SHOUT Scream whisper


This is what most car dealer’s advertisements shout when it comes to the cars they’re selling. They want people to see the fantastic special or shop exclusively on their website. General Managers and Sales People have a career-specific zeal when it comes to selling vehicles — something that manifests in their visual advertising presence. More often than not, that enthusiasm translates too directly, where dealerships have the tendency to “kitchen-sink” content to the viewer. Huge type. Bold, high contrast colors. Starburst graphics, and so on. Everyone has seen ads guilty of this before.

The issue here is not the boldness of the ad but the concentration of it in one small space. When a consumer is seeing an ad online, in print, or even on a billboard, they generally invest a second or two of time digesting it, if that. With that limited amount of attention spent, the ad should be clear and organized so the content can be processed as quickly as possible.

Of course when designing an ad, the initial action is to emphasize everything — a great photo of the car, the deal in big, bold, bright type, perhaps an additional graphic to really catch someone’s eye — one that pertains to a key word in the offer text. The mantra becomes “Every aspect is important.” This typically leads to an ad that looks like the example below:

So, let’s analyze things for a minute. The special offers the following: A Roaring Good Deal. 199 a month. Provided by Townsville Dealers. Given the supplied visual above, the design process might’ve gone something like this:

“We need to have the car, of course. Good, nice and big. We also need to make sure people see the deal nice and big too — but make sure it really stands out. Try highlighting it or add a drop shadow. Make sure it pops off the page. Hmm, not enough. Let’s put a brighter color behind it to REALLY make it noticeable. We need people to see the deal on this great car. Hmm. The background is too plain though… maybe try out a pattern. Something fun? We need people to know we’re a fun dealership. Which, while we’re at it, make sure we call out and invite people to our dealership. We need people to know we’re friendly AND fun. And include our logo too. And the website. Hmm, now that I think of it, we’re saying “roar” and Jurassic Park is popular right now. Try a dinosaur in there. Could be really cool too. Also, don’t forget the disclaimer, people need to understand this is a real offer.”

The big question here, now, is why doesn’t this work?

Yes all the content is present; yes it has emphasis on what matters; yes it is eye-catching — but it is also incredibly busy and distracting. The consumer may initially be drawn to the ad due to it’s boldness, but they will just as quickly turn away due to overload. Too many high contrast colors, crowded shapes, and excessive copy all contribute to repelling the viewer instead of impressing the deal upon them. The design is getting in the way of the content and in some cases making it illegible.

The car, which is photographed more than adequately becomes nearly lost in the shuffle of everything else. It blends in. The “$199 Deal” is the most visible out of all the elements but is still crowding everything it tries to stand out from. The dealership is overly represented three-fold — the red call-out shape; the too-small dealer logo; the website — all pull the eye in opposite directions, both from the car and the offer. The dinosaur, completely badass as it is, trumps the appeal of the car because… well, it’s a dinosaur. And let’s face it, if given the option to ride one of the two… the t-rex wins every time. The ad as a whole may give off a fun vibe but ultimately it will be seen as tacky, clichéd or worst of all dismissable.

Perhaps it goes without saying at this point, but the design need not be overworked to this extent.

Less is more.

Consider the basic elements that are already present before they even become “worked” into a design.

For starters, there exists the car. Chances are it was professionally photographed. Already the “wow factor” is present. The car company will be shooting their cars in the best way possible; in the way they intend them to be seen. Therefore the need to further embellish the image to make it bolder or more appealing is typically unnecessary. The car already looks phenomenal, it doesn’t need further “enhancement”.

An instance where using additional colors or a background is acceptable would be in the case of the vehicle being featured on stark white or having no background at all. Depending on the dealer and car brand — some brands, like Audi LOVE stark backgrounds — adding a background would be fine. Here again though, keep it simple. Adding a bit of color and texture is one thing, splashing in a busy, distracting image is another. People want to see the VEHICLE — and the offer.

So the beauty shot of the car is present, next the offer. If the compliance standards are being followed properly, each car brand will have it’s own set of fonts/typefaces that should be used. Avoid using multiple fonts. Not only will doing so result in a confusing ad, but more often than not the ad can be penalized for going “off brand”.

The offer should be set at a reasonably large size, but not so big it covers or overpowers the vehicle model. Find a good visual balance between these two main elements. Once again, the viewer should recognize the vehicle and offer quickly and easily. This will be achieved when they have proper balance. THESE two elements — the car and the offer — ARE the lure… not the dinosaur, not the crazy colors. Let what’s most important do the talking.

From here, secondary information and fine print, can be flowed in accordingly. Still keep in the mind that the ad should remain easy to read and as uncrowded as possible. When type-setting this secondary information, use smaller type sizes to help distinguish what is most important for the view to read.

The examples below feature two possible solutions. While greatly simplified (nay say clarified) the intent of the ad is now clear. Viewers register the car, the offer immediately. No elements to distract remain. The car on the highway has plenty of color and texture to make the photo interesting enough to attract the eye, while the offer is clearly balanced opposite. The same goes for the car on a neutral colored background. Note the subtle inclusion of an additional pattern atop the color. It adds texture but does not distract from the car and offer. Granted, the t-rex and confetti are gone — but that’s not what the ads are about in the first place.

Display of this information may vary from instance to instance. On a billboard, fine print may not be displayed at all due to the duration of time the ad is viewed. Whereas in print, or a static ad online, the viewer will have more time to digest the presented information.

Taking all these areas into consideration will lead to a clearer, bolder, and ultimately more attractive ad. Remember: “Bad design shouts at you, good design is the silent seller.” — Shane Meendering