Bad print ads are everywhere. From magazines and billboards, to EDDM postcards and posters, we’ve all seen print ads that cross the boundaries of good taste and design. As a printing company, we’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe.
Don’t think that only inexperienced businesses make bad print ads either. Creating them can and will happen even to the best of us. Even top ad agencies have occasionally been remiss, delivering print advertisements that don’t seem to account for the audience or the restrictions of the medium. It’s easy enough for any one person to have the wrong idea. It’s hard to believe though. that many of the bad print advertisements below had to be approved by more than one person.
This collection of bad print ads isn’t just so we can have a laugh or feel good about ourselves. Seeing how others failed provides us with an opportunity to see how we can improve our own work.
1.) Tito Meyer, attorney-at-law
Let’s start with something subtle. This billboard ad actually does kind of work. Where it does fall flat is the execution. The font and color choices could use some work, and the text alignment is off. If the only change they made was to set the middle text for right align, this ad would be much improved. But they might be better off going with a totally different idea to begin with.
2.) Giga Naturally
Lots of things going on in this brochure. The vines in the background are the worst offender though, making the text difficult to read. A more thoughtful layout would have allowed them to retain the vine if they wished and still have a readable brochure.
3.) Minnesota Office of Ombudsman for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities
Yes, the header image could be improved, the fonts could be better, and the picture could look less like a regular stock photo. But the biggest error here is the highlighted hyperlinks, which you wouldn’t really be able to click on a printed brochure.
4.) Bad Boy Buggies
There’s a lot going on in this EDDM postcard. You can tell there was at least some effort to make the buggies and the text stand out, but ultimately there’s no balance, no dynamics and no compelling reason to read through this.
5.) Carpet RX Louisville
Source: Carpet RX Louisville
This company has thankfully rebranded since they put out this EDDM postcard. Nearly everything about this postcard is wrong, from images, to the clutter, to the the almost painful text color combinations.
6.) 1st Bank
Source: Bad Ad Weekly
Like we said earlier, bigger businesses are also guilty of producing bad print ads.This example isn’t necessarily bad per se, but it seems to try a bit too hard to be clever. The tagline “worry less about your mortgage and more about your free time” was potentially powerful, but it’s pitifully underplayed. Would you even bother reading the copy in the middle?
7.) Unknown booze delivery service
Source: College Humor
We’re not really judges of what’s funny or not funny. But given how sensitive a topic substance abuse is, there might be a better way to do this
Source: Bad Ad Weekly
It’s clever. But then again, it’s still a bad print ad. It does not really reach into what makes Coca-cola special. It seems more like an ad pitch than it does an actual advertisement.
9.) Do it Best Razor Blades
Not a print ad exactly, though the same principles apply. This one is a bit more difficult given that Do It can’t really change its brand name to accommodate one product that it doesn’t even necessarily specialize in. How should the packaging look? Comment below.
It’s not clear if this was intentionally a visual in-joke alluding to a well-known dictator, but it always helps to have a pair of fresh eyes go over your work before printing. It might very well save you from having to explain something like the ad above.
11.) Marriott Hotel
Occasionally there’s nothing technically wrong with a bad print ad. But sometimes the entire premise of a promotion has to be dismissed. It’s doubtful any marketing department or ad agency could have saved such a disastrous idea.
Source: Bad Ads Weekly
Would you be able to tell that this flashlight (torch, if you’re from the intended market for this) was supposed to be a pint of Guinness? Maybe yes, maybe no. Ideally print ads should be somewhat more obvious than this.
13.) Azure Urban Resort Residences
Source: Azure Urban Resorts Facebook
The tagline might be racy, but conceptually it’s fine. However you could probably get rid of Paris Hilton and about 90% of the text and you’d have an ad that is not only stronger and makes more sense, but more aesthetically pleasing as well. No offense to Paris and Paris fans intended.
14.) Du Pont Cellophane
Source: Odd Ads
It’s kind of cute, but the idea of suffocating babies in cellophane probably wasn’t the best one to be giving anyone, regardless of the era. Incidentally, DuPont no longer makes cellophane.
15.) Kirin Beer
Source: Bad Ads Weekly
You have to wonder why they even bothered to use a tagline. The “Beer at its Purest” tagline really is what Kirin uses, but in this context it doesn’t really draw you in. It’s just bland and boring all around.
Source: Business Insider
The Reebok rebrand a couple of years back really threw off a lot of its older brand advocates. It seemed that it wanted to be more than just another sports brand, to one that really takes “fitness” seriously. Unfortunately, they seemed to have implied that unrestrained egotism really is at the core of the fitness movement. Being a fit jerk isn’t something most people want to be.
Source: Runner’s Web
This is much more acceptable in my opinion than the Reebok ad, but I suspect it followed an earlier trend set by Apple’s grammatically incorrect “Think Different” and the US Army’s “Army Strong”. But “Find Your Strong” sounds neither colloquial nor snappy, making this particular bad print ad less than it could have been.
18.) Seven Clans Casinos
What do the images in the middle even contribute to this bad print ad? Seven Clans Casino’s ad is much more comparable to the less great small business print ads. The font, outdated looking gradients, and low quality images contribute to a forgettable ad that’s hard to like.
19.) Chase & Sanborn Coffee
This overtly sexist ad hearkens back to a less enlightened era, where men could openly treat women like objects. Fortunately we live in better times, right?
What makes a bad print ad?
In nearly all the examples, it seems that there was little or no regard for the people who might actually see the ads. They wasted the reader’s time, offered no excitement, lacked believability, or were simply in bad taste. That is supposing they were attractive enough to catch attention in the first place. Even the ads that attracted attention often offered a poor call-to-action. Some ads seem to have been made to impress other advertisers rather than get customers.
These and other ads like them demonstrate two things:
- Even the biggest players in the advertising game can get it wrong.
- Technical aptitude is no substitute for understanding your customers.
What causes agencies to create bad print ads? Comment below.
Arthur Piccio is a feature writer and subject matter expert for the PrintPlace Blog. In his spare time he studies guitar and writes about goats.