You see advertising design every day. On TV, in your social media feeds, on billboards, on buses, in magazines, even being pulled behind airplanes. Every single one of those ads was designed to get you to notice, remember and want the product or service being offered.

As an entrepreneur, great advertising design is one of the most valuable things you can invest in. Getting it right can be more challenging than you think. So in this article, we’ll go over what you need before you start advertising design, types of advertising formats and some tips on getting it just right.

Person sitting at desk look at pages for advertising design ideas
Illustration by OrangeCrush

What is advertising design?

Advertising design is the creation of artwork used in ads, typically for products or services. Getting more specific, the goal of advertising design is usually (but not always!) to drive sales—and when an ad’s goal isn’t to drive sales, it’s to drive some other specific action, usually an action that will eventually lead to a sale.

This targeted focus is where advertising design differs from other kinds of design. While other types of design like marketing have a range of purposes such as to communicate brand values to introducing a product to the market, advertising design is carefully calculated to specific audiences to sell products or services. That doesn’t mean advertising design can’t also be aesthetically pleasing, on the contrary. But in order for it to be successful, it needs to directly drive sales.

orange rectangular ad showing a hand selecting one umbrella off a plate of many
Ad design by Kosmos Creatives

Advertising design is a subset of marketing design. Marketing is the overall strategy of engaging with your prospective and current audiences, advertising is the more direct act of telling them to buy.

For example, your marketing strategy could involve using social media to identify and engage with your audience to drive engagement and brand awareness. And advertising design would be to create an effective Facebook ad that prompts your target audience to buy your product or service.

white, orange and green email template with lots of text
Email template design by Grigoris G
colorful French desserts website
Ecommerce website design by Hiroshy

The left image is a piece of advertising design because it promotes one specific product, the brochure design, and calls the viewer to take one specific action: to request a quote. The right image is an example of marketing design. It’s a branded website design that introduces viewers to the brand and showcases the products. Though there are specific buttons to click, it’s not a focused prompt for one specific product.

Everything you need to know about advertising design

Before you start designing your ad

If you jump right into advertising design without doing the necessary prep work, you’re not going to create a great ad. Well-crafted advertisements aren’t the result of luck or random circumstance; they’re carefully put together based on your:

Brand identity

If you don’t have a clearly defined brand identity yet, you’re not ready to get into advertising design. Take some time to flesh out your brand identity and develop a cohesive brand concept first, then get into developing a marketing strategy that includes one or more types of advertising design.

green, white and gold brand and stationery pack
Logo and brand identity design by Daria V.

Customer persona

When we say customer persona, here’s what we mean: the specific, ideal person who will see this ad and buy the product. For example, your customer persona for a line of sustainably sourced dog treats might be urban, middle class millennial dog owners. Other demographics, like rural and Gen X dog owners might also buy your product, but people who fit your defined customer persona make up the bulk of your audience, so designing your ad with them in mind will yield the best results.

green poster with an image of a child pushing his face through a sheet of paper
Poster design by grafix.euu

To help develop your customer persona, you have to do research. Getting an idea of what their priorities and needs are will give you the information you need to make advertising design decisions. It helps to find out things like:

  • What they’re buying
  • Which brands they’re buying from
  • Where their priorities lie
  • What makes them loyal to a brand
  • What they expect from the brands they support

Product value

Next, you’ve got to nail down exactly what you’re really offering with your product. Sure, you want people to buy your product—but an ad that just says “hey, buy this” isn’t a very good one. You need to demonstrate the value your product offers.

But don’t just think about your product, think about what your product offers the customer persona you defined. By getting in touch with what the product offers them, you get into the psychology behind making them want to buy it.

Are you offering the comfiest beanies with the coolest designs the viewer can’t find anywhere else? Are you the only tarot card reader in town who’s always accurate and does private parties?

logo featuring a blue bird with a large magnifying glass
Logo design by Clicky

Doing research into the market and your competitors can also help you set your product values apart from your competitors. Market research is a big undertaking, but make sure you don’t cut corners because if you do, you’re only hurting your product’s likelihood of success.

You can conduct your own market research through methods like focus groups and surveys or you can outsource this to a company that specializes in market research, depending on your budget and your needs. You can also find valuable market statistics and trends on the internet and through business resources like ThomasNet or Statista.

Goals for the ad

Like we mentioned above, your goal is probably to get people to buy your product. But you might also run an ad that asks people to give you their email addresses, to register for an event, to redeem an offer or to make a donation. No matter what your goal for your ad is, the key is to make that clear in your advertising design. And of course, one goal per ad, to avoid confusion for your potential customers.

facebook ad design
Facebook ad design by Adam Muflihun

Picking the right advertising format for your brand

woman relaxing in a bathtub juxtaposed above pouches of bath salts
Ad design by Graffikstudio

You’ll likely determine which kinds of advertising will work best for your brand when you do your market research. While just about every buyer demographic uses the internet, not every demographic is active on social media—and if your customer persona isn’t on social media much, running Facebook and Instagram ads is going to be a waste of your time and money.

Pay attention to the kinds of ads your competitors are running. In fact, looking at the kinds of ads your competitors are running and paying close attention to what works and what doesn’t work in them will give you valuable insight to use when creating your own advertising designs. Your competitors are likely running one or more of the following types of ads:

Social media ads

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a brand that isn’t on the internet in some capacity these days. That’s because the internet is where their buyers are, whether they’re working, shopping, socializing or doing schoolwork.

ads showing children playing with legos
Facebook ad design by torvs
banner ad showing a CBD tincture and a woman standing before a field
Ad design by A Studio

When you design ads for social media, you can take advantage of the platform’s video and animation capabilities and when possible, engage with the viewers by asking them to swipe, retweet, like, follow and comment.

Keep in mind that different social media platforms have different size requirements for ads. Familiarize yourself with the current social media image size standards before you design your ad so you don’t end up with a stretched, distorted or otherwise unusable ad.

With social media ads, you can specify who sees your ad down to the viewers’ age range, geographic location, interests and occupation. This can help your ad reach only the people you want it to reach, making your ad budget far more efficient.

Print ads

Print ads are the ads you see in newspapers and magazines. These ads are static and often pull you in with a smart combination of imagery and text. When the text and imagery are conveying your messaging as you intended, your advertising ad can be extremely effective.

A benefit of print ads, especially in newspapers and magazines, is the trust and relationship that exists between the publication and their readers. For example, if you are selling a book, and your target audience is readers and book buyers. Then placing an ad in a literary magazine would help reach like-minded customers who trust and respect the publication that they subscribe to.

open magazine page against a blue and pink background
Print ad design by Stephen.

At the same time, anybody can pick up a magazine or paper and see your ad, whether that’s on the newsstand or at the doctor’s office in the waiting room. Keep in mind though, print ads should be clear of mistakes! Once printed it’ll stay that way forever.

Outdoor ads

When you’re designing an outdoor ad, you need to design something big. People will see the ad from afar and might not be able to make out the text or imagery if it isn’t large enough. And although you want to tailor any ad to your target customer avatar, outdoor ads should have somewhat broader appeal than internet ads because you can’t control who sees and doesn’t see your ad. If someone walks or drives past it, they’re going to see it.

billboard ad showing a plate of lobster and rice and white text
Billboard ad design by jpnueva

Direct mail

Direct mail ads are one of the oldest kinds of advertising. These are the ads that arrive directly to your door, courtesy of your postal carrier.

brown and white postcard with photos of wooden decks
Flyer design by Rose”

You can send your direct mail to specific neighborhoods by targeting certain postal codes, or you can purchase database lists from other organizations to target their members or customers. These kinds of ads are still used today by small, local business, as well as big brands.

If you decide to go the direct mail route, take time to learn about the different shapes and sizes of mailers and how to get the best design for each.

email ad showing a woman sleeping and a container of a supplement
Email ad design by BespokeDesign

Email ads

Email advertising isn’t the same as email marketing—but it can be part of an overarching email marketing strategy. These are known as promotional emails and unlike your newsletters and other communications, they push specific products and offers.

Just be careful not to overdo it with email ads. When people feel inundated with ads, particularly email ads filling up their inboxes, they become annoyed with the sender and develop negative views of that company. Don’t let that happen to your brand—make sure you’re sending as much or more valuable content as you are ads.

Video ads

video instagram ad showing startup building plans
Video ad by Mariya Dziadzulia

Video ads are ads with motion, sound, images and text. These can appear on Youtube (at least the ones you didn’t skip), social media platforms, or on TV. Either way, when you’re designing a video ad, your goal is to design an ad that’s so captivating that viewers don’t skip it.

You need to be bolder, funnier, more thought-provoking and above all, deliver your message faster if you want to create an effective video ad that viewers won’t skip. Check out our guide to video marketing for a thorough guide to everything you need to know about creating video ads.

Getting advertising design just right

Once you’ve narrowed down which types of advertising design will work best for your brand, it’s time to zero in on the perfect look and feel that will make your target audience buy your products, sign up for your mailing list and do everything else your ad prompts them to do.

Swiping freely and thoughtfully

See something that works? Swipe it!

This doesn’t mean steal it. It means add it to your swipe file—your folder of every ad and ad component that has something you want to emulate, like a moodboard for ads. This could be a headline that draws you in, eye-catching art, a catchy call to action—anything that makes you connect with the ad.

bold mood board showing quotes, landscapes, textures and colors
Other design by valelle

The goal of a swipe file is to find inspiration and examples for a starting point. Once you have the ads you like, take a close look to see what works, then find ways to translate their magnetic magic into ads that work for your audience.

Being on brand

Your ads also have to fit your brand. Take a look at these, for example:

print ad showing a flower with shoes for petals
Ad design by Fotonium
colorful lofi photo of a sandwich and a round logo
Ad design by Anne Rogue

In the image on the left, the flower imagery reinforces the brand’s mission to sustainability. In the one on the right, the high contrast lo-fi image creates a grainy, old-school feel that paired with the bold font, matches the look and feel of their logo and brand. They both work because they communicate their brands while advertising their products.

This is why it’s so important to have a comprehensive brand identity before you start creating ads. An ad is an extension of your brand, not just your product and if you don’t have a fully fleshed-out brand, that will come through in your ads.

Inspiring trust

People won’t buy your product if they don’t feel they can trust you. This is true even if you’re not selling anything—even ads for nonprofits and free content have to inspire trust.

round logo with an illustration of a dog and cat
Logo design by Bossall691

Here’s what we mean when we say your ads need to make people trust you: they need to make the viewer feel they can trust you to deliver exactly what you’re promising to deliver in your ad. This means they have to trust you’ll deliver the benefits you’re promising they’ll get from your product and that your product (and your brand as a whole) is the right match for them.

How can you do that? Through testimonials and ratings from satisfied customers. One of the most powerful tools in advertising is social proof. Social proof is the confirmation that a product or service is worthwhile that comes from seeing somebody else—sometimes a celebrity or influencer, other times an average person who fits the customer avatar—use that product or service and express satisfaction with it.

Think about how many ads you’ve seen that feature satisfied customers. There’s a reason why testimonials are so popular in advertising design: they work.

Communicating value

Beyond inspiring trust, your ad needs to communicate value. More specifically, your product’s value as well as your brand’s value.

Facebook ad showing Santa giving a dog a gift
Ad design by vineet5

It can be tough to boil down your product’s value into a short ad, especially when you don’t have a ton of room for lots of imagery or copy. This is why it’s so critical that you develop a clear hook; a spark of intrigue the viewer just can’t ignore. As long as this hook hints at your value for your customer persona, you’ll get the clicks you’re seeking.

flyer showing a man holding keys and a thumbs up, a gift certificate and people leaning on cars
Postcard design by isuk 

You might communicate value by showing your product in action and how it compares to its competition. Or you can show how much more effective your product is than its competitors, how much more convenient it is, how much better a value it is for your price—whatever your research determines your target buyers care about most, work that into your ad design to communicate your brand’s value.

Connecting with your audience

When you inspire trust and communicate value while being on brand, you connect with your audience. Ultimately, this is your goal with every marketing effort you make.

green, gray and white business card showing a levitating cat
Business card design by Distinguish”

Connect with your audience by speaking directly to the things they care about. This goes back to your market research—what does your ideal customer care about? Quality? Price? Sustainability? Looking cool? Show them how you fulfill whatever need you developed your product to fit.

advertisement showing a giant golf ball on a tee, a burger as its shadow
Ad design by f-chen

Balance and hierarchy

Visually, your ad needs to be balanced. It also needs to have a clear hierarchy.

By balanced, we mean it shouldn’t look too crowded, too sparse or have negative space in awkward places (though negative space can be a powerful tool).

In design, hierarchy means the image is composed in a way that makes the viewer see the most important elements first, followed by the second-most important elements, and so on until they reach the call to action.

In practical terms, this means your headline should be in a larger font than your subhead, and your subhead should be larger than your supporting text.

Your call to action should be clear and significant, but it should also be the last thing the viewer sees—a parting thought strategically placed on your ad.

A clear, actionable call-to-action

The last component of any effective ad is a clear, actionable call to action, commonly known as a CTA. CTAs typically look like this:

  • Buy now
  • Learn more
  • Subscribe
  • Register Now

And in many cases, they reiterate the benefit the ad is promising. For example:

    • Register now and save your spot
    • Buy now and save big
    • Subscribe and don’t miss a single update
homepage for sedge with two clear call-to-actions
Website design by Răzvan I.

Your CTA has to do two things: tell the viewer what to do and instill a sense of urgency. You don’t want them to consider buying your product, you want them to buy it now. Make that absolutely clear with a well-crafted CTA.

Get great advertising design

Advertising design has to be direct and drive viewers to take a specific action. And it takes real skills to balance what your call-to-action will say, where to place your call-to-action, which testimonials to use, or will there even be enough space to include all that!

It can be a daunting task. But when you find the right designer to help you out, all those questions are a breeze. You’ll just have to sit back and watch the sales come in.

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