Top 10 tips for effective posters

I love posters as an advertising medium. It is a great way to do outdoor advertising. It is relatively cheap, it can have a very high impact, and it gets lots of continuous impressions due to travel patterns of people. I have commissioned a lot of poster designs to various graphic designers and advertising agencies. In that process, I learned some rules about effective posters, and I’d love to share them with you. So here they are, the top ten tips for effective posters.

1. Advertising is for selling. It is not to please yourself, your designer, or your company.

I got this from a book, Ogilvy on Advertising. So when you make a poster, the question is: Is this poster (design) the most effective way of selling?

2. Show, don’t tell.

Think of a poster as a comic/cartoon with only one frame. You have that rectangular box to make an impression, and that impression has to be swift and fast. The image is what matters most, not the words.

3. Not too many words

So in that swift moment of passing by, people can only read a few words. Don’t include many words. Limit it to about five and remember rule #2.

4. One message

Limit yourself to one message and one message only. Sure, your product has lots of benefits. Sure, your exhibition has so much to show. Choose the one with the most appeal. One message simplifies and makes what you are selling much clearer.

5. Clear sender

Who is sending the message? Sure, you have a nice product, but who is it from? Make your logo big enough that people can instantly see who it is that is sending.

6. What, where, and when?

What is your product? Sometimes, it just is not clear. A poster for mountain gear in a mountainous environment can look like a poster for Norway. Where can I buy it? Where can I find more information? When does the event take place? Maybe this information that should not be placed at the center of the poster, but if someone is interested, it is really handy to have that info on your poster.

7. Product benefits first with the product itself second.

Whatever you sell, most people buy a product for the benefits it gives them.  If you are an airline, is it better to sell the cramped, economy-class seats where you sit in for 12 hours or the beaches of Thailand. It is not the flight you buy, but the destination. This doesn’t mean that you cannot place the product central. But first think of the benefits you want to communicate in one image and then, secondly, about the product.

8. Visible from afar

Make sure your poster is visible from far away. A very easy method to test this is to put it on your screen and just walk away. At what distance is it still readable/visible? You can also make a picture of a poster frame on the street with different distances and superimpose your own poster with Photoshop on that frame. I wrote an article on this subject a while ago on another website.

testing outdoor advertising

9. Don’t let a face look at you.

I have read some research somewhere (and really I cannot find the source anymore) that a face on a poster that looks at you distracts from the message. It grabs the attention, but people keep staring at it and don’t see read or see the rest of the poster. This does not mean you cannot put people on posters, but they should kind of look away, not directly at you.

10. Location, location

Location does matter for poster effectiveness.  The more traffic there is and, specifically, people who take the same route over and over again raises the impressions per person. Also check the demographics of the location, is your target group living in the area you are placing your outdoor advertising.


To end it all I just wanted to share two movie poster who are iconic and I think fit all of the criteria above.




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