Articles > What makes a great ad? Let's explore all of the mind-bending rules.

What Makes a Great Ad?

Whether you are creating a billboard to run in NYC’s Times Square, a TV ad for the Academy Awards, or an instagram ad for your local real estate business, creating something that sticks with people can be tough. Believe me, every time we sit down to create an ad, we want it to grab your audience’s attention, and make them remember you long after they're gone. Is it easy? Nope. Does it motivate us to make it happen every time? You bet.

So, what makes an ad truly great?

Let's look at the key parts that make ads powerful and memorable. For the purposes of this article, we're not going to dive into consumer insights, strategy development, positioning, or brand differentiation. All of those components play heavily into the creation of a great magazine, billboard, television, online or radio ad. For now, we're just going to focus on what makes a great ad from the standpoint of creative execution.

Understanding Your Audience

The best ads understand and reflect what your audience feels. This connection is what makes an ad hit home. For example, the famous "Got Milk?" ads worked because everyone can relate to running out of milk. This campaign cleverly used something we all experience to make us think about milk in a new way, which actually made more people buy milk.They’re not selling the features of milk or even the health benefits of it. Rather they’re tapping into the the human FOMO of not having when you desperately need it.

Another great example is this Harley Davidson ad that asks, “When Was The Last Time You Felt This Strongly About Anything?” It shows a biker with a big eagle tattoo, representing freedom and strength. This ad goes beyond just selling motorcycles; it invites people to be part of a group that values passion and loyalty. There are very few brands in the world that can feature a tattoo and still be authentic to the fan base. Go ahead, picture ANY other brand as a tattoo on this ad? Doesn’t work, does it? Brilliant.

Writing a Great Advertising Headline

A great headline is like a hook—it grabs you and makes you want to read more. After all, your ad is actually interrupting whatever your audience is choosing to watch, read, look at, or listen to. So your line better stop, engage, and reward—all in 3 seconds.

Volkswagen’s “Think Small” campaign is a good example. At a time when big cars were popular, Volkswagen made people interested in smaller cars with a clever headline. This not only grabbed attention but also made the brand stand out as smart and practical. Had we pitched this idea to a client that didn’t have the stomach for it, they would’ve asked us to make the car bigger and to fill the white space more!

Using Strong Images

Pictures can tell a story just as well as words. They can also make the message stronger and more interesting because the reader has invested precious seconds to try to figure it out. Absolut Vodka’s ads, which creatively featured the bottle in different scenes, are a good example. These ads were easy to remember and helped make Absolut stand out in a crowded market. 

Also, this visual ad from Volvo won like every award on the planet. A safety pin in the shape of the car? No words needed. Literally.

Connecting Emotionally

When an ad makes you feel something, you're more likely to remember it. Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign is a great example. It showed women that they are more beautiful than they think, touching on real feelings and helping Dove connect with people on a deeper level.

Keeping It Simple and Clear

Let’s keep things rolling here. Of course, the best ads are easy to understand. They get their message across quickly and clearly. Apple’s iPod “Silhouette” ads were simple but effective, showing people dancing with their iPods. The message was clear: iPods are fun and everyone can enjoy them.

Being Provocative 

We made this ad years ago. We could’ve talked about all the high-res graphics for the video game. Instead, we threw out this headline because it was something we were all thinking when we saw the screenshot from the game. Sometimes saying the very thing that the reader might be thinking, even if it’s somewhat risque, can really make an ad memorable.

Being Consistent

Keeping the same message across all ads makes sure the message strengthens and builds upon itself. Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan appears in many campaigns, always echoing a message of hard work and determination. This has helped Nike create a strong image as a brand that inspires and pushes people to do their best.

Great ads really speak to people, whether through smart messaging, engaging pictures, real emotions, or unique creativity. They understand and respect what people think and feel, while also challenging them to see things differently. As we keep moving forward in a digital world, these principles stay important in making ads that connect and get remembered.

Now, we’d love to hear from you! What are some ads that have made a big impact on you? Why do you think they worked so well? Drop us a line!

Brent Bamberger
As the founder and creative director of Brandish Studio, Brent wears many hats. He's the driving force behind all of the Brandish Studio work and originated the company mantra, "Amazing Comes Standard." He's a guest lecturer for Brand Marketing at UC Merced.
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