What bloggers can learn from good print advertising

February 5, 2015

What bloggers can learn from good print advertising

As an entrepreneur, you need to cut through all of the noise that prevents your target audience from recognizing the value you offer. One of the best ways to do this is to look at how other people in your field advertise themselves – and print advertising can be a surprising source of good advice even if you do most of your marketing online.

How? Let’s look at a well-crafted print ad in action and see what makes it tick.

Today’s example is from Athabasca University, which is known for offering online courses in Canada. This ad is part of a campaign associating Athabasca with famous figures like Albert Einstein and Marie Curie. The person pictured here is Irene Parlby, a noted Canadian politician and feminist.

An Image With Impact

The first thing you’ll notice about this ad (despite the blurriness – a result of taking this photo while riding public transit) is that although the main image is in black and white, it grabs your interest.

For one thing, the contrast between the black background and Parlby’s face and neck make the ad stand out. For another, her picture isn’t centered, which creates room for the main quote. In fact, this ad in general makes good use of a design principle called “the rule of thirds”, which adds visual interest to photos by positioning items of visual interest a third of the way into (and not in the centre of) a photograph.

This balance of image and text creates harmony, while the flashes of yellow in the corners add visual interest. Overall, the design here is a winner.

Married to Good Copywriting

However, the real strength of this ad lies in how that striking portrait is married with the copy next to it. Here’s how the text reads:

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a hearth to be lighted.”

Irene Parlby: Progressive Prairie Patron

Irene knew a little something about the road less traveled. She cast aside her very formal Victorian roots to plant some good ol’ Albertan ones, and she likely saved lives doing it.

She made her own way, pushing for important medical advantages like hospitals and mobile dental care for rural Albertan women and children in the 1900s. Her unexpected love of frontier life, and a farmer, sparked her influential journey. So who knows? Maybe we’re just the thing to spark yours.

The quote by Parlby emphasizes that it’s an educational institution talking here. However, the really good stuff is in the last two paragraphs:

Cementing Athabasca’s Brand Identity

Athabasca University is based in Alberta and is known for its online education; ideas like “good ol’ Albertan roots” and “making her own way” reinforce this. The use of “good ol’” is particularly significant here, because it sets up a no-nonsense, folksy tone — something that may relate to how people both inside and out of the province perceive Alberta.

By using that straightforward, relatable tone and emphasizing how Parlby was a trailblazer, the ad references cultural ideas about Alberta’s independent, individualistic attitude. More importantly, it implies that you, too, can be your own person by taking their courses.

The fact that Athabasca offers so many online courses is significant, I think, because its courses are often seen as a way for students from other universities to get transfer credits to complete their degrees. I see this ad as Athabasca positioning itself away from being a stopgap option towards being a respected institution in its own right.

So what is this ad saying? In essence, “Choose Athabasca if you’re looking for an authentic, meaningful education that fits into your existing schedule.”

Calling Back to the Main Quote

The real stroke of genius is how the last few sentences echo the words that Parlby herself said. The mind is a “hearth to be lighted” and just as living in Alberta “sparked” Parlby’s activist efforts, studying at Athabasca can similarly “spark” your own career. The ad makes a powerful, if subtle, statement by using “fire” words like Parlby did.

How This Applies to Blogging

This discussion may sound esoteric, but there are powerful lessons here for entrepreneurs who want to get started with content marketing and blogging to promote their own businesses.

In particular, here are three takeaways for when you blog:

  1. Good design matters just as much as good copy.

Sometimes, when your visitors are faced with a deluge of web pages and smartphone apps, good design can be enough to set you apart. If your blog is pleasing to the eye, you’ve won half the battle against your reader’s resistance.

  1. Understand your audience and

You can make a powerful statement if you understand what image you want to project (“good ol’ Albertan roots”) and what your audience wants from you (to “spark” their journeys).

  1. Create a complete package.

Neither the image nor the text would work quite as well alone. Their success comes from being paired together.

Image credit: Christina Vasilevski.


Christina Vasilevski

Christina Vasilevski is a freelance writer and editor in Toronto who works with small businesses, entrepreneurs, and marketing companies. She is a graduate of Ryerson University's publishing program and a member of the Editors' Association of Canada. She's also a tea fanatic. Her site is at www.christinavasilevski.com and you can connect with her via Twitter or on LinkedIn.