The Print Advertising Message

The print advertising media are composed of books, newspapers, magazines, journals, posters and fliers. Essentially, a copy for print advertisement is made up of five main components, each of which plays specific roles in the communication process and supports the central idea of the advertisement. The components of a print advertising copy are the headline, sub-headline, body copy, slogan and signature. The illustration component of the advertisement makes the sixth element of the message. Therefore, a print advertisement is composed of six essential parts. Headline: The headline of a print advertisement contains the words in the leading position in the advertisement. It is the first part of the message that contains the central idea the advertisement is presenting. It refers to the leading words in the advertisement – the words that are read first or positioned to draw attention. It presents, explains or amplifies the central idea expressed in the illustrative aspect of the advertisement. It is arguably the most important element of the message as it is usually set in larger bolder types than other parts of the advert. Headlines perform the following functions:

  1. It attracts attention.
  2. It selects the target audience: It easily identifies the interest of the specific audience it targets. If the advert targets men, the headline must emphasise their interest, though it needs not alienate women.
  3. It stresses advertising care: The headline should show how the message intends to solve consumer problems.
  4. It must present a complete selling idea by summarizing the whole story in the message.
  5. It should promise the audience a benefit.
  6. It should present news of interest about the product it promotes. It should thus use words that imply newness such as new, now, suddenly, introducing, announcing, improved, etc.


Types of Headline

The following headline types have been identified advertising literature:

  1. News style headline: this attracts readers and tells them something that has not told or heard or known about the product. It is news worthy. Newspapers are noted for this type of headline. E.g New improved Elephant detergent.
  2. Declarative/Trumpet-blowing/Affirmative headline: this is a boastful statement which may not be supported by evidence of the product quality or relevant to the audience. E,g Toyota: The world cannot be wrong.
  3. Interrogative headline: this type raises curiosity. It goes with the question and this is done to attract the reader or the customer’s attention. E.g Know the latest car in town?
  4. Testimonial headline: this talks about endorsement by prominent people. Celebrities, opinion leaders or famous names are used to demonstrate or endorse a product’s use so as to give it credibility. APCON (2012) however says the endorsement must be real. E.g Jay Jay Okocha in Pepsi advert.
  5. Challenging headline: here, a challenge is thrown at the audience in order to attract them E.g. A trial will convince you.
  6. Commanding headline: this variety of headline is affirmative or positive in nature. The customer is here urged to do something concerning the product or service. E.g. test and discover new opportunities.
  7. Emotional headline: it appeals to sentiment, pity or emotions in order to win readers E.g.

‘your dogs deserve kind treatment’, ‘if only we had taken a risk’, ‘The child also has a rights’ 8. Educational or Advisory headlines: Here, readers are counseled or advised with emphasis on the advantages of a product/service. E.g ‘when thirsty, take Sprite’, ‘when fever catches you, try Panadol’.

  1. Amplifying Headline/Sub-headline: This type supports the main headline and it helps in clarifying issues better. While the main headline is upper case/caps, the sub is in upper and lower cases. E.g. MODERN PUBLIC RELATIONS: Theories and Principles.
  2. Association of real headline: It involves terms, concepts, words phrases and expressions which appeal to people easily as a result of their familiar nature and awareness of them. E.g. ‘GULDER: The ultimate’; ‘Live and lets live’; ‘Harp for Happiness’; ‘Bic: your write choice’.
  3. Selective headline: In this type of headline, a segmented target audience may be invited to patronize a product/service. E.g ‘for mothers only’, ‘attention teenagers’.

Other headline types are indirect headlines, slogan headline, quotation headline, split headline, throwaway headlines, displayed copied caption headline, intriguing headline, humorous headline, topical headline, play-on-words headline, benefit headline and reversal and negative headlines.


Sub-headline: Also called sub-head or sub, it is an additional smaller headline that may appear below or above the headline. A sub-head above the headline is called a kicker, while that below the headline is called the rider. Some sub-heads appear in the body copy. Wherever the sub-head may appear, it is distinguishable by its appearance in smaller but bold type size of the headline. They are invariably larger than the body copy texts. The purpose of the sub-headline is to transmit key sales points fast. It is meant to stress important facts that may not be as memorable or dramatic as the headline information. The sub-head may take more space than the headline because it communicates more information than the headline. However, the sub-head should reinforce the headline and serve as the stepping stone to the body copy.


Body Copy: The body copy of a print advertisement tells the complete story. It is a logical continuation of the headline and sub-head. It also contains words that stimulate interest, desire and action. It is usually set in smaller type sizes than the sub-head. The text should relate to the campaign appeal and to the readers’ interest. It must explain the benefits the product has for the reader. It may concentrate on single benefit (the big idea) or several benefits as they relate generally to the target audience. The body copy is written in conversational style, as if one is talking to a known person. This will make the individual reader to feel the personal effect of the message. It is important to note the following in writing a good body copy:

  • Don’t beat about the bush
  • Avoid superlatives/clichés
  • Be truthful and make truth fascinating
  • Be enthusiastic and friendly

There are four basic elements of the body copy

  1. Lead-in paragraphs: After attention has been attracted by the headline, lead-in paragraphs transfer readers’ interest to product interest by opening the sales message.
  2. Interior paragraphs: These provide proofs for claims and promises. The key to interior paragraph is credibility. The proofs may come in form of research, testing, usage or guarantee
  3. Trail close: This part of the body copy urges readers to make purchase/buying decision before they get bored.
  4. Close: The close asks readers to do something and tells them how to do it. This is the part of the print advert where sale is made or prompted. The close can be direct or indirect. It can range from subtle suggestion to direct command. The final purpose of a close is to reinforce the readers’ positive thoughts concerning the product/service.


Types of Body Copy

Experts have identified 12 body copy types

  1. Emotive body copy
  2. Factual hard-selling body copy
  3. Factual educative body copy
  4. Narrative body copy
  5. Prestige body copy
  6. Picture and captive body copy
  7. Dialogue and monologue
  8. Gimmick body copy
  9. Reader and editorial style body copy
  10. Testimonial body copy
  11. Quotation body copy
  12. Back selling (black integration)


Illustrations: These are the pictorial/diagrammatic components of the advertising copy, which include pictures, drawings, paintings, graphs, etc. It is often argued that pictures tell stories faster than words. Pictures are essential parts of a print advertisement which must be displayed in such a way that they enhance the visual appeal of the message. In a way, pictures also adorn the copy and play important roles in the catching attention. Drawings are part of illustrations through they should be avoided except in advertisements targeted at children. Generally, illustrations, especially pictures give credibility to advertising messages.


Slogan: otherwise called themelines, slogans are short memorable expressions that encapsulate the theme of an advertising campaign. They are standard expressions used continuously in advertising and promotion to aid memorability or recall. Arens et al (2008: 422) say slogans serve two main purposes in advertising: “to provide continuity to a series of advertisements in a campaign and to reduce advertising message strategy into a brief repeatable and memorable statement. Examples of campaign slogans used in Nigeria are ‘MTN…Everywhere You Go’;

‘Glo…The Grandmasters of Data’; ‘Trophy…The Honourable’; ‘Guiness…Made of More’;

‘First Bank…You First’; ‘FCMB…My Bank and I’.


Signatures: signatures in print advertisements are special designs of the advertiser’s name or product that show individuality and provide quick recognition at the point of purchase. Branding is a major signature that differentiates an advertisement from the other and this is what advertising is all about: you must not be advertising soap, but Lux soap for instance. The signature element includes the name, logo, special design of the company or product’s name, trademarks and seals – special awards given to a product by a standard association or professional body.

All elements in the advert structure discussed above have different typefaces, style and point sizes.


Generally Guidelines in Writing Print Advertising Copy

  1. Make sure all components of the advert – the lettering, illustration, colour, typeface etc. – get the target attention.
  2. Ensure that your headline makes people to want to read more; it must be captivating.
  3. Give the target audience reasons in the body copy to make them to desire or want that product/service you’re advertising.
  4. Provide them with additional reasons to compel them to seek that product/service at the close of the copy.
  5. Ensure that you give individual identity – product differentiation/ branding. This is better done by adequately emphasizing the brand’s name.
  6. Note that an advert can’t force the reader to buy the product/service yet, it can convince them to do so.
  7. Always bear it in mind that with the print advert, the consumer is at liberty to decide how long to spend with the message for the print advert can be studied again and again. This is unlike broadcast commercials. For the broadcast, once the message is transmitted, it is finished.


Specific guidelines-writing print advertising copy

The following are some tips to guide beginners in writing advertising copy:

  1. Have a headline that contains the brand’s name, brand benefit and news (know that at least 80% of newspaper readers read only the headlines.
  2. A headline should be short. Heads not more than 20 words have been known to really sell.
  3. Body copy should be written in a warm and personal style. It should be like a message to a friend or a loved one.
  4. Use words that sell e.g Now, New, Introducing, Latest arrival, New improved, A new breakthrough, etc.

Avoid monotony – don’t use only one type or fount.

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