The Technique of Advertising

Date Published: 
September, 1940
Original Author: 
Paul Bryan
Mountain View Mausoleum, Pasadena, CA
Original Publication: 
1940-1941 Cemetery Handbook & Buyers' Guide

Mr. President, Members of the ACOA and Guests:

Of the economics of advertising there is already too spacious and too specious a literature. Therefore, I shall not burden you with my remarks about its extraordinary increase within recent years, its blessings, or even enter into the controversy as to whether it tells the truth, or, telling the truth, serves a useful social purpose. My concern is not with its ultimate validity, scarcely at all, indeed, with its content, but with its form.

"What you are," said Emerson, "shouts so loudly I cannot hear what you say" and often today, "What you say", thinks the reader of an advertisement, "is not nearly as important as the way you say it".

Layout is the "way you say it". Layout is the means by which adver¬tising secures its readers, creates first the favorable impression which is advertising's prime aim, and achieves the penetration of the message into the mind of the prospect.

Layout is the art of advertising's appearance. Layout determines how the bare bones of advertising's verbal message may be created into the full-blown personality of the persuasive advocate. Often, indeed, layout is in great measure the message itself. Few are the products or services which have so definite a selling message, so factual a "reason to buy", that put into words arid printed baldly without benefit of layout, it could be depended on to have a potent effect.

In the discussion of the technique of advertising layout, I shall include the following subjects under separate divisions - Attention Value, Bal¬ance, Movement, Emphasis, Unity, Specific Appeal, Simplicity, White Space and Continuity. Lettering and typography could properly be included, but I have decided that they themselves are subjects so broad that it would be better to treat them separately. In addition, special attention will be devoted to some of the problems peculiar to newspapers and direct advertising pieces in view of the particular interest in these media.

In order for an advertisement to accomplish its mission successfully, it must first attract attention. Attention-arresting qualities are secured in various ways, and each advertising message should suggest its own appro¬priate means for the accomplishment of this. Strong contrasts, color, un¬usual treatments of interesting headings and illustrations, generous amounts of white space or a blond handling of the entire layout, are a few of the ways in which attention may be claimed.

Naturally, a newsy, unusual or sensational statement contained in the headline itself will draw attention, if it is forcefully and interestingly presented. The recent use of bleed edges has attracted attention to their messages on account of the freshness of the styles. It should be remem¬bered, however, if all advertisers should adopt this style, its attention get¬ting qualities would be greatly diminished.

I believe the reader of advertising is inclined to respond to a more dignified approach from the advertiser. A product which may have real merit is not given the opportunity to create a good impression when brought to the attention of the reader with too much rough and ready flippancy.

Good judgment must be exercised in the choosing of methods for gaining the reader's attention, and it should always be borne in mind that it would be a mistake to allow any attention-getting device or style to become so important that it becomes the sole interest, or so powerful that the mind of the reader will be distracted from the advertiser's message.

The layout of an advertisement, when well balanced, is pleasing to¬ look upon, and invites interest because all elements have been brought into a nicely related adjustment. If a composition is unbalanced, the lay¬man may not be able to tell you what it is that disturbs his eye, but he is conscious of something wrong and turns away with an unpleasant reaction.

There are two kinds of balance, formal and informal. Formal balance is arrived at by placing each element squarely on an imaginary central vertical line or by duplicating exactly each mass, shape and line that appear on one side of this vertical in a corresponding position on the other. The result is perfect symmetry.

Decorative design, which consists of the regular repetition of a motif, has formal balance as a basis. A number of the, early religious painters, notably Raphael, employed this type of compositional balance in their pictures, thus bestowing on their work a quality of dignity and formality considered to be in harmony with the subject portrayed. The advertiser, wishing to get these same qualities into the advertisement, will choose this form of arrangement as best suited to his purpose, and any advertiser making a statement of a conservative character will find this type of bal¬ance desirable in the presentation of his message.

Usually in picture making and advertising as well, the monotony of the strictly formal is to be avoided. A much wider scope for original and ingenious compositions is offered through the use of informal balance. Variety, informality and the element of surprise, which are characteristics of informal balance, make its use more often advisable. With it the dar¬ing and unusual effects so frequently required by the advertiser can be achieved.

Informal composition consists of balancing the elements over an imaginary central vertical, but in an unsymmetrical manner. For example, a large or heavy mass placed near the center may be balanced by a small one placed on the other side of center, but much farther removed from it.

The movement in a composition has much to do with the success of the advertisement, and it is one of the most important features of adver¬tising design. Its control leads the eye from unit to unit, in the exact sequence desired by the advertiser, moving the reader's eye from the focal center - strongest unit in power of attraction - through the advertise¬ment in a smooth, natural way, thus accomplishing a registration of the complete story.

It is obvious that the layout man must be careful not to place an element so that its movement will lead the eye out of the advertisement or into a neighboring display, yet this mistake is often made. From the time a young child is taught to read, his eye is trained to travel from left to right. This is a practice which should be remembered and considered when designing the layout. It is usually better not to place a disturbing element immediately to the left of an important unit, over which the eye must stumble before it can get at the real interest. It should always be made as easy as possible for the eye to grasp smoothly and quickly, and in proper sequence, the real essentials of the advertisement in the shortest space of time.

Emphasis is necessary in advertising, as in all the arts. Through emphasis, the advertiser stresses some vital element which quickly registers on the eye an important part of the story. Through its use, a monotonous appearance is prevented. The elements that will compose the advertise¬ment must be studied and their relative importance analyzed to decide upon the vital point to be brought first, or most forcefully, to the reader's attention.

After this is done, it may be emphasized either by the use of illustrations, panels, hand-lettering, large type, white space, blacks, prominence of position, color, or by combinations of these mediums. Some character¬istic of the product, or the advertising idea itself, may possibly suggest the method to be employed.

Underscoring of type to stress certain points is not generally practiced in advertising. The skillful advertiser resorts to other methods more at¬tractive and just as effective, such as special lettering, a change of type face and style, color and by other means. The underscoring of an occa¬sional word is in good taste if a real necessity for it exists.

Real emphasis is obtained, whatever the means employed, through sparing use. Only one element or thought should dominate. Should the plan for an advertisement seem to be composed of two dominating inter¬ests, neither of which can be subordinated to the other, it will be more sensible for the advertiser to plan two separate advertisements.

Unity is a quality injected into every good layout. A composition without unity seems to be falling apart, and produces a spotty effect. Unless compactly arranged, a jumpiness results; and the reader soon tires of the effort required in deciding which unit to look at or read next. This inde¬cision is brought about by too much space or air between pictures, head¬ing, type and logotype.

Unity of related elements of a layout must also be watched. It would be unwise to separate too widely with space or other units a heading, sub¬heading and text, all of which are required to be read in unbroken, sequence to complete the advertiser's message, to the extent that the trend of thought contained in the three would be broken.

The specific appeal of the advertiser's message will, to a large extent, affect the physical dress of the layout. When a product is being featured which appeals only to the feminine world, the layout should be designed in a manner that will appeal to the feminine mind and tastes. This will be accomplished through delicacy, refinement, decorative qualities and various other means. When it is the purpose of the advertisement to interest the masculine world, stronger colors, blacks and heavier type are appropriate.

The style of hand-lettering, if used, will be affected by the special appeal of the product, and a line of words in a delicate script would seem to be more appropriate if directed to women than at men.

In many cases, aside from the masculine and feminine appeal, some quality of the product will suggest whether or not the layout should be strong and black, or delicate and white.

As astoundingly large number of compositions in all branches of pub¬licity lack that simplicity of arrangement so vital to the success of adver¬tising. In too many instances an utter disregard of the value of this element is indicated, and in some cases, it actually appears that a delib¬erate attempt has been made to see how complicated and confusing the layout can be made.

A complicated layout will surely hinder, if not destroy, the successful delivery of an advertising message. It is the advertiser’s job to see that this does not happen.

The factor which usually contributes most to the destruction of sim¬plicity is that too many individual units or spots are permitted to appear separately in the layout, each with its individual eye appeal and interest. While each unit may be necessary to the full delivery of a complete story, it is not necessary to allow each to appear singly and as scattered items in the composition.

Blank paper too often is considered as merely space to be filled. Because of the high cost of this space some advertisers feel it necessary to fill it to the very corners with type and pictures, just to get full value for their money. This is a grave mistake. While it is the material upon which the advertising message is printed, it can be used as a very important part of the advertising story itself. There are times when white space can actually say more than printed words and say it more rapidly and forcefully.

For attention value, white space is as powerful as solid black. A small unit surrounded by a large white field will gain more emphasis than a large one in a crowded setting.

The advertiser should realize that white space is one of the most valuable materials with which he has to work, and perhaps no other has so many uses. If skillfully applied it will flood-light the layout and give the advertisement the distinction of aristocracy, spectacular interest, refine¬ment, beauty, legibility, individuality, and it is, moreover, a power for attaining continuity in a campaign.

Continuity of style in advertising stamps the manufacturing concern and its product with a certain definite personality and identity which pre¬vails throughout the entire campaign. There is a greater possibility of recalling clearly to the mind of the reader a series of advertisements collectively if there is family resemblance than if each individual advertise¬ment is unrelated in its physical dress to the others.

The advertiser has a real opportunity to use his creative ability and ingenuity when devising the element of continuity for a campaign. Among the important methods of giving family resemblance are by ingenious arrangement of units; by rendering or treating illustrations n an unusual style; by hand-drawn lettering; by the use of distinctive typography; by panels or odd shapes; unusual perspective; the distinctive use of white space, or of blacks; by borders, by the use of color; and by the use of photography.


The vast use of printing in modern life has not reduced the importance and the widespread use of hand-lettering. In fact, lettering is relatively in greater demand at the present time than it has been during any period since the invention of printing. And it is important, for lettering is today one of the great creative forces in advertising art.

The use of hand-lettering is a valuable means of giving emphasis and artistic distinction to the advertisement. It may be designed to express dignity, refinement, style, grace, delicacy and formality. Movement, power, common sense, jazz, antiquity and many other feelings and effects may be expressed if the advertiser chooses the right styles. But, like every other item that is employed in an advertisement, it should serve a definite purpose, and the decision to hand-letter a heading or slogan should be based on a good reason.

The advertiser should always guard against the use of styles of hand drawn letters that are complicated and difficult to read. When legibility is destroyed they are absolutely worthless regardless of the high degree of craftsmanship they may possess.

Type can do many of the things that lettering does; more things every year, in fact, as new faces appear with a freedom and feeling and color older type designers never dreamed of, and as typographers grow more artistic and more able. This is eminently natural, because, so far as the individual letter is concerned, type is lettering in its most polished, fin¬ished form. But as soon as one letter is put next to another, type's short¬comings and limitations begin to appear. Type is rigid, and bound by its mechanical needs. Of the myriad gradations of spacing between letters necessary to maintain evenness of color as the two juxtaposed letters vary, or as letters are spaced out to fill a line, type can offer only a pitiable few.

In display, in the publicity that beats about the headline, the limitation of type is often glaringly apparent. Here lettering alone can have the final perfection of balance and color, of character and design. Lettering alone can soar or "punch", whisper or shout, point the moral and adorn the tale.

Good type is frequently better than poor lettering; excellent type is often quite adequate where only a certain level of effect is sought. But the very essentials of good lettering are themselves reasons for not using type and no type can approximate the effect of good lettering at its best. Comparing type with lettering for advertising display is something like comparing photographs with drawings or paintings. Photographs are often lively, artistic and perfect in their class. They tell their story and have their excellent uses. But a good painting, or a good drawing, has some subtle artistic element, arouses some response in the human heart that the best of photographs can never hope for. No product of any camera will ever replace Rembrandt or Michelangelo, Rockwell Kent or Norman Rockwell - and type will never replace good lettering.


Good advertising typography is intended to convey specific and coher¬ent ideas, and it attracts attention by its treatment. It is expressive of the product, appropriate to it, and' well suited to the development of the mer¬chandising idea; elements are emphasized in the order of their importance; the emphasized units and accents are balanced, and the entire arrange¬ment is orderly. When type meets these requirements, it has succeeded in fulfilling its mission in advertising.

All principles of composition, movement, balance, emphasis, unity and use of white space are applicable, though the layout consists wholly of type. An uninviting and monotonous appearance could easily develop in a solid page of advertising print, but these effects may be overcome by the use of bolder type in the proper places for emphasis; by combinations of words set in Roman and italic; by capital and lower case letters; changes in sizes, initial letters; interesting indentations and arrangements of para¬graphs; type ornaments and rules.

If type is set in measures that are too wide, the eye finds it difficult to read it with smoothness and ease. In reading, the eye consumes a certain amount of time in returning from the end of one line to the beginning of the next, and it is quite likely it will lose its way if the distance is too great. When this occurs confusion results. Through the breaks in the continuity of the thought, the reader is forced to labor and he is .almost certain to lose interest.

At this point I wish to remind you that the average person who looks at the advertisements usually will not read the text. It is, therefore, highly necessary that in the handling of the text type everything possible should be done to promote easy reading.

Nice proportion should be maintained between heading, sub-heading, and text. The balance of sizes as well as of color should be carefully considered. If the variance of type sizes is too great, the result will be detrimental to easy reading. Harmony should also be sought between picture and text, and this would be destroyed if a very small light face type were used with a large, black illustration.

Many type faces are available, each with its own individuality. In general, simple, legible types are best for body matter, and the more decorative faces for headings, sentences or phrases very short in length. It is usually better to use as few different type faces in an advertisement as possible. When several are used they should be harmonious in char¬acter.

The advertiser's main standbys are Caslon Old Style, Garamond Ken¬nerley, Cloister, Goudy Old Style, Cooper Black and Bodoni, although European type faces have had a prominent place in advertising typography during recent years, and the novelty afforded by the newcomers has, in many instances, been refreshing. Some of the most popular importations are Bauer Beton, Trafton Script, Futura and Signal.

The character of the layout will determine the style of initial to be used. If the composition is very plain, a swash or "stick up" initial will add a decorative touch. On the other hand, if the arrangement is ornate, a simple initial can often be used to advantage. The size of the initial should be determined by the size of the text type used. Ordinarily, it should be from two to five lines deep, and should fit closely so that there is no break between the initial and the remaining letters of the word.

Modern typography is sensible, simple, legible, colorful, and virile, with all, meaningless decoration omitted. It quickly and powerfully registers an impression through which the reader’s interest is aroused, and that is its primary function. In order to do this it must be legible; and no matter what other merits it may possess, if it is hard to read, it is worthless. Lucidity, clarity, and fitness are the qualities desired, and its execution calls for taste and skill.


While all the basic principles discussed previously apply equally to layouts for newspapers, magazines and direct mail pieces, there are, never¬theless, a number of factors distinctly peculiar to newspaper advertising that deserve special consideration. For in newspapers, unless very large space units are used, all advertisements must appear with many others. Therefore, the advertisement will more likely have severe competition in securing the reader's attention and interest. It is absolutely necessary, for this reason that the advertiser considers these competing interests and provides means for overcoming them. The other displays may be larger or smaller in size, stronger or weaker in contrast value, and each wages its separate battle for the reader's attention with varying degrees of success.

The advertiser has no means of knowing beforehand whether his care¬fully planned display, directed perhaps to the finer tastes of the dis¬criminating reader, may be surrounded by incongruous advertisements featuring insect exterminators, a deodorant, washing machines or corn plaster. He must attempt to anticipate such possibilities and endeavor to counteract the effect of neighboring advertisements in the physical aspect of his own composition. Only in this way can we reduce outside influences to a minimum. There are several methods which may be employed; the use of wide margins of white space; the use of borders or rules; the use of appropriate designs or ornaments advantageously placed; and if he thinks the other displays will probably be heavy with the use of blacks, he may provide contrast by giving his advertisement the opposite appear¬ance. The value of the latter method will, of course, depend to a large extent on the correctness of his guess.

The mechanical limitations of newspaper printing also bring added problems. Such a handicap, however, does not prevent excellent results when the layout, art work, typography, engravings and electrotypes are expertly prepared, and, if the final result is unsatisfactory, the fault does not usually lie entirely with the publisher.

When a number of advertisements appear together, the layout man must take particular care that each unit within the arrangement is so manipulated as to lead the eye into and hold the attention within the dis¬play as long as possible. If this is not done, the eye may actually be diverted into an adjacent advertisement, defeating the effort to give the reader a full registration of the story.

Illustrations to be used in newspapers are usually rendered in pen and ink or dry brush, since .the best printing results on newspaper are gen¬erally obtained with line plates, on account of the quality of the paper and inks used. Half-tone plates are used successfully if they are large, and the composition simple, and when coarse screens are used.

It is good practice to be reasonably generous with the size of type in newspaper advertising, in order to facilitate the speed of reading. Wide leading of type lines is favored also for this reason.


Designing the physical appearance for the various forms of direct advertising literature furnishes the layout man with practically unlimited opportunities for creating attractive designs. In preparing layouts for magazines and newspapers, the designer has the paper stock, methods of reproduction, printing processes, page size and shape of space all pre¬determined; while in planning direct advertising a much wider latitude for creative effects is offered in these respects. In direct advertising the layout man can himself decide or recommend the quality and color of the paper to be used, the size, shape and fold of the mailing piece, the method of reproduction and the number of shades of colors to be employed.

Illustrative letters, letterheads, announcements, catalogs, booklets, broadsides, house organs, envelope and package enclosures are the prin¬cipal forms of direct advertising literature, and all rules of good layout are to be applied to each. Each must assist in the sale of goods or serv¬ices by attracting interest and getting the message read, and by impressing what it says on the memory of the recipient. This will be accomplished best if the message is presented in a simple and graphic manner. The ap¬pearance and general character of the mailing piece will produce impres¬sions that will assist or hinder the business relations which it's expected to develop. The advertiser should keep in mind that the reader judges him by his advertising as well as by his product, and the good taste and fine appearance of the mailing piece will instantly suggest the real merit of a product.

Generally, in direct advertising, the copy need not be as concise as in the newspaper, since more space is usually available. Also, it can be as long as is thought necessary to build up a complete statement for the reason that there is more text to be read, however, it is essential that a careful selection of type be made, and that it be arranged and treated in a manner to make it interesting, legible, and inviting - despite its length.

Attention value is one of the primary requirements in all forms of direct advertising. Paper stock, layout, typography, hand-lettering, shape, fold, size and color prove effective allies in giving a mailing piece striking character. Originality, based on good taste and common sense in the use of these will enable the layout man to bring forth a mailing piece that is different from the ordinary run of printed messages and the more individuality it possesses, the better opportunity it has of gaining attention and delivering its message.

In conclusion, let me say that in my remarks today, admittedly more than was originally intended even though the surface of the subject mat¬ter has been but sketchily, examined, I trust I have at least shown that there are innumerable ways for the enterprising advertiser of hitting the nail on the head, which is always preferable to hitting the nail on the thumb.

From the publication:
“1940-1941 Cemetery Handbook & Buyers’ Guide”
ACOA 11th Annual Convention & Exposition
Hotel Statler, Buffalo, New York
September 8-11, 1940