colomn layouts) and 35% don't. I noticed that certain advertisements like car ads (most), Microsoft, HP, etc. will not justify any of their text while others will. In most cases where I saw justified text, they fixed the problems with word spacing, however some companies did not. Interesting enough, the large companies with a lot of advertising dollars did it right and the no-name brands did it wrong. After thinking about everything you guys have been teaching me, it has become glaringly obvious now.

I have incorporated all the suggestions up to this point, so here is an update. I tried looking at display fonts, but everything I try on my computer looks bad. I realized that italizing really makes things look better though, although I don't really know why (don't understand the psychology). What are some good display faces that you'd recommend Daniel?

Also, is it really that obvious that pictures look like stock photos? Is that a bad thing? I have taken some real digital photos of our customers actually (in the office, on the road, in the lots, at the border, etc.) and I could use those.

So duotone, tritone and quadtone images are the way to go? I have not read any articles even mentioning the benefits and disadvantages to doing this, so I don't really know much about it. In fact, it never even occured to me. I have seen some ads in black/white, like those from or omnisky, HP, IBM (and many others), as well as some quadtone pictures from Doilette and Touche. I also see full-color images too, like every ad from Microsoft, although I guess that's understandable with their XP, Office and MSN campaigns, where all of their brands have multiple bright colours of red, yellow, blue and green. I'm not really sure what the strategy or general principles are here.

Anyway, here are some updates. I'm still not liking the display fonts as mentioned earlier. I tried to use the same font for the subheads as the headlines, but it just doesn't look right to me.

dan's picture

Ken the point about the stock photos is you ad will get lost in publications that use stock photos. In your first Aynsley ad loose the "walk 30 minutes through snow" even if it was true it sounds like a scare tactic. Only stress benefits not consenquences. The reason for using display faces is to sort of shock the eye not nessicerely please the eye. They ad a uniqueness to your look. I suggest looking at one of the Indie Font books for inspiration, check a library or contact P22 fonts. There are two volumns. Ken you haven't told me if your software is for drivers only or does it also work with air traffic? If it works with air traffic also make it clear it does at least in one ad. If it only ground traffic make that painfully clear.

mystic's picture

The software is just for ground. To be honest, I don't even know how customs does air traffic, but I'm assuming they release the shipment when the plane takes off or lands, or both. Either way, that really doesn't have much to do with the actual release offices.

Customs hasn't exactly told us what the messages are capable of either but we have many ground carriers using the system and we built the software with the intention of providing a service for ground carriers only. I'd actually have to ask customs and sign up an air carrier to see what kind of messages the government is sending us to verify if it can work with air traffic. That might sound kind of weird, but the specifications for connecting software with customs is extremely poor and are filled with all kinds of mistakes and missing inforamtion (both technical and even high-level information).

But I'm not really sure why this can be confusing because when I think of the border, I think of the ports of entry into Canada/US. When I think of border problems, I think of excessively long lineups miles long and drivers being sent away to customs compounds in frustration when the shipments aren't properly cleared by the customs broker. Those are the problems are software solves.

I can make it abundantly clear that its international ground carriers I guess and start showing more trucks (as you suggested). I have some pictures of directions and vps next their trucks actually smiling into the camera. I also have some drivers in various pictures in and out of their trucks. I can use those but they aren't really professional pictures although Photoshop might be able to fix that problem.

I'll take out the "30 minutes in the snow" part then. The fact is true though. In Winnipeg, Manitoba it snows more often than when I live and it can get fairly deep. A lot of times when the truck is forced to stop at the border, the driver has to walk to a customs broker at a compound. If that's in the snow, it usually makes a lot of drivers really pissed off if you can imagine. That's more of a location-specific problem because here in Windsor, Ontario, we don't have that problem really. That's actually why certain ads need to target certain locations. In Windsor, it's the long lineups and so on as it's the busiest border-crossing in the entire world believe it or not.

So would you suggest of taking some custom photos and keep them in full-color? Or is the general principle to always use duotone to make them standout from the other ads? When you say, "get lost in publications that use stock photos", I guess I'm not really sure what the means. A lot of ads use stock photos and are full color, so I never noticed a problem with it (but I obviously am not an expert and I don't know the benefits and disadvantages to each approach).

I'm looking at p22 right now. I'm not terribly impressed with them but I'll look through them all. Hopefully I find something that catches my eye.

Thanks again for your comments Dan, as always.

dan's picture

Ken, don't just go by statistics x% does this or that. Following the lead of the flock mentality will make sure you look like one of the sheep. Tell me you can see the difference in a flock of sheep. Use your custom photos if you can, the only reason I mentioned duotones is to set your ad apart from the look of the editorial work or other ads. You could do any other device to make you ads unique: a border around the photo, a transistion from black and white to full color, float the photo and fade the edges to white.

Also check out Font Bureau

Ken rule of thumb. Express one idea, keep the copy short, have a call to action, no negitives.

mystic's picture

Heh. I think a major issue with me is that I look at everything mathemtically or logically. It's natural for me since I'm a fairly technical individual. I'll have to remember that.

I guess I still have a lot of work to do. I wouldn't have it any other way though. I want these to be perfect. I can use any leverage I can get really since I'm still a new business and all. I'll post some new versions up when I'm finished.

Thanks Dan for all your help so far.

timd's picture

As regards the type, for an ad, I try to avoid hyphens more than wide spacing, for a good example look at your second Aynsley ad where, on three occasions the hyphenated word is a word of itself. Avoid a single word on the last line, it looks lost. BTW I had no objection to the sans versions.
I believe that Dan was saying that stock photography is generic and will appear in a publication containing lots of ads also using stock images (and, on occasion, the same shot can be used by another company). A designer might recognise the source but I doubt that most of your potential clients would have the same reaction and I think your confusion over the comment underlines that. There is no general principle with stock photography

mystic's picture

Thanks for the comments Brian. You mentioend several good points that I'm going to implement. I've actually been reading Ogilvy On Advertising and Robert Bly's Copywriting handbook, which repeatedly hammers on some of the points that you have mentioned.

I have actually read some material that conflicts to what is being said here too by Dan and Tim, and that is what is on my mind right now. Namely:

1. There seems to be a principal to use shorter copy, however Ogivly is pro-long copy and Bly offers some good principles that let you choose, which also lead to long copy for my service.

2. Duotone or other effects on photos. Ogivly hasn't shown one advertisement where he edits the photo. They are all full-color photos with bleeding that are positioned in three or four spots every time. I think they look nice and it was the effect I was going for even before I knew about Ogilvy. He belives that the more you make them look like an article from the magazine, the more people are inclined to read it. It's also more readable from his research.

Bly says these that by tinting the photo, doing fancy arrows or "addy" kind of design elements, you lose readership. This is just a different way of saying what Ogivly is saying.

Both went into way more detail, but that's the jist of what they are saying.

3. I've made some strides in making some different ads. Most of them are a bit more creative, are "risky" if Ogivly or Bly were to look at them and have shorter copies. However, everything I'm reading is suggesting that it's a mistake. In fact, I should really go back and rework a lot of copy or delete some of the ads altogether (Like Vito for example, which seems to be very flat and doesn't do a very good job of selling or promising anything specific).

I think I still have a week or two of working on these ads before I get it right. I hope to launch them at the beginning of January, so I still have a lot of time.

When I get some more time, I'll be sure to reply more specifically to your comments Brian. There is some great stuff in there (like the period on the headline - my bad, utilizing the small caps (a typography article was saying the same thing for office documents, keeping the date on the same line, etc.) I really appreciate it.

dan's picture

Ken first of all January isn't far away. You have to make the comps into mechanicals with bleed, trim and safety. If you aren't up on these contact someone who regularly does production for magazine ads. Also you will have to add a slug also something to bring up with a production person.

That Ogivly book is old! I suggest you read ad information thats been published fresh in the last couple of years. Trends change.

Check out they have a lot of useful articles and recently there was one about using different treatments on photos.

As ususal Ken keep up the good work

dan's picture

As for diversity, I have a great idea for border crossing. Picture this you have a mexican lets call him Juan a nice close-up shot but you blur his face. Headline: My name is Juan and when I want to get my wet backs across the border

timd's picture

Unfortunately (or fortunately if you make a crust by doing it) design/advertising doesn't have hard and fast rules (except that if offered a choice the client will always choose the one you did in a rush to provide a choice). Which is why you get advice and not instructions here.
Ogilvy & Mather certainly did edit/retouch images.

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