Over the weekend, I ran across a phrase that really struck me: “visual noise.” Believe me, after 20 years of working in print advertising, no translation was needed.

Anyone who’s dealt with advertising is likely familiar with the concept. Newspaper ads, billboards, digital ads, you name it—if there is space, many advertisers feel compelled to fill it. As one long-ago customer remarked, “I didn’t pay all that money for blank space.”

There’s just one problem with that logic: nothing makes an ad less effective than jamming it top to bottom with information.

Take a look at these two images.

messy-office open space good advertising

Now imagine there is a meeting in five minutes, and you need to find a critical report. Which office would you rather search? It’s not just that the office on the right is better organized; it’s that there is literally less stuff junking up the space. The much-needed report will be easier to find because there is less stuff distracting you.

It’s the same with advertising: the less stuff in an ad, the more the potential customer can focus on the message.

Take your basic newspaper or magazine. Many people are not so much reading as scanning, looking for something to catch their eye. In all those crowded columns of text, nothing draws the eye more than blank space. If an ad is crammed full of stuff, the eye slides over it, and the advertiser has wasted valuable marketing resources. With a bit of blank space, you’ve won half the battle: getting the viewer to notice your ad.

Now say you’re driving down the highway at 70 mph or browsing online. What kind of outdoor advertisements will grab your attention? Likely it will be the ones with the simplest messages and cleanest designs. When it comes to getting attention for your outdoor and digital ads (for all advertising, really), space sells.

Take a look at these 100 brilliant print ads compiled by Creative Bloq and notice how many employ blank space and/or simple messaging.

If you ever need an ad, remember less truly is more. And to back me up, here are quotes from a famous artist and one of the world’s most famous architects:

“To simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” — Hans Hofmann

“Space is the breath of art.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

About Heather Carroll

Heather Carroll joined the Agency in 1996 and is involved with nearly every aspect of copywriting and content development, including print, PR, television, radio, digital and social media. She graduated from Pensacola Junior College with honors and went on to attend the University of West Florida. She has 20 years’ experience as a copywriter/editor and project manager.

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