Great Photos, White Space and a Few Other Ways to Keep your Ads from Sucking

POSTED BY Ian Cruickshank

Great Photos, White Space and a Few Other Ways to Keep your Ads from Sucking

There really is just one way to mass broadcast your vehicles to potential buyers. Luckily, it’s also very effective. Yes, I’m talking about inventory advertising.

You can argue that word of mouth or some other methods are more efficient (when measured by cost per lead), but you simply can’t beat the volume of leads that inventory advertising brings. Honestly, that’s why it’s still around - Transitioning from the inventory ads that were prevalent in the local papers to the state-of-the-art behavioural-based programmatic digital ads, that hover in cyberspace.

All things being equal, it stands to reason that the more effective your inventory ads are, the more likely they’ll attract the right buyers and turn over cars on the lot.

And therein lies the problem - as with many things in life, not all inventory ads are created equal, and the "less equal" ones perform very poorly at attracting auto buyers.

Welcome to What Dealerships Should Say - a subsection dedicated to recovering the lost art of positioning, content and creative. In this modern digital world, so many marketers and salespeople focus on delivering the message and not enough time on what the message should be.

Previously, we chatted about how to create a compelling and competitive message to differentiate your dealership, but those words or phrases don’t magically arrange themselves into beautiful ads ready to attract prospective car buyers, they’re just words.

Now, I’m a data guy, a marketing guy, a sales guy, and most definitely a car guy, I even fancy myself to have a little design skill, but those skills pale in comparison to our own super design juggernaut!

I’ve interviewed our own Creative & Co-op Advertising Manager, Danielle Borisoff, about what makes an ad attractive to a car buyer, and as a result, effective. We also talked about what not to do… like the age old giant Starburst!!

Here’s what she said:

Ian Cruickshank (IC): So Danielle, throughout your career you have created thousands of ads and designed the creative behind all of our customers’ ad templates. What is the single biggest piece of advice that you would give regarding inventory ad creative?

Danielle Borisoff (DB): I believe the phrase “The car is the star” sums it up very nicely. It’s important to remember that people choose cars before they choose dealerships, so advertisers need to be aware and play on that fact. By making the car the focus of the ad, you can better attract and pique the interest of the buyer thus making the ad more effective.

IC: I like that, “The car is the star”, so what are some ways to make that happen?

DB: The easiest way is to use real photos and not stock photography. This applies to both new and used cars. Car buyers now are so inundated with information that they gloss over stock photos. Even if the stock photo is of the same car and same color, people won’t trust the stock photo. Incidently Doug Demuro - a columnist for wrote a great piece specifically about the annoyance of stock photography (Attention Dealers: For God’s Sake, Take Pictures Of Your Inventory).

IC: Any tips on how to take the right photos?

DB: The quality of photography of the car is vitally important. To resonate with the buyer, you need to capture what the buyer wants to see. Almost all buyers want to see the car as if they are about to pick it up for delivery. This means a clean front quarter shot and without any distractions such as a busy background or dealership brand graphics placed over the frame of the image.


A clean photo without any busy dealer graphics makes the car more attractive to the buyer.

IC: Why are dealership graphics on the image not recommended?

DB: Two reasons actually. First, graphics often obscure the top or bottom of the vehicle preventing the buyer from seeing the full picture. Second, and more quantifiable, you run the chance of not passing the Co-op or Compliance program guidelines of the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) compliance agencies. For example: if your dealership sold Ford and Lincoln, and the photo of your new Ford F150 has “Ian’s Ford and Lincoln” banner on it, the Lincoln logo would violate Ford's branding guidelines and the OEM agency would then refuse reimbursement for this particular ad.

IC: Wow, that’s great advice. What about the ad creative itself? Are there ways to design the ad to further complement the car?

DB: An effective way to stand out in the actual ad creative is to embrace white space on your inventory ad. Many dealerships that we work with will, understandably, want to maximize the number of vehicles they can have on their ads. However, this doesn’t always work in their favor. Many automotive ads are placed on busy, high traffic websites. Having a busy ad on a busy site detracts from the experience. Like a piece of art, including some white space in an ad will give the inventory some room to breathe and will draw more eyes to it. 

By framing the ad in white space, you give the ad room to breathe and allow it to become more noticeable. 

Danielle’s guidance dives into the actual art of marketing and is particularly useful as we live in a world where all dealerships have access to the best technology.

All else being equal, the art of the message and the creative can be the edge in a hyper-competitive industry where we all want to attract new buyers and sell more cars.

Danielle Borisoff is the Creative & Co-op Advertising Manager and has been working at Speed Shift Media for over six years. With a Fine Arts degree from Emily Carr University of Art and Design, she handles the design for and implementation of all graphical elements for Speed Shift Media and many of their clients.


You Only get One Chance to make a First Impression! Learn how to make it a  Great One.

What kind of creative rules does your team adhere to? Add them in the comments.



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