An ad layout or Web banner is simply an arrangement of components designed to attract potential customers to scan your ad or click to your Web site. All elements in your ad or Web site are important for successful results. None are more vital than this final design step.
That's why most retailers and many suppliers rely on skilled assistance at this point. You can write your own headlines and copy, even make use of software to plan the entire ad, banner or printed piece. However, at this final parts assembly stage, you probably will need to work with your media or printer sales rep, an electronic layout specialist (fancy term for a computer production expert), a freelance artist or a contact person from an ad agency.
KEEPING UP WITH CHANGE
Advances in computers and electronics have substantially changed methods for preparing and producing advertising materials. Software programs have replaced entire professions of skilled creative people who formerly assembled print materials.
Volumes of books, software and videotapes can explain this continually-evolving revolution. But what busy retailer has time to study all the many steps involved? He or she is still trying to keep up with computer changes in basic store operations.
However, the electronic processing of ads hasn't altered the creative steps that make up a good ad layout. Nor has it changed the other basic reason for a layout: its use as a blueprint for technicians to follow when putting together the parts.
INSTRUCTIONS STILL NEEDED
Traditionally, the average independent retailer's part in preparation of a new ad worked much as follows: He determined what kind of ad was needed; planned basic headline, copy and pricing; roughed out a layout for the ad; discussed and passed on this material to the media rep or agency contact person. (The rough may have been a sample of another ad, a sketch or only a mental image.)
This traditional method of finishing an ad has worked for years. For most independents it still works. As noted above, some now use computers for preparing ad elements. They transmit these materials directly to the media electronically. Occasionally, they include a layout or computer design to show how the ad or banner parts should fit together.
The media production people then must try to assemble these contents into an acceptable advertisement. For the media specialist this means extra time in voice or e-mail discussions with the ad buyer. For the advertiser, it may mean lost time and extra charges for changes.
COMPLETING THE LAYOUT
Usually a layout is the last step when planning an ad. The idea and components are prepared first, then worked into the purchased space. However, many advertisers prefer to plan the shape and size of their ads first, then prepare the elements to fit. It's a matter of choice.
Retailers often use other design devices to add a special look to ad layouts—accents such as unique typefaces and styles, border and corner designs, attention arrows and pointers, special hand lettering. Any of these can add impact value to your ads.
All such items need special professional handling to insure proper size and scale. It is easy to overdo such attention gadgets. Your costly ad can even end up looking tacky and in poor taste. For some products, tackiness may capture attention. Not interior decorating products, though, where beauty and style are important benefits.
SHAPE FIGURES, TOO
Like its size, the shape of an ad is a major factor, too. (Most ad banners are horizontal in shape. As the number of Web sites has increased, so has the number of sizes and shapes.)
With small ads in print media, the usual space purchase is an ad of one or two inches high by one or two columns wide. Ad content is then just about limited to the essentials of headline, copy, logo and address. You may have room for a unique border design and a line or two of special type.
You have more options when choosing the shape for a larger display ad. You can use verticals, horizontals or squares depending on the number of inches and columns you buy.
Vertical ads suggest femininity and beauty, say designers. Most larger window covering advertisers use the vertical look. However, some prefer a horizontal shape to resemble a picture window. As with any design rule, there are exceptions. You can combine both looks by using a wide illustration in a vertical shape.
Choose ad size and shape cautiously. Once you decide on a shape, stick with it for all your ads, if possible. The continuity of look will improve long-range benefits for your ad program. It will be important for building and maintaining your store image, acceptance and traffic. Readers will learn to recognize your store's look, always a plus for attention value.
PERSONAL FEELINGS INCLUDED
What are some of the other factors you want to check for when reviewing your final ad proof before printing? There are some important ones. Because effective ad layouts, like good window treatment stylings, involve psychological emotions.
Designers use hard-to-define words such as proportion, balance, contrast and unity to describe their arrangements. No room here to try and describe them. If you do windows, you will understand the value of personal responses to these aesthetic terms.
The focal center in an ad catches the eyes first. (It is not always the measured center of the ad). Ideally, elements are placed around this point so a reader's eyes move easily from one to another without jumping around. If you place an interesting window treatment photo near the top of the ad, reader's eyes usually will notice it first. Then, they travel clockwise to the headline above or below the ad, next to the subheads and main body copy, then, finally to tag line and logo. If your ad holds attention, the eyes move up again to study the photo, review the headline and maybe study the copy.
Type for headlines and copy are set in easy-to-read styles. Distractions and clutter in the form of oversize type, gimmick designs or hard-to-read reverse type areas are kept to a minimum. White space is used to separate elements, to break up solid masses of type, to avoid monotony and to increase readership.
PROPORTION YOUR ELEMENTS
The elements of your ads look best when assembled in proportion to each other. Your layout specialist should have proportioned elements before you see proofs of the ad. Here's a general rule to help guide you, especially for larger-size ads using all the elements:
The size of type used for your headline and logo should be about the same and take up approximately 30 to 40 percent of the space. Your subheads and store tag line should occupy 20 to 30 percent. The rest of the space is used for sales copy and illustration.
Illustrations, especially window styling photos or drawings should be considered for all of your larger ads. Small ones, too, if you have extra space at all. Pretty pictures always increase attention and ad readership.
There are other steps of importance for efficient ad layouts and Web site banner designs. But the above factors are primary. If you want to pursue the subject further, there are numerous books and manuals available.
John J. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for Draperies & Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience in the planning and administration of various consumer, trade and retail advertising programs.