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Five things great ads do that bad ads don’t

The more an ad engages with readers, the more likely they are to respond. Here are the five key points of engagement that drive sales.

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Effective ads start with what’s on the page or the screen, but the critical part is what goes on in the mind of the person reading the ad.

Great ads use headlines, visuals and copy to build engagement with the reader. High reader engagement produces stronger responses, and the most effective ads consistently deliver on five key aspects of engagement:

  1. Brand salience
  2. Brand affinity
  3. Relevance
  4. Clarity
  5. Reasons to buy

The first three aspects have to do with brand perceptions, what readers think and feel about the brand, while the last two are about the utility of the ad, how readers make sense of and use the message.


Brand salience

Familiarity with and understanding of the brand is the starting point. The aim is for the consumer to think of and consider the brand when making purchasing decisions, and ads do this by building and reinforcing memories linking the brand to the purchase category.

Brand affinity

The emotional response to the ad. Emotions are a core element in motivating consumers to buy, and ads that generate a good feeling towards the brand produce better responses than ones that don’t.


Relevance refers to how appropriate the brand is the reader. Readers may be aware of brand, and like the brand, but they’ll only go on to buy if they answer the question “is this the right brand for me?” with a “yes”.

Analysis of the 1,400 surveys in our ADvance database show that while all three factors matter, relevance is the most important aspect of brand perception for increasing purchase intention. The most effective ads have a strong personal appeal to the reader.1


Put simply, how easy is it for readers to make sense of the ad, to understand what’s on offer? Ads that are easy to follow generate better responses. Conversely the more effort it takes to understand the ad, the more likely readers are to move on. This may seem obvious, but only 55% percent of the ads tested in ADvance are considered to make it easy to see what’s on offer.

Reasons to buy

Content matters, and the most effective ads are ones are generally those that give the reader a reason to buy, use or find out more about a product, and that highlight an important feature.

The ADvance data shows that while clarity lifts purchase intention, reason to buy is more important. In fact “reason to buy” is more highly correlated with purchase intention than any other factor.2

This is contrary to a belief in some circles that what the ad actually says is irrelevant. While there are some categories where this may be true, in the ADvance data – which includes categories ranging from automotive and travel to grocery stores and alcohol – readers respond better to ads that give consumers a reason to buy.

Keeping these five factors in mind provides a useful reference point for evaluating the creative: “does this ad link my brand to the category?”, “does it prompt a positive emotional response?”, “is the message relevant to the reader?”, “is it easy to understand?” and “does it give them a reason to consider buying my brand?”

Ads that tick all of these boxes will engage readers more intensely than ones that don’t. The key creative elements to concentrate on are headlines, photo/image, and eye-catching layout/design, and well-written copy.3


*Correlation Analysis
A correlation analysis measures the relationship between two items. The resulting value (called the “correlation coefficient”) shows if changes in one item will result in changes in the other item.
The correlation coefficient, cor, can be positive (an increase in item one helps cause an increase in item two) or negative (an increase in item one helps cause a decrease in item two).
A p value is measure of the significance, or accuracy of a correlation coefficient. For this article, only correlations with significant p-values were chosen.

1 Brand salience and purchase intention (corr. = 0.45, p<0.01)
  Brand affinity and purchase intention (corr. = 0.48, p<0.01)
  Brand relevance and purchase intention (corr. = 0.65, p<0.0001)
2 The correlations are high, but the p values indicate there is variability in the data
  Clarity and purchase intention (corr. = 0.55, p<0.51)
  Reasons to buy and purchase intention (corr. = 0.70, p<0.65)
3 Headlines and engagement (corr. = 0.90, p<0.0001)
  Photo/image and engagement (corr. = 0.82, p<0.09)
  Eye-catching layout/design and engagement (corr. = 0.68, p<0.0001)
  Well-written copy and engagement (corr. = 0.64, p<0.0001)

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