A print ad leaves readers with a brand impression: an imprint of your identity in your target audience’s mind. Over time, impressions add up to build awareness of a brand. The more familiar a person is with a brand, the more likely he or she is to trust it. So building awareness is a critical first step to building brand loyalty.

But how can you know how many brand impressions your print ad has made? There’s no way to tell for sure, but there are a few techniques you can use to get a general idea.

Examine publication demographics

The publication(s) in which you advertise should be able to tell you important facts:

  • The overall circulation of the publication
  • The number (even estimated) of readers in your target demographic group

From that information, you might extrapolate that, of X number of people receiving the publication, Y number are in your target audience. You can expect only a fraction of those in your target audience to notice and recall the ad. In one study, readers reported seeing only about 55% of the ads they actually viewed. 1

Use unique URLs

In the first half of 2011, 14% of people who noticed any magazine ad responded by visiting the advertiser’s website. 2 Be ready for site visitors. Place a unique URL in the ad to track visits. It helps to give readers an incentive to visit the URL. Just including the URL in the ad may not be enough. 3

Offer coupon codes

Consider including in the ad a code that readers can enter on your website to receive a cost waiver or discount. By using different codes in different ads, you can get a rough idea of which ads were most often seen and acted upon. 3 Keep in mind that readers who actually use the codes represent only a small portion of those who saw the ads.

Interview potential readers

To find out how your ads resonate with your target audience, do a little research. Say that your ads target prospective students. You can talk with incoming students to see if your messaging hits the mark.

  • List the publications in which you’ve advertised and ask which ones they read.
  • Show readers print ads within the context of the magazines or newspapers in which they appeared. Allow them to peruse those publications and view ads and surrounding content at their own pace. Then ask them what ads they recall seeing. 4
  • If readers name WSU among the brands recalled, ask them what they remember about the WSU ad’s image and message.

How to Make the Most of Print Advertising


Follow the Five Second Rule

Your ad must communicate branding and your key message in three to five seconds. Supporting points, if the reader takes time to explore them, must be presented so they can be grasped in the next 10 seconds. After 15 seconds, your reader has moved on. 4


Deliver one message only

Ads tend to be scanned, not read. Plan to communicate one main idea, and keep it obvious and literal. Your reader won’t take time to parse complex concepts. 4 Less is more.

Keep copy short

The longer the copy, the less likely it is to be read. Ads with more than four to five sentences or bullet points don’t engage the reader longer. Instead, lengthy copy distracts readers from other elements in the ad. Bullet points do a better job than paragraphs of attracting and holding readers’ attention. 4


Leverage the main visual for branding

More than half of readers leave an ad before reaching a brand signature placed in the bottom right corner. The result is low brand recall. Since visuals are nearly twice as likely to be seen and considered as text, you can enhance brand recall by ensuring that the main visual includes a direct reference to the product or service advertised. Otherwise, readers may recall the image, but fail to link it to the brand. 4

Alternatively, a very consistent and distinctive “look” immediately conveys branding without requiring a person to read. 4

Make it likeable

The most recognized ads are the ones that people like. Including a visual of a person enhances likeability. 1

Use color

Readers recognize full-color ads 26% more often than black-and-white ads. 1

Lead readers through the ad

Some research suggests that the typical reader spends at least half of his or her viewing time on visual elements, usually starting with the primary visual element in the ad. From there, readers scan downward and to the right. Eye tracking studies show that messages—even headlines—located above or to the left of the main visual are often missed. A main visual placed at the top or left side of the ad engages readers by leading them from one component to the next. 4

Other research finds that readers zero in on the part of the ad—image or text—that most supports their goals, and then they either scan the picture or read the text. 5


Go big

Readers recognize full-page ads 34% more often than quarter-page ads. That figure rises to 55% for double-page spreads. 1 Even better performance can be achieved with two ads on consecutive pages. 6

Get on the cover

Ads placed on inside covers and the back cover get much more recognition that those placed on pages inside a magazine. Recognition increases 24% on the inside front cover, 7 percent on the inside back cover, and 33 percent on the back cover. 1

Run the ad multiple times

Repetition is key to building brand awareness. Run the ad multiple times, using varying executions to prevent audience wear-out.7 8