The Two-Second Rule

There are many reasons why sales promotion print ads are different than traditional print ads. Primarily, there is often more detail about the promotional offer that needs to be shared.

The objective of a sales promotional offer is to motivate people to take an action. The dilemma we face is keeping the message clean and simple so that it focuses the reader on the offer without losing their interest.

Advertisers may be tempted to praise the product’s benefits, include all the terms and conditions around a sales promotional offer, and add anything else that they believe the consumer may need to know.

In my experience trying to get other departments to sign off on an offer often makes the process of communicating an offer more copy intensive.

The simple truth is that the reader has to ‘get it’ in 2 seconds or less to decide if the ad is worth reading.

Here are some typical issues that come up when developing a sales promotion campaign, along with ways to address them.

1. What Is the Print Ad’s Focus

sales promotion print ads

Weight Watchers ad immediately conveys a message, enter large exit thin

The weight watchers ad pictured here is simple yet effective. With one glance we get what the program is about; enter large and exit thin.

Establishing your brand, by using imagery that is instantly identifiable, is among the best ways to create a sales promotional overlay without having to go into a lot of copy intensive story.

sales promotion print ads

Macy’s ad creates instant brand identification topped with a promotional overlay


Use Imagery To Get To The Point

Macy’s Departments stores invested millions in associating their brand with their iconic red star imagery.

Traditional advertising, direct mail and the nationally televised NYC Thanksgiving Day parade continually create awareness for the red star brand imagery.

Macy’s target customer, and probably half the population of the USA, immediately recognizes that the big, bright red star symbolizes the Macy’s brand.

The percent discount promotional overlay alerts holiday shoppers that Macy’s is the place to go for quality merchandise at discount prices during the Thanksgiving weekend./Black Friday sales event.

Brand awareness combined with an aggressive offer motivates shoppers to get out and get the best deal, now.

Focus On A Brand Attribute To Create A Connection

sales promotion print ads

Smart & Crunchy combined with family and WIN builds brand awareness and sales

The challenge when developing a sales promotional print ad is that the objective is to create demand for a product or service.

A creative way to combine advertising and sales promotions is to focus the promotion around a product or brand attribute that most appeals to the target market.

The Gorton’s Fish brand’s sweepstakes combine its smart seafood tagline with its product attribute of crunchiness. The product line is called Smart & Crunchy and their target is families with fish stick loving children.

Combining the attributes of healthy, crunchy, and family the Gorton’s Smart and Crunchy sweepstakes… to win the ultimate family vacation, quickly conveys an integrated message and builds awareness.

Remember, the objective of a sweepstakes is to get the ad read and build awareness. This example is a pull strategy. The sweepstakes create value for the brand pulling customers into the brand franchise.

2. How Sales Promotion Advertising Creates Demand

When creating the strategy for a Sales Promotion print ad, think like a direct marketer. Always keep in mind an important differentiator:

sales promotion print ads

Sales promotion print ads should create immediate demand

General print advertising is designed to increase awareness.

Direct marketing advertising is measured on the basis of sales results achieved.

A push coupon, such as a price discount on a specific product or a target purchase amount, is specifically designed to create demand. Results should be traced back to the specific offer.

Conversely, a pull offer such as the Gorton’s Fish Smart and Crunchy sweepstakes is designed to create brand awareness among a specific target; families with young children.

Often a packaged goods sweepstakes ad will have a coupon offer included. The coupon can serve as a form of entry when the consumer fills in their information. (Remember sweepstakes law requires a no purchase necessary alternative way to enter).

Typical Objectives of a sales promotion ad are to:

  • Increase Sales
  • Encourage Repeat Business
  • Build Brand Awareness
  • Launch A New product

Promotional activities are meant to disrupt behaviors and change demand patterns for a product or service.

If you are using a sales promotion technique solely to create awareness, be sure to target consumers that are highly involved with the product category and disrupt their brand habits.

3. All Those Terms, Conditions and Rules

As a marketing person, I believe that the consumer must be provided with just enough detail to determine if they are eligible to take advantage of an offer.

sales promotion print ads

This retailer generated coupon keeps it simple with minimal T&C’s

Unfortunately the legal, operations management, finance and other departments or stakeholders involved seem to have an expanded definition of the detail required in promotional print ads.

The guidelines for sweepstakes and contest rules have become standardized. Working with a professional administer is often the best way to go.

Liability, when mistakes are made, could bankrupt a business. It’s best to have everything thought out and legally compliant to avoid a disaster.

Many advertisers have been directing readers to separate online sweepstakes or contests rules page for ads where space is limited, such as on Twitter. Doing this for a sweepstakes or contest print ad is not advisable, and may be in violation of some state requirements.

Coupon T&C’s (terms & conditions) vary by product and industry. There is often a balancing act between creative, marketing and everyone else who approves an offer. Focus on what the consumer, and often times the retailer, absolutely needs to know to redeem the offer.

If you are a small business mapping the customer experience and finding flaws or missing information that may have a negative impact is often a good practice before launching a promotion.

4. Target Your Audience By Publication

Your target consumer reads publications that appeal to their interest. Using psychographics, fine-tune the things that your target responds to.

sales promotion print ads

Use psychographics to highly target by interests

Create offers and media plans that will not only reach them but also motivates them to change behaviors or take an action.

An example of this is the recent Michelob Ultra ‘Ultimate Foursome Sweepstakes’. The promotion targets men who like to enjoy a refreshing adult beverage while bonding with their buddies on the links.

Featured in Golf publications that are able to verify male readership numbers, the offer is captivating.

The sweepstakes prize is the headline:

4 Pro Courses, 1 Private Jet, 3 Lucky Friends.

Any of those elements featured alone will grab the targets’ attention. Combined, they build awareness, position the brand, and motivate readers to think Michelob next time they get together on the golf course.

5. Make The Offer Stand Out With White Space

In all advertising and promotions today, less is more.

  • Just Do It
  • Got Milk

Brand slogans such as these no longer need a lot of explanation. These types of highly recognizable slogans act as an executional cue.

The approach immediately sparks interest from a Nike brand loyal consumer and/or among consumers that are highly involved with a product category in both the Nike and Milk examples

The mind can only absorb so much information. In the less than 2 seconds consumers will choose to either move on or make the decision to read your ad.

sales promotion print adsThe eye prefers to look at things that are not cluttered. In advertising and promotions, the use of white space, also called negative space, provides for better understanding and clearer communication of ideas.

Focusing on the offer is the primary creative objective of your sales promotion print ad.

Creativity is king when trying to incorporate subtle brand imagery, along with the necessary offer copy, to focus the readers’ eye and engage their mind.

In the featured coupon ad, the offer is front and center. A product attribute and image tie the message together using white space to direct the eye to the prize.

Coupons featured in retailer print ads and Free Standing Inserts (FSI) often have to stand alone to do the job. Space is a premium. Here the offer is truly King.

Using the principals of less is more in copy and product presentation is extremely important.  The reader should get all the details instantly.

Targeting the right opportunities is a process of answering the questions of who is the reader, are they aware of your brand and will they get the message to act, now.

6. Use Executional Cues And Get To It Fast

“It’s possible to make a simple FSI coupon more effective by choosing appropriate executional cues for advertising copy” was the finding of a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research.

Examples of an executional cue are background color, unique copy, brand loyalty associations or anything that may prove to be meaningful to the respondent.

An executional cue is a stimulus that creates an immediate emotional response. For example, brand loyalty executional cue is the Nike Just Do It tagline.

Through years of inspirational brand-building awareness campaigns, Nike just needs to use this tagline to create an immediate emotional response.

Use Color To Create A Reaction

Studies have found that ‘ads using high-value (lighter) colors are known to increase ad liking through the mediating effect of feelings of relaxation.’

vividly colored print ad

Use of color will either relax or excite the reader

Similarly, ads that use high-chroma (high-intensity) colors increase liking by generating excitement.” (Gorn, Chattopadhyay, Yi, & Dahl 1997)

For example “exposure to the color red can make consumers more aggressive, increase competitiveness and the desire to win because of increased arousal.”  (Bagchi $ Cheema, 2013)

When creating advertising and promotions that uses minimal copy to promote a sales promotional event choose your colors wisely.

What emotional response would you like to generate in the eyes of the consumer?

Clever Copy Creates Connections

The authors of the Journal of Marketing Research study gave the use of metaphor as an example of using copy as an executional cue.

They used an ad for Trident gum from the past as a good example. A trident Gum package featuring sticks of gum was pictured and the headline read:

Fight Cavities With A Stick

This juxtaposition of concepts is still funny today. It attracts attention and conveys the message in an instant.

Using a clever play on words is another way to attract immediate attention while highlighting the benefits of a promotional offer.

I once teamed up with several golf resorts in Arizona when I worked with a rental car company.

The deal we arranged: If you rented from us you got four greens fees for the price of three.

The headline we created: Enjoy The Three Play Fore Play Vacation

For our target, middle-aged golfers, the offer headline was intriguing on many levels.

Print Advertising is a declining phenomenon. This is a good thing if you consider there is less competitive print ad clutter diminishing your offer. Don’t blow the opportunity to create immediate demand for your product or service.  Be creative, get to the point quickly, and make a deal they can’t refuse.



Kevin Danaher

Kevin’s career spans over 30 years where he worked for New York Sales Promotion and Advertising agencies such as Ventura Associates, and BBDO developing promotional campaigns for some of the world’s leading brands including VISA, General Electric, Kraft/General Foods, Fidelity Investments, and Chrysler. Read More