Guidelines from Finland for designing effective magazine advertisements

New guidelines have emerged for creating and designing effective magazine advertisements.

The latest study covers health and wellness products. A similar earlier study provided guidelines for food products.

The studies, commissioned by the Finnish Periodical Publishers Association (FPPA), used a combination of depth interviewing and semiotic analysis to discover what makes a reader stop at an advertisement, like it and remember it; and which elements of the ad make an instant impact.

Individual depth interviews
The new survey studied seven health and wellness magazine issues carrying between them 48 advertisements which had previously achieved high scores in reading and noting studies, and – for comparison – further ads which had scored poorly. Readers of these magazines flicked through them, commenting freely to the interviewer about their feelings, opinions and reactions to the health and wellness ads they encountered.

This process identified ten major factors influencing readers of these types of advertisement. A successful wellness ad:

  • Explains what the product is
  • Shows the package large enough
  • Includes concise product information
  • Is clear
  • Is true, avoiding exaggeration
  • Is real, not artificial
  • Has suitable colours
  • Has a picture, and/or an idea with a story
  • Awakes curiosity
  • It helps if it is a familiar brand; it provides reassurance

What is semiotics?
Semiotics is a formal method designed for analysing communication. It is inter-disciplinary, spanning the boundaries of arts, humanities and social science. It draws on experience and techniques from psychology, anthropology, linguistics, cultural studies, history and elsewhere, to provide a better understanding of what is going on when people engage with different kinds of communication. In this case, it is able to present fresh insights into what happens when people are faced with different kinds of magazine advertising.

The semiotic analysis

  • The same wellness ads were also analysed by an experienced semiotician, in order to explain how the best ads do it. This led to the following conclusions about creating successful health and wellness magazine advertisements:
  • For some products cool, fresh, ‘medicine’ colours are best
  • For some other products refreshing, healthy ‘wellness’ colours work best
  • A matter-of-fact ‘medicine look’ gives assurance
  • A healthy ‘natural’ look is something readers can identify with
  • Problem-solving stories work well with this kind of advertising
  • Stories of medicine and healing give power to the product
  • Stories of caring and well-being give good emotions to the reader
  • Stories of energy  give power to the reader
  • Security messages are important in this field
  • Stories of names and terminology give extra power to the brand
  • Well-known brands have a mythical status

The full report provides depth and richness to these conclusions.

The study summarises by listing the following major guidelines for wellbeing advertising:

  • The product is No. 1; what it is, how it works, how you use it; display it clearly
  • The packing has to stand out
  • Problem-solving is the key story
  • Don’t promise too much
  • Make the look of the ad radiate health and well-being
  • Be clear and harmonic
  • Use stories of curing and caring
  • Other studies in the series

This new study follows an earlier one published in May 2012 which used the same combination of depth interviews and semiotic analysis to investigate food advertising. A third study focused on housing and interior design is promised for Spring 2013.

The research was carried out by Valores Consult and researcher Vaula Norrena.

For more details contact Saara Itavuo from FPPA:

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