Say you’ve got a nonprofit and you’re trying to design how much information to put on your promotions. Most consumers only give a cursory glance to the many advertisements they come across day-to-day, and as busy as our lives are, we never seem to take a measurement on how long our cursory glances last for. This being said, would your promotion have an affect if it only held someone’s attention for 15 seconds? What would the audience retain? Would they understand the main idea in that time frame?

Rule of thumb, your audience should know within 15 seconds what an advertisement wants of them — whether it be a purchase, a donation, or change in behavior. The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is key. If you can show the purpose of your advertisement instantly with an image you’ve already cut back on time it would’ve taken the viewer to read a phrase sharing the same thought. So, if “Adoption saves lives” was written on a billboard explanations would certainty be included on the sign as well. Answering the questions: is this sign referring to pets or children? is this sign telling me to adopt a needy pet/child or to give up pets/children I can’t care for? is this a public service announcement or for a local organization? and finally, “what can I do to help?”

Images can supplement words and often when we are exposed to something with numerous words our minds skim and get the key points. So, in essence it’s possible for the viewer to only get the main points of the ad, similar in the image below:

What your viewer may retain from your message.

These 3 phrases can be expressed in a single image and save room for other valuable information.

Improved message

In the newest message only 1 phrase is used and it is done so to emotionalize the piece with “they need your help.” There is no question who “they” is and there is no question to what help refers to as 3 words at the bottom state that the viewer can volunteer, adopt or donate. The address and name of the animal shelter give the location and name of the organization. All critical information is present and the only image available is one that alludes to the purpose of the message.

In conclusion, when designing your message cover the who, what, where and visualize for the “why.” Remember your audience isn’t going to take the time out of their day to carefully read every advertisement they are exposed to. Lastly, keep in mind the 15 second rule and aim to have a lasting impact in the viewer’s mind and behavior.

Happy Designing.

Dog image edited from



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