How to make a timeless ad

Simplicity may be central to this ad for The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association but it’s full of visual nuances, turning a good ad into a truly great one, says Paul Belford

Some great ideas are so blindingly obvious (sorry), you wonder why no one had thought of them before. This ad about guide dogs is one such example. Is it possible to do a better press ad for this client? I doubt it. But it’s not just the idea – the execution is faultless as well. In fact, despite it’s deceptive simplicity, there are at least 15 reasons why this ad is truly great.

1. It’s a striking, simple, utterly relevant, visual shot by a great photographer, Peter Lavery. It communicates in a second.

2. The headline is clever in a kind of understated way, complementing and perfectly underlining the visual.

3. The body copy is equally good. Beautifully structured, yet not too long, inviting us to read on and elegantly leading to a call to action.

4. The headline stands out because it’s in caps and at the top of the text block. But it doesn’t stand out too much because that would ruin the effect and ‘colour’ of the single text block. And it would be expected. And conventional. And boring. The headline is actually a smaller point size than the body copy. Unusual to say the least. And clever.

5. The headline is perfectly justified, creating a strong ‘top’ to the unified text block, helping all the text beneath it ‘glue together’ into a rectangle.

6. The branding and address lines at the end of the copy are also justified, helping to emphasise the rectangle shape, just like the longest lines of body copy.

7. Like the headline, the branding and address line are handled in a way that seamlessly balances with the body copy. Squint at the page and you’ll see what I mean. The ‘grey lines’ balance well despite the different sizes.

8. The choice of typeface is appropriate. A timeless, legible serif. There 
is nothing trendy about this art direction. So in nearly 30 years, it hasn’t dated one bit. And in another 30 years, it still won’t look dated. This gives the communication an inherent ‘quality’. It looks like it’s important and worth reading.

9. In the photograph, the colour of the dog closely matches the colour of the man’s skin. Just enough for a visual double take.

10. But the dog’s eyes are not seamlessly retouched onto the man’s face. A simple rectangular panel containing the eyes seems more effortless and powerful (and avoids the tricky retouching issue of merging dog fur with human skin).

11. The styling of the photograph matches a grey sweater with the man’s grey hair, creating a subtle, subliminal balance.

12. The background of the photograph is dark, accentuating the face.

13. The image is framed by a fairly generous white border, making it seem valuable and important. Like a framed art print. This also draws attention to the fact that the image shape and text block shape match each other.

14. In fact, there’s an abundance of white space. Allowing the two elements to really stand out. Bizarrely, much more so than if text and image were bigger.

15. Where’s the logo? Do you miss it? No. Not necessary. Why add clutter and make the page just another ad, diluting the impact?

This would of course still be a good ad with a plonky, more conventional layout. But it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful. The visual nuances described above turn this very good ad into a truly great one. It’s what good art directors do. Y’know … use their eyes.

Paul Belford is the founder of London-based agency Paul Belford Ltd. His work can be found at paulbelford.com and he tweets from @belford_paul

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