top of page

3 Tips for Effective Advertising

With three decades in adverting and media, the CEO and owner of GRAY shares her tips for creating the most successful ad campaigns.

By Shawn Williams

Advertising is not taboo.

The biggest brands in the world—think Prada, Coca-Cola, Apple—get plenty of earned editorial from news and features in mass media. From spotlights in Vogue or Forbes to product reviews from living room YouTubers, popular brands can always count on someone taking notice of their new releases. Still, as wildly successful and globally renown as these brands are, they continue to advertise. Advertising boosts any editorial that you're receiving and fills in the gaps between news cycles. It is the most effective way to share your latest products when and where you want, to control your messaging, and to consistently grow market reach.

As the founder and owner of GRAY, I have seen a lot of ads across our platforms over the years. Here are a few tips based on commonalities of the most successful ads on our channels.

One is Magic One stunning image is better than five, or even two. Content these days, regardless of platform, is rich and it comes at us in mass volume. The most effective way to make sure your ad has a chance to be taken in is to slow it down and simplify your message.

Design Within Reach living room with blush pink wall paint, light oak furniture, ivory upholstery

Design Within Reach does this really well. They ran a campaign in GRAY magazine recently (issue no. 61) featuring a beautifully styled sitting room with light oak and ivory furnishings set against blush pink walls. Natural light from tall windows highlighted the angles of the furniture. This was not an ad page that readers could skim past—it drew in our readers who spent time there, imagining themselves in this lovely space.

Limited Copy The less-is-more rule applies with text too, and for the same reason. You have less than a second to convince a viewer to consider your ad. Too much text can look like too much time and effort, which translates into an interruption rather than relevant information. An engaged viewer will go to your website, where you can load them up with additional info. Try one compelling headline and brief tagline or statement. You can also pare down on text by not listing the street address of your location(s).

luxury craftsmanship of kids bedroom, wood bunkbeds with ladder, sheer curtains, brown, gray, white, hallway with toys

Dowbuilt is a high-end contractor that advertises in GRAY magazine. They are so confident in their images, that they don't feel that additional words are necessary, and they are right. The images they choose for their ads are so provoking that they are viewed equal to editorial. (Shown above: GRAY, no. 60)

Be Where It Counts You need a diverse marketing strategy across all platforms. That said, you don't necessarily have to be everywhere. Large media outlets come with big audience numbers, just make sure those numbers make sense for your targeted audience.

I realize I'm biased here as a print publisher, but as far as the design sector goes, print needs to be part of this plan. For one, there is a real advantage for ads to stand out in a less crowded field as brands have more and more digital opportunities to round out their media buys. Second, print draws in an already captive audience that is mentally prepared to spend quality time with magazine content. Magazine consumers want to read content and most consider advertising pages just as valuable as the edit. Recent studies, such as those from Keypoint Intelligence and Pew Institute, indicate that millennials and Gen Z love print content and prefer it over digital for content that they really want to dive into—same as other generations—even though they've grown up immersed in digital.

All in all, there are really no hard, fast rules other than it's better to advertise than to not if you want to ensure long-range growth. I hope my field notes here help you find success.


Shawn Williams is the founder, owner, and CEO of GRAY Media, LLC. GRAY is an international media brand focused on architecture, interiors, landscape, product design, and fashion. GRAY publishes GRAY magazine, produces the digital series In the Design Lounge, and flagship events including GRAY Awards, and Hot New Next.


bottom of page