Creating READABLE Promotional Materials and Ads

March 22, 2005
The Mousetrap Series is about helping you sell more mousetraps, no matter what the mousetrap is that you sell. I dont care how good your mousetrap is,

Note: The Mousetrap Series is about helping you sell more mousetraps, no matter what the mousetrap is that you sell. I don’t care how good your mousetrap is, few people will buy it if you do not market it well.

When it comes to preparing your marketing and promotional materials there are a number of “rules” to follow that can help you create communication vehicles that work.

One of the basic rules is that any printed copy you create must be inherently readable. This requires some common sense design ideas.

Every Inch Does Not Have To Be Filled

Nature abhors a vacuum and marketers abhor white space. “Hey, look. There’s some empty space. Let’s say something else about how wonderful we are!”


Uh, note to self. Remember this one.

A filled-to-the-gills, busy piece tends to overwhelm and intimidate people. They get intimidated and they don’t even attempt to read all of the wonderful things about your wonderful business.

In one of the most successful print ads of all time, a bank used almost an entire page to say, “Free Money.” Granted, this is an easy sell. Any bank that offers free money would get my attention. That’s the point. The bank didn’t need to say anything else. The bank didn’t need to print anything else, except the fine print footnote explaining that the bank was offering a free copy of Microsoft® Money.

White space is pleasing to the eye. It also helps draw attention to the important stuff, you want people to read.

All Upper Case Is Hard to Read

In seminars, I put the following text up in upper and lower case, and in all upper case, side by side. Immediately before I load the page, I divide the room in half. One half reads the upper and lower case text. The other side reads the upper case text.

I tell people to raise their hands when done. It never fails. The half reading the upper and lower case text beats the half reading the all upper case text every time.

Which of the following paragraphs do you think is easier to read?


People are used to reading upper and lower case. As we age, we learn to read words by shape. When words are written in all caps, we can’t read by shape.

Delete 9,998 Fonts From Your 10,000 Font Collection

Just because you have hundreds or thousands of fonts doesn’t mean you need to use them. It’s like using every possible color. It’s annoying. Don’t do it.

There are three types of relationships to think about. First is a concordant relationship where the fonts vary slightly, but come from the same family. Variations might include bolding or italicizing the font.

A contrasting relationship involves more than one font and the fonts are definitely different and distinctive, such as Arial and Times Roman. There are places for both concordant and conflicting relationship. There is no place for a conflicting relationship, which involves fonts that are only slightly different, such as Times Roman and Courier or Arial and Verdana.

Try to use one font for headlines and a different font for everything else. That gives you contrast, without tiring the reader.

People Read Roman

Roman is the font used in newspapers and in most books. People are used to it. It’s easier to read. Use a Roman typestyle for body, for sentences and paragraphs.

San Serifs Are Good For Headlines

San Serifs, the smoother fonts, such as Arial, are great fonts to use for headlines. San Serifs bold well. They contrast well with Roman typefaces. They work wonderfully well for short lines of text.

Use Reverses For Emphasis

If you have a piece of text that you really want to draw attention, use a reverse, such as white text on a black field. Reverses provide a strong element of contrast with a very simple graphic element. Reverses are also a great way to break up a document into clearly defined sections.

Pictures Trump Clip Art

Clip art has it’s place, but the proliferation of clip art has done almost as much harm to graphic design as the emergence of 10,000 font CD-ROMs. While clip art has it’s place, pictures trump clip art almost every time.

I used to test this by flipping open a yellow pages directory I had to the rental car section. There were two, nearly identical ads, side by side. One featured a line art drawing of a can. The other featured a gray scale image of a car.

I asked people to pick the ad that caught their eye. Nine times out of 10, people picked the ad with the picture over the ad with the line art.

What holds for rental cars, holds even more for people. Use photographs and cut the image out of the background if necessary.

People Prefer Pictures of People

Contractors love trucks. There’s nothing more appealing to a contractor than a great big shiny new service or installation truck. If you want contractors to look at your ad, put a truck in it. If you want people to look at it, put a person in it.

People are warm, friendly, and expressive. Trucks are cold and metallic. The same thing is true about condensing units, water heaters, and so on.

Extend Graphics Into The Page

Extending a graphic into the text on a page, which wraps around the graphic, makes the page more interesting. It links the graphic and the text, adding a sense of harmony.

Continue The Lead Story of a Newsletter Inside

If you want people to open your newsletter, continue the lead story inside. It gives people a reason to open the newsletter. This same tactic is used with every newspaper. Editors could easily cut the story to the first page, but they don’t. They want you to open the paper.

Break Box Borders to Break Out of the Box

Borders make things nice and neat. They can also be confining and boring. Engineers love borders.

Add visual interest by extending graphics or text outside of or past borders. It adds visual interest and can be used to direct people to focal points.

Face the Page Unless You Want Them to Read the Ad Next Door

If you’ve got a graphic, it should be pointed into your ad, not outside of it. Images of people should be looking into your ad. If images are directed off the page, you’re leading the eye away from your ad, your copy, your sales.

Use Color Sparingly

Having the capability to use 16 million colors does not mean they should all be used. Color should be used sparingly with graphic elements and fonts. Remember, black on white text is the easiest to read.

Use Color By Design

Color should be used to set a tone or to draw attention. You’ve probably seen black & white photographs with one part colorized. Think of how the color draws your attention. Now, use this principle in your marketing.

Color and Brands

Color can be identified with a brand. For example, think of Home Depot and you think of orange. Think of Mary Kay Cosmetics and pink springs to mind. UPS has a virtual monopoly on boring old brown.

Pick and Different Color Than Your Competitor

If you have a leading competitor associated with a particular color, select a different one. For example, do you see more Coke signage or Pepsi signage? Most people say Coke. Yet, there’s just as much Pepsi signage. Coke, however, is the category leader and they use red. Pepsi, with red and blue, also used red as their primary color for years. People, in casual glances, would see Pepsi signage and subconsciously register “Coke.” Recently, Pepsi’s caught on and begun using more blue.


The color spectrum makes a difference. The red end of the spectrum is focused slightly in front of the retinas and appears to move toward you. It attracts attention. Blue is at the opposite end, appearing to move away. It communicates stability.

Over time we’ve associated colors in certain ways.

Red - Attention! (stop signs)

White - Purity (wedding dress)

Purple - Royalty (color of kings)

Black - Luxury (limos)

Green - Environmental (trees)

Blue - Leadership (blue ribbons)

Picking a Color

Why did we pick an aqua green for the Service Roundtable? Simple. In the heating and air conditioning industry, 90% of the companies use red or blue. We wanted something different. We also wanted something that’s casual and modern. The aqua green, which is often associated with the beach is casual. While our company is deadly serious about business, we are casual (a tour of the world headquarters would illustrate that) and try not to take ourselves too seriously.

If no one’s claimed a color, seize it. When Ahron Katz wanted to get people to notice his company’s trucks, he started advertising that they were the company with the little red trucks. The more he pushed it, the more people began to see the trucks all over town. When a couple of smaller companies tried to benefit by buying red trucks, Ahron didn’t mind. Like Coke and Pepsi, they saw the competitive trucks and thought about Ahron’s company.

In Toledo, Romanoff Electric started painting tools purple to keep people from stealing them. Eventually, purple became the color Romanoff used for everything. They gave out purple polos to customers. They outfitted employees in purple. People who saw purple on a job site knew in an instant that Romanoff was doing the electrical work.

The bottom line is that if you follow some basic rules and graphic design strategies, your communications — whether it’s marketing, advertising, newsletters, magazine articles, whatever — will deliver your message clearly and more quickly, which results in more sales, more business.

Another fine example of a mousetrap well built.

Matt Michel spoke at HVAC Comfortech 2004 on marketing This rant was solely the opinion of Matt Michel, CEO of the Service Roundtable (, an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at You can contact him directly at [email protected]. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at [email protected].