The Reasons Behind Bad Advert Design Decisions

8 October 2021Ashley Maxwell7 min read

There are so many bad advert design decisions floating around the Internet that we at Vertanet were considering making a whole series of articles where we picked up on each error as we came across it. However, this started a lively debate on the reasons why these bad advert design decisions happen, and why the same mistakes seem to appear again and again. Here are a few of our thoughts.

Getting the Slogan Wrong

Take a look at the image below. Clearly, the designer decided that the slogan should feature front and centre. The designer made the right decision to highlight the shoe first, drawing the eye towards the shoe in a very clever way. However, the slogan across the top “Find Your Strong” is truly awful.

Getting the slogan wrong

This shoe manufacturer is called Saucony, and our theory is that they were trying to copy the success of Nike’s “Just Do it” and the grammatically incorrect slogans of the US army (Army Strong) and Apple (Think Different). However, the more you look at the Saucony slogan, the more peculiar it becomes, especially when you consider that the slogan falls pretty far from what appears to be a running shoe. We could have forgiven them if it were a weight lifting shoe.

There isn’t much room to improve this slogan based on its own desire to ape the grammatically incorrect nonsense spouted by blue-chip companies. But, they could have at least gone for “Find your Speed” or “Find your Pace” or even “Find Your Limits” or “Discover Your Limits.

Getting the Logic Wrong

Poor quality logic is very common when it comes to bad advert design decisions, but you still have to wonder how an advert got past so many people before appearing in print or online. In the image below it is clear that the marketing idea was for a pregnant woman to stand with her man looking shocked that she is pregnant. The problem is that she is heavily pregnant in the image. If she is shocked at being pregnant while clearly many months pregnant, then there is a serious problem.

Already Pregnant Woman

Our theory is that there was no interaction between the people behind the design concept and the designer. Clearly, there were inadequate discussions. The third-party middle-persons didn’t communicate, and the people paying the money didn’t want to waste money on re-shoots or re-designs.

The sad part is that this is so easily fixable. Simply show her being only very slightly pregnant and suddenly the advert works. Better still, show him in the same position, but with his hand over what could be her pregnant belly, and the advert works brilliantly so long as she does not appear heavily pregnant.

Sadly, they ran this advert showing her looking shocked she is pregnant, and it doesn’t make for a memorable product advert. In fact, close your eyes without looking at the advert and try to recall the name of the product, my bet is that you will struggle to recall the product’s name.

His Dogs Trust Him

Take a look at the image below. You may have seen it on Instagram or even in a funny Facebook group. It is one of many very silly lawyer billboards. It may seem odd that lawyers have so many poor quality billboards in the USA, but they are often promoting themselves with their own marketing ideas, and the fact is they are not professional marketers, so they make some very rookie mistakes.

Lawyer who has his dogs trust

Clearly, the man who created the billboard in the image above was trying to show a softer side or was perhaps trying to pander to what he considers to be “The average Joe/Joanne.” However, no matter what his intentions, our theory is that his campaign lacked self-awareness. It is hard to believe he spent a lot of time considering how this would actually make him appear in the eyes of others. The image below shows another ad with a very similar problem.

The gorilla lawyer

As you can see from the advert above, it is clearly better from a design perspective. However, he is trying to push a brand image that not only doesn’t suit his profession, but it also doesn’t suit him as a person. It is like the skinny kid in the office trying to convince people his cage fighting name is the Killer Whale. Like the lawyer with the dogs, this gorilla man has an idea lodged in his head, and he has taken no time to reflect on it. On the surface, this looks like an issue of childish ego, but it is more likely a symptom of a man who isn’t aware of marketing perception.

Letting Your Designer Create Misrepresentations

There are now laws in the United Kingdom where makeup adverts on the TV need to feature a line explaining how the visuals have been enhanced on the screen to accentuate the image. In most cases, it is a small line across the bottom of the screen saying that the woman is wearing false eyelashes. However, it is not just makeup companies pulling this little trick.

Adverts that tell lies

The image above shows an advert that was pulled from mainstream advertising and legitimate online networks because it was deemed to be misleading. Take note of how in big letters it says, “45% less sugar than the” and then in very small letters says “leading chocolate syrup brand,” which basically means the product has less sugar than another branded product of which we know nothing.

Then, there is the line about seven vitamins and minerals with the small cross next to it. The small print clarifies how the milk you drink it with contains most of the vitamins and minerals. It seems pretty obvious on the surface why the designers decided to make these details very small. Their only intention was to mislead people, but it makes you wonder why. This is a big company, they must have known their adverts would be scrutinized. This is not some small essay writing service that is trying to hoodwink people into buying secondhand essays; this is a large multinational brand. Our theory is that they had seen so many other large companies get away with tricks like this that Nesquik thought they could try their luck.

When Ideas Do Not Mesh

Sometimes, the thinking behind bad advert design starts with the tagline. It operates through a type of working backwards where the tagline is thought up, and then the circumstances of the advert and the product in hand are somehow wrapped around the tagline. An example of working backwards is the video game “Horizon Zero Dawn” where the designers thought “Robot Dinosaurs” and everything else in the game was created to help bring that idea to life. The game designers had their big idea and then had to work backwards to create a gaming world in which this big idea fits. The advert below does a very similar thing.

Product and message do not mesh

The image above shows an advert that is okay on the design front. The product should be a little bigger, but the designers are looking for attention, and they have found it. However, the tagline is the only thing holding it together because the ideas on display do not mesh. The PS Vita offers no tactile pleasures, especially when compared to the main focus of the advert.

What is possibly worse is the fact that the advert does such a bad job of explaining the selling point it is trying to push. It doesn’t make it clear at all that the PS Vita has a double-sided interface (it only loosely implies it). It doesn’t explain that the Vita has a touchpad on the back and a screen on the front. It just looks like the back and the front of a handheld game with no indication of how the device functions. In the end, the ideas on display do not mesh in a meaningful or saleable way. Again, our only theory is that they came up with the tagline and then worked backwards to try to shoehorn the model idea and the PS Vita in together.

Getting the Visual Basics Wrong

Sometimes, bad advert design decisions are bad simply because the designer got the basics wrong. When these happen, it is tough to figure out why. The only conclusion is that either the people paying for the advert do not care, or the designer is too lazy or underpaid to go back and make the advert right.

Woman pointing in wrong direction

The woman in the advert above is pointing in the wrong direction. Even at first glance, she is very obviously leading the eye in a very wrong direction.

A common trick you are taught in college and university is that you can easily lead the eye by having people, objects or elements pointing in the direction you wish the eye to go. Yet, the eye is led away in this case. One theory bounding around the office was that the advert would have been too expensive to change, so I jimmy-rigged/Frankensteined it myself to prove that changing it wouldn’t have been a big problem (see the image below).

Woman pointing in the correct direction

As you can see from the image below, the background colours would need to be recreated, but even if the original designer doesn’t still have the assets on his or her computer, the background colouring can be easily changed within a few minutes.

I didn’t alter a great deal within the image, but now it works. The eye is drawn to her, she points to the hook, and your eye is drawn down to the branding information and contact information. The fix is a very simple one, which makes it all the more mystifying as to why the designer, and/or people who paid for the advert, allowed it to be published in the state it was in.

Final Thoughts – Should We Even Care About Advert Design?

Should we bother to figure out why certain marketing and design decisions were made? Can we really learn from these types of mistakes? Is there any value in ruminating on why some design decisions were made? Perhaps there is no value. Perhaps you will never make mistakes like:

  • Copying a trend (Saucony)
  • Communicating poorly with middle-companies (Predictor)
  • Failing to spend money on amendments (Predictor)
  • Pandering to a demographic while patronising them ( &
  • Pandering to a demographic you do not understand ( &
  • Lacking self-awareness and a lack of personal reflection ( &
  • Having your designer create misrepresentations (Nesquik)
  • Pushing a clever gimmick despite rather than create a saleable advert (PS Vita)
  • Getting the basics of advert design wrong (EasyMom)

My point is that these types of marketing and design mistakes happen too often for me to brush them off as quirky errors. There must be a series of layered problems that are occurring very frequently for such seemingly obvious mistakes to go unnoticed long enough for them to reach final publication. I understand that many times it is all about money, where sometimes you have to take what is adequate rather than what is good because you have already exhausted your budget on your “adequate” version. But, I do believe that occasionally examining the reasons for mistakes, rather than just the mistakes themselves, is a good reflective practice for any full-time marketer or designer.