When Bigger Isn't Better — Getting Small Ads to Effectively Work for You

Small business owners in and around the Route 422 Corridor have multiple reasons for not running full-page ads in every publication that touches their target markets. Chief among them is usually budget, but there are other reasons that decision makers throughout the region might opt for smaller formatted display advertisements. Perhaps they’re testing a campaign, testing a publication or testing display advertising in general. Maybe they’re stretching their reach in multiple publications or opting for better frequency. Whatever the reason—companies of all sizes should be as proficient at advertising in small spaces as they are with the big, blank canvas of a full page.

Some campaigns attempt to retrofit a campaign message into multiple sizes but this doesn’t always work so effectively, especially when a campaign is based on a landscape format and the small size ad space available is portrait shaped or vice versa. It’s also usually more effective to rethink the message in smaller spaces rather than to cram your hundred pound campaign into a two-pound ad space.

I have a dear old friend who was a sizzling hot copywriter during Philadelphia's advertising heyday. To this day he happens to be a genial humorist and a relatively famous voice on the area’s FM airwaves but back then he was also the king of writing tiny ads for some of Philly’s hottest agencies. “I still remember how the ads of my youth captured me, pulled me in, made me look and remember,” he’d reminisce to me before going into great detail, describing the little ads that helped shape his career... Tortured By Warts? and a phone number. You Can Be Rich and a post office box. These tiny ads made an impression on a young copywriter and on countless of consumers whose scanning eyes were stopped on the page.

In fact, small display ads can generate a greater return on your investment than almost any other type of advertising and your company can utilize smaller ads in a variety of media. For example, we often achieve profitable results using the same small ads by running them on:

• Publications - run as fractional display ads in magazines and newspapers.

• Web Sites - posted as banner ads and in email newsletters.

• Direct Mail - printed on postcards and sent to targeted mailing lists.

• Email - added as a “signature” to the bottom of email messages.

These tiny advertisements don’t usually provide enough space to generate sales directly, however, the message generates interest and inquiries from prospects seeking more information or to generate visitors to your store or website where sales can be cultivated. You’re saving money on ad space that can be utilized to improve your Internet presence and close sales more effectively. As long as you think of the effective small ad as a low cost mechanism to get your target to take the next step you’ll be happy with the results.

When you and your team are developing smaller display ad treatments for insertion into the Route 422 beltway’s more popular publications keep some criteria in mind to make small ads a profitable tool for your company:


Choose only one service or product to promote and direct your little ad’s message to one targeted market. You can develop lots of smaller ads for your different offerings and target them to different markets in different publications, but each ad will be most effective when it promotes one product to one targeted market. Often you can saturate a market with repetitive ads - even running multiple ads in the same publication - say, Route 422 Business Advisor - for less than a single insertion of a full page, color ad.


Catchy, clever headlines are the most important part of the small ad. They capture attention and provide a compelling reason to read and remember your ad. The most effective headline clearly promotes your strongest benefit to readers in your targeted market. For example, “FREE SEAL COATING” will immediately attract the attention of Chester and Montgomery County homeowners and is likely the biggest benefit the paving company can offer. The fine print however will specify that the value-added benefit is only free with a paid paving job. Be creative with your headlines as they pack the punch in a small ad. For example, “FREE INDOOR POOL” as the headline for a roof repair company will make a lasting impression.


Supported by brief, clear body copy, your small ad will get noticed and read. It doesn't take a lot of design skill to layout a clean, small, copy-centric ad. Include a few power words to reinforce the benefit promoted in your headline. “Affordable Repairs! All Work Guaranteed!” could be used as body copy to reinforce the sample headlines above. End your body copy by telling the reader exactly how to respond to your ad. Keep it simple and make it easy. For example, “Call  TODAY for RESULTS tomorrow!”


The “media plan” with a small ad campaign is nearly as important as the message. Endeavor to continually increase the number of responses to your ad. Keep testing different headlines, different body copy, and different media. Even minor changes in your ad can yield new results. Responses to small ads can jump dramatically after simply changing the font. Remember that responses could also fall off by making the same change. Small ad campaigns are all about continual testing, improvement and constant repetition. If you can secure the same position in every issue of a publication that helps reinforce your message as well.

Often times VFC codes ads for clients so that we can measure the results of specific ads and specific publications. When you receive a lead from a small ad ask the customer for the code and you’ll develop a simple metric for tailoring a successful small ad campaign.

Of course, I am not advocating the ceasing of your large display ad campaigns that are presenting offers, cultivating sales and educating your audience but, with the added power of smaller ads, you can afford more reach into more regional markets and that big trend is what companies of all sizes from Boyertown to Berwyn are after with small ads.