Advertising can be frustrating to those of us on the "sell side". Frustrating because some advertisers get great results while others do not. Many elements impact results. Your brand and the level of awareness and trust, the economy, the product you are advertising, timing, positioning, frequency, etc. But the first place I start is with the advertisement.

Gallery marketing is a little different than other advertising because most galleries do exactly the same thing…. they show an image of a painting, put the name of the artist at the top of the ad and the name of the gallery at the bottom. It’s not terribly creative, but then again in most cases the name of the game is to sell THAT specific painting or artist.

The first principal of advertising is to ZIG when others ZAG. In other words don’t do the same thing everyone else does. Be different. But willing to be different and stand out may mean you have to think differently and that involves risk.

One advertiser recently told me his ads in another publication were not working. He said he had been advertising pretty much every issue for 20 years and he no longer got calls. He told me he was going to cancel his advertising and shift it to my publication. In spite of my urge to sell him advertising I told him not to cancel. He was shocked that I would not jump on his buying signal and the chance to take a shot at another magazine. I told him that indeed it was not their fault that he no longer got response. He had to assume responsibility. Twenty years is a long time… and a chance for people to be completely comfortable with the ads. What did I suggest? Though I meant this a little tongue in cheek… I told him "turn the upside down." The point is that people were so comfortable that he was always there, his ads had not changed (only the paintings) and people no longer responded therefore he needed to find a way to stand out. How? Do something different… different ad sizes, different design, and maybe even a non-traditional approach to the ads.

I’d like to see more galleries being creative, looking for interesting and entertaining ways to get their message across and sell paintings. It can still be done with taste but most of the ads in most of the publications are the same. Take a look at what QUESTROYAL did. Lou Selarno may be a genius. Many of his ads were two page spreads. On the left he had a giant antique photo of an artist and a bio on the artist. On the right was a painting from that artist and the gallery information. He was EDUCATING his reader, SELLING the historical value of the artist and therefore his ads looked different and stood out above the rest. Lou found a tasteful way to make fresh ads and be different.

What should every ad contain? Research indicates that people look at photos first. So the image of the painting and other photos are what get noticed. What do they look at second? Photo captions. EVERY PHOTO should have a caption and the caption should be informative and maybe even have a subtle sell message. Here’s an example of a photo caption: "This is the only painting of a ship known to have been painted by John Singer Sargent making it extremely rare and collectable." The sell message in this case is "rare and collectable."  Even the smallest photo should have a caption. If it is an interior shot it could be something like "XYZ gallery features 40,000 square feet showcasing over 500 pieces of art." That caption is inviting and a sell message and is a tool which most ads forget to use… a caption.

After the photo (or image of a painting) and the caption the next most important element is the headline. Your headline needs to give you a good reason to read the ad. It needs to be something I want to see as a reader. Most headlines in art gallery ads are the name of the artist. This is fine, but since every ad is the same it needs to be a powerful artist who will get attention… or a headline which is more compelling. For instance why not a headline about the artist like “The Rarest John Singer Sargent Painting." Or a headline about the benefits of the gallery like "Voted Best Gallery in


by Boston Magazine for 10 Consecutive Years."

What gets read after the headline? The SUB HEADLINE. This is a slightly larger block of copy which is over your main paragraph or begins your main paragraph. This should contain the SECOND most important message you want people to know.

I believe all ads should have a copy block. Because most of the focus in art ads is showing paintings you don’t have room for a lot of copy. But copy helps sell and is an opportunity to give some information about the artist, the painting and the benefit to the reader. It’s also a place to do some positioning of the gallery and a call to action.

Benefits are critical in advertising. What’s in it for me the reader? Look for ways to make the ads about THEM not about you. Meaning… what’s in it for them if they do business with you?

Call to action. Every ad should have one. Something as simple as "We welcome your phone calls or web site visits." By listing your phone we assume that is enough but there is evidence that an ad containing a call to action does increase response.

Logo and contact information need to be on everything. Logo biggest. Address and phone do not need to be too big. They eat valuable space and if people want that info it’s present but not obtrusive. The thought that people will call because the phone number is bigger is not proven. We do recommend that the web site and phone are easy to find so maybe slightly bigger type and bold. But no need to make these giant.

Type impacts ad results as well. Headlines should be dark colors on light backgrounds and light colors on dark. Contrast is important. Reversed type (White on a color) needs to be high contrast, a very easy to read font, and short copy blocks. Research indicates that about one paragraph with about five lines is the most anyone will read if the copy block is reversed. When using type make sure it’s big enough for your target audience. If it’s too big people won’t read it either. 9-12 point is about perfect.

Design the ad for the media you are using. The same ad will not work for all audiences. Every publication has a different audience. Though there is always some duplication each has a large number of unique readers and you need to make sure the ad reflects the readers. For instance well educated experienced art people are different that affluent people not educated in art. Or magazines that feature all contemporary art are different than those that feature only a style of art. All magazines have their own strengths but your ads need to be designed to fit their audience. Also keep age of audience in mind. Magazines with a lot of people over 50 need bigger type in the ads… and bigger still if the audience is 65 and above.

I believe every advertiser should have a description line under their logo. If people don’t know you this helps them understand what you are all about. Something like "19th Century European Art" or "Classic Bronze and Marble Sculpture."

Advertising is trial and error. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. Plus keep in mind that just because you don’t see instant feedback does not mean it’s not working. Each ad is an impression which builds awareness of your brand. Plus shelf life is an issue. We have had advertisers get calls from an issue over a year old.

Of course frequency of advertising and positions can impact ad results as well. People go through a process of adoption before they will do business with people. This is less true in some business categories and truer in others. People who buy art need to feel trust. If spending over $1000 they need to be able to know the business is established has a good reputation, can be trusted. After all they don’t want to buy frauds, copies or stolen works. Time and frequent impressions is the best way to overcome these issues. The more they see you the more they trust you.

It’s always advisable to get a second opinion. Show your ad to someone outside of your staff. Ask customers to evaluate the ad, ask the publications for their opinions. An advertiser recently asked me to evaluate his ads and I made about six major changes. He had not seen the problems until I pointed them out and once this was done it became clear.

There are many elements and any single element can impact results.