The Secrets to Effective Magazine Advertising

You’ve heard the phrase before. “I just bought the magazine to look at the pictures.” There is a kernel of truth to that statement. Consumers are naturally drawn to the unusual graphics and pictures often used in magazines. It follows that magazine consumers are more likely to read magazine ads that carry compelling images.

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Magazine Ads Create a Lasting Colorful Image of Your Product

As with newspaper advertising, there will be intense competition for the “mind share” of the consumer. The option of using two- or four-color printing in magazine advertising gives the advertiser an opportunity to create a lasting image of his or her product that has no equal in any other print advertising vehicle save direct mail.

To further entice the reader’s desire for your product, some magazines even offer advertisers an opportunity to include product samples with their ads. For example, witness the proliferation of “scratch and sniff” perfume ads.

Related: Why Magazine, Newspaper and Direct Mail Advertising Still Work

How Much Does Magazine Ads Cost?

Naturally, all of these wonderful ad enhancements come at a premium. The cost of placing a full-page ad with all of the options in a magazine can be staggering. After all, the advertiser is actually paying for the production costs associated with printing a glossy, four-color publication.

Related: Cheap Marketing Tricks That Work

Costs for placing magazine ads will vary from publication to publication. They will also depend upon the size of the ad placed and the positioning of the ad. Magazine ads are sold by the page or page increment—full page, half page, quarter page, etc. Rates also depend upon the frequency with which an advertiser places ads over the period of a year. Typically, advertisers offer one-time, three-time, six-time, and twelve-time rates. Twelve-time rates are usually significantly lower than one-time rates. But, of course, you are paying that rate times twelve ads.

4 Tips for Writing Your Own Magazine Ad Copy

1. Get the Consumer’s Attention

You need to take the consumer by storm by focusing on creating an eye-catching headline or phrase. Include a graphic or logo to establish the tone of the message.

Avoid controversial headlines and pictures. Humor should be used judiciously. It’s hard to come up with a humorous tone that is universally appealing. And especially with humor, make sure you are not offending anyone! On the other hand, a clever phrase or impressive graphic will attract the attention of, and be appreciated by, almost everyone.

2. Use Color Whenever Possible

Magazines offer the opportunity to use four-color photos and artwork to enhance the meaning and impact of your message. Use this powerful tool. Give your ad color if you can afford it.

Four-color ads traditionally have the highest response rate from readers. The response rate typically decreases as use of color is eliminated—from four color to spot color to black and white. If you can’t afford four color, but have a budget that will allow some “enhancement” over purchasing a basic black-and-white ad space, spot color is a good alternative.

Related: Advertising Strategies For Multiple Platforms

Most magazines offer standard spot colors—red, blue, green, orange, or yellow—at one rate, and specialized “matched colors” at a slightly higher rate. Matched colors are generally chosen from the Pantone Professional Color System and are commonly referred to as PMS colors. These colors are available in a wide assortment of hues and variations. Your printer or graphic designer should be able to show you the selection of colors available.

3. Make Your Pitch Concise and Simple

List the benefits and reasons why the consumer should buy your product or service. Keep it short and simple. Readers aren’t going to treat your ad like a novel and sit down for a long read. You have only 10 to 15 seconds to get your reader’s attention and appraise him or her of the unique value of your product or service. So avoid long phrases or cute dialogue. Be precise and to the point.

Related: The Secrets of Great Television Advertising

4. Make It Easy for the Customer to Reach You and Order from You

To make it easy for potential customers to purchase your product or service, don’t forget to include your phone number (toll-free, if possible), website, or retail locations that stock your product at the bottom of the ad. If other special ordering information is needed, include that as well.


Q: Should I run magazine ads without photographs or artwork?

A: No. Generally, this would be a waste of money. Even in limited-circulation publications, small ads will appear substandard if they don’t incorporate appealing graphics.

Q: Should I put color in my ad?

A: David Ogilvy, one of the all-time gurus of advertising, said that color is a bargain. It may cost about 50 percent more, but it delivers twice the response of a comparable black-and-white ad. Ogilvy’s comment is right on the money.

Related: How to Drive Sales by Advertising in Magazines

However, when he talks about color adding approximately 50 percent more to the cost of an ad, he is only referring to the ad space costs. He does not take into consideration the appreciably greater cost involved in preparing a color ad for publication. (The production costs are a much smaller factor for huge national advertisers, like those Ogilvy used to service.)

One extra cost to consider is the creation of the four-color film, as opposed to one-color film for black-and-white ads, that is necessary for printing such an ad. For a small ad in a limited-circulation publication, the cost of producing the ad may be more than the cost of placing the ad! But if you run the ad frequently or run it repeatedly with black film text changes only, the productions costs become a smaller component of your total costs.

Black-and-white ads can be effective, but as a rule color ads are more likely to pay off.

Q: Do I need to advertise repeatedly to get results?

A: Advertising salespeople will try to talk you into running ads in their publication on as high a frequency schedule as they can. They will do this even if your ad didn’t pull a response the first time it ran.

Unlike radio or television advertising, one magazine ad should produce results. If it doesn’t, you aren’t going to improve your chances of making an impression on the readership no matter how many times you repeat the same message through the same venue.

When appraising the results of a magazine ad, keep in mind, however, that magazines provide a medium that works best for image advertising. The periodic nature of the format doesn’t lend itself to inciting immediate action from a potential consumer.

Q: Why do so many trade magazine ads run without important company information such as a website or phone number?

A: The purpose of many trade magazine ads is image building—creating excitement for and awareness of a company’s products or services in the minds of potential consumers. They aren’t designed to generate sales or even inquiries.

Large companies rely on their sales forces and/or distributors to make sales actually happen. Small companies may rely more heavily on telemarketers, independent representatives, direct mail, or trade show participation to deliver actual sales.

Related: Should I Create My Own Advertising?

The benefit of an image ad lies in its ability to “prep” potential consumers for making a purchase. Then, when they are personally contacted by a salesperson or telemarketer, they already know who the company is and what the product is about. Just because they have heard of you, they are simply more likely to buy from you!

So while it may not hurt to include a phone number or website in a trade publication ad, don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t net a flurry of inquires. I have run six-page spreads that carry a toll-free phone number in national publications and have received zero direct inquiry phone calls! But that’s not to say that the ad didn’t reach the marketplace or, in one fashion or another, produce sales results.

Streetwise Advice

Not Appropriate

Magazine ads won’t work for most small, local businesses. Magazine advertising space costs significantly more than newspaper advertising space. You really need to have a good reason to justify this expenditure. If your business is upscale, it might be an appropriate choice. Also if you are starting a business in a small niche market you might find a magazine that provides an effective advertising opportunity.

A classy restaurant with a menu that puts mom to shame and caters to a trendy crowd might want to pay for magazine advertising, perhaps to show off a four-color photo of diners feasting on a sumptuous meal in their chic establishment. An upscale women’s boutique might want to advertise in magazines to show to full effect the one-of-a-kind fashionable apparel they sell.

You should also consider how closely a local magazine parallels your core market. Most local businesses find their trade in their home or immediately adjacent towns. Many local magazines are distributed over a wide region—say, from 50 to 100 towns. Carefully calculate what, if any, return you will get from advertising to a geographic base that is much broader than your typical trade reaches.

Specialty Magazines

Although the cost per thousand readers reached may be high for specialty magazines, they may offer the lowest cost per thousand qualified prospects. More readers of a specialty magazine are potential purchasers of your applicable specialized product or service than would be true of a general readership publication.

Specialty magazines tend to be thoroughly read, not scanned, and smaller ads often work well in these vehicles. Mail-order products, especially in narrow fields in which products are not readily available at the retail level, tend to net good results from specialty magazine advertising.

But there is a much less expensive, sometimes even free, advertising alternative. Find an Internet or a mail-order company that is willing to purchase your product at discount and feature it on its website or in its catalog. Some of the catalog companies especially may charge you for the advertising space, but they may allow you to pay for this space with free product at the wholesaler price instead of with cash.

Related: 30 Tips to Improve Internet Advertising

Trade Magazines

Like specialty magazines, trade magazines allow you to zero in on your target audience. Trade magazines tend to have smaller circulations and even lower advertising rates than specialty magazines do.

You should run full-page ads in trade publications, however. Do this even if it means you need to reduce your ad frequency to meet your advertising budget, and even if you can only afford one full-page ad per year. Readers of trade magazines don’t usually bother checking less than full-page ads even if they get caught up in carefully reading the editorial content. These readers know that only small start-up companies tend to buy small ad space, and they aren’t interested in any risks involved in purchasing from a less than well-established firm. In fact, some companies even purchase double truck, or facing full pages, multiple pages, cover gatefolds, or special insert ads that they have printed themselves to really impress the publication’s readers with their image and reputation.


No matter which magazine you decide to advertise in, readers expect magazine ads to be much slicker and more attractive than newspaper ads. And they expect the copy to read just as cleverly as a radio spot.

Related: How Frequently Should I Advertise?

Although you need to ensure that your ad is effective, it also must be visually appealing. Here is a suggestion that will help you judge what works and what doesn’t. Develop more than one ad design idea or concept. Place mock-ups of these ad concepts in an old copy of the magazine you plan to advertise in. What do you think? How do they compare as you flip through the publication? Which one really captures your attention? And, because you might not be the most impartial judge, it is important to ask other people for their opinions.

Be Leery of “Bingo Card” Responses

Measure sales, not inquiries, generated by your magazine ads. Many new magazine advertisers are impressed when they get hundreds or even thousands of inquiries from magazine readers who have circled the company’s name on readers’ service cards. While you should follow up on these inquiries, my experience has been that very, very few of these inquiries add up to sales. Readers often circle dozens of names on readers’ service cards when they actually have very little interest in the products.

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About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.