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Monday, Jun. 8, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Visual Scandal, Story Appeal, and Banner Ads

By Jeff Sexton
June 8th, 2009

Steve Krug has famously compared Web pages to billboards, meaning that Web visitors are task oriented, and therefore on-the-move.  They click through websites, sizing up any individual page’s content in about as much time as a driver takes to glance up at a billboard, roughly 7 seconds or so.

The difference of course, is that material in the active window is being actively and consciously engaged and evaluated by the Web visitor, who can then slow down and read material that has proven itself relevant, which is obviously not the case for billboards.  This is where the analogy breaks down, and why most  copywriters will slap anyone clueless enough to vomit up the old “People don’t read online” mantra.

But as useful as the analogy is for web pages, it’s far more so for online ads:

  • Both are on the periphery of your vision/attention, and therefore both have to present a reason to shift your attention from the task at hand to their message.
  • Both want to leave you hungering for more information or more contact with the brand.

So when my recent post on Apple’s Banner Ad Innovation provoked some Ogilvy-inspired comments that compared banner ads to magazine ads, I thought It would be worthwhile to revisit that advertising giant’s advice on billboards (or what he refers to generally as posters).  So here it is:

  • It Pays to make your poster a ‘visual scandal’”
  • Your poster should deliver you selling promise not only in words, but also pictorially.
  • Use the largest possible type
  • Make your brand name visible at a long distance
  • Use strong, pure colors
  • Never use more than three elements in your design

Now, strong colors might be a toss-up, because while they can draw the eye, they also scream “I’m an ad, ignore me.”  And you can take or leave the other bottom four bullets, but the top two are pure gold for banner ads and are exactly what Apple was doing in it’s New York Times banner/skyscraper ad.

1.  A ‘Visual Scandal’ surprises and delights viewers

This surprise and delight factor causes a peripheral eye sweep to become a studied look, gaining you the web visitor’s/driver’s active attention and consideration.  And it does it while leaving those people with a positive emotional response to your brand (as apposed to gaining attention through an annoying, dancing stick figure).  Here’s an example of visual scandal that Ogilvy provided in Ogilvy on Advertising:

And here are some of my personal favorite examples:


Of course, the razor blade, kill bill, and Nike ads are probably better than the Makers Mark and Frozen Mars Bar ad because in those billboards the selling promise is implicit in the visual scandal, thereby following Ogilvy’s second point as well as the first.

Achieving Visual Scandal by Coloring Outside the Lines

Notice how often this idea of visual scandal requires the use of 3-D or “outside the lines” effects.  So how did Apple do this with a banner ad?  They had multiple space ads interacting with each other, extending the ad outside the lines/boundaries of what we are used to.  Take a look:

Achieving Visual Scandal by Visual Pun

Another technique for creating visual scandal is to make creative and unusual use of a boundary, line, or element that is already a part of the environment, creating a visual pun, as these examples do:

This techniques works for a lot more than posters, too:

Story Appeal

Humans use stories to explain deviations from the ordinary.  As Jerome Bruner writes in, Acts of Meaning:

“Stories seem to be designed to give the exceptional behavior meaning in a manner that implicates both an intentional state in the protagonist (a belief or desire) and some canonical element in the culture . . . The function of the story is to find an intentional state that mitigates or at least makes comprehensible a deviation from a canonical cultural pattern.”

So viewers create stories by speculating on the motives of the actors depicted (within a scene or picture); they use their imaginations to fill in the back-story.  Needless to say, you can’t have a story element to your picture/billboard/banner ad unless it contains people, or more precisely, characters.

Just look at the ad Ogilvy used as an example of “story element”:

And here’s what Ogilvy wrote about Story Appeal (and this ad):

“The kind of photographs which work hardest are those which arouse the reader’s curiousity.  He glances at the photograph and says to himself, ‘What goes on heres?’  Then he reads your copy to find out.  Harold Rudolph called this magic element ‘Story Appeal,’ and demonstrated that the more of it you inject into your photographs, the more people look at your advertisements.”

The eyepatch [in the Hathaway ad] injects the magic element of ‘story appeal.‘”

Do you see how the odd characteristic of the Baron Wrangell character made readers curious.  They speculated about his background, purpose in the ad, etc.  And so they read the ad.  In online terms, they’d click through to get the full story on your home page.

For most people this same story appeal now occurs whenever we see the Mac and PC characters – especially when we see them outside the confines of a TV ad.  Viewers know there’s a story to the ad somewhere, and so look closer to find out what it is.

So all you Internet Marketers yearning for a creative renaissance in online advertising, follow Apple’s lead and employ these techniques to their maximum.  Just try to remember that after you’ve surprised and delighted your audience, it will be relevance and scent that will determine whether your ad actually makes the client any money.

[Editor's note: the author of this post is now blogging at jeffsextonwrites.com]

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Comments (49)

  1. [...] Visual Scandal, Story Appeal, and Banner Ads [...]

  2. That is an excellent collection of ads. Thanks for sharing.

  3. it has an excellent collection of advertisement, thanks for sharing information with us.

  4. Great collection, thanks!

  5. Great ads.

    I would love to see them (and lot more) in some kind of book.

  6. Loved the examples in this post. They are all great posts, but I wanted to send this one to all my friends because I had never seen any of those ads before (don’t worry, I did send it onto my friends).

  7. Some greats ads although a lot of these were concepts and didn’t actually get to see the light of day, unfortunately clients don’t always see things the way the designer does :(

  8. Those are awesome advertisements. Creative advertisements increase conversion rate for sure. Can’t do this kind of advertising on AdWords unfortunately!

  9. [...] previous post comparing billboards to online banner and space ads garnered positive comments and reviews – for the ads rather than my [...]

  10. [...] previous post comparing billboards to online banner and space ads garnered positive comments and reviews – for the ads rather than my [...]

  11. Great shots and examples of real eye catching advertising. Something that makes you look, perhaps laugh or smile, definitely attracts more attention than standard advertising. Yes of course I am stating the obvious but many people just don’t have the initiative to make promotional jumps to excellent advertising from boring and standard options available. Love the Kill Bill advertisement!!

  12. [...] m­on­t­h­ Jeff Sext­on­ of Fut­ureN­ow wrot­e a p­o­st whe­r­e­ he­ to­o­k­ e­x­ample­s o­f [...]

  13. [...] Psychology of Restaurant Menus: Last month Jeff Sexton of FutureNow wrote a post where he took examples of real world billboards and described how marketers could incorporate [...]

  14. [...] Psychology of Restaurant Menus: Last month Jeff Sexton of FutureNow wrote a post where he took examples of real world billboards and described how marketers could incorporate [...]

  15. [...] Psychology of Restaurant Menus: Last month Jeff Sexton of FutureNow wrote a post where he took examples of real world billboards and described how marketers could incorporate [...]

  16. [...] Psychology of Restaurant Menus: Last month Jeff Sexton of FutureNow wrote a post where he took examples of real world billboards and described how marketers could incorporate [...]

  17. [...] Psychology of Restaurant Menus: Last month Jeff Sexton of FutureNow wrote a post where he took examples of real world billboards and described how marketers could incorporate [...]

  18. [...] Psychology of Restaurant Menus: Last month Jeff Sexton of FutureNow wrote a post where he took examples of real world billboards and described how marketers could incorporate [...]

  19. I love these advertisements and billboards, they are so original and really catch your attention. I remember seeing some of them years ago and being impressed with the idea at the time too.

  20. [...] I’ve dealt with Story Appeal in previous posts, but let’s talk about headlines before diving into why Ogilvy’s favorite arrangement continues to stand the test of time. [...]

  21. [...] Psychology of Restaurant Menus: Last month Jeff Sexton of FutureNow wrote a post where he took examples of real world billboards and described how marketers could incorporate [...]

  22. [...] Psychology of Restaurant Menus: Last month Jeff Sexton of FutureNow wrote a post where he took examples of real world billboards and described how marketers could incorporate [...]

  23. ‘visual scandal’ – just stunning. Love those ideas and definitely these kinda ads will attract everyone’s attention.

  24. [...] I’ve dealt with Story Appeal in previous posts, but let’s talk about headlines before diving into why Ogilvy’s favorite arrangement continues to stand the test of time. [...]

  25. very funny banner ads, quite creative ads..

  26. Incredible collection that creatively depicts the design of an effective piece of advertising. Congratulations!

  27. Great article, some incredible attention grabbing banner ads. My personal favourites are the Kill Bill and Naval Museum banners.

  28. [...] that this content is a re-hash of one section of my previous Grok post, “Visual Scandal, Story Appeal, and Banner Ads.” I’ve reproduced part of it here to better explain the term “story appeal” [...]

  29. Hehhehe some pretty cool photos here, had to bookmark this.

  30. Nice ads
    And thanks for the sharing.
    I think we need creative advertisements to increase conversion rate.

  31. Some great, legendary advertising in there.

  32. My favorite is the razor through the grass! brilliant!

  33. Amazing how the little things make such a big difference when it comes to advertising.

  34. It’s amazing how simple are all genous ideas.What a talented people create such things! Personally I’m very tired of an amount of ads that I see every day. I can call them trash.But after watching the ads above I’m in an excellent mood.

  35. Nice collection of ads.The best is the ad with the fitness company.

  36. Great ads! THe one with “Mars” is the one I like most.

  37. Lovely ad in the metro. Thr intention to go to the gym rises immediately.

  38. All advertising above are very amazing but I prefer Kill Bill to other.

  39. Defo the mars bad and tongue for best advert :P good list tho!

  40. I enjoyed taking a look of those brilliant advertising ideas! They are simply great and am sure most of them has helped increase sales and performance of the companies.

  41. I love the tips you are giving here, but I am crazy about the aggressive examples (pictures) of marketing!
    It’s not believable! . . .

  42. Great ads and great examples of eye-catching posters. My favorite was the bic ad that had shaved the grass. So simple and to the point.

  43. nice banned ads :P

  44. Great collection. I just love these ideas

  45. Some of these ads are really good and pretty original.

  46. Great stuff here. I especially like the one with the fat man :) )

  47. I think its the creativity of the Ad designers which makes many brands unique in their marketing strategies…The designers not only make funny ad, but impressive too so that customers know beforehand what quality they will be provided…:)

  48. amazing collection! Guerilla marketing is such an effective tool if you have lots of money to spend…

  49. Billboard posters are still favored by consumers as they often broadcast in large open spaces and ensure that people retain the information. A website must be dynamic, simple yet informative and is often difficult to balance and moderate information. It is imperative i modern internet marketing that a location map is available to potential customers.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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