There are many critical elements involved in advertising. Advertising, after all, is about communicating to customers the benefits of your product and leaving them with the desire and ability to take action. There are many different ways to approach adverts but what we are about to discuss is something the very best adverts have in common.


Advertising, for our purposes, covers all forms of advertising. So whether it is print, radio, still images, video, social media and even the metaverse, it’s all advertising. More importantly the principles or elements we are going to discuss here apply to all these types of adverts.

People and product

The two things that all effective adverts have in common are a mixture of people and products. Think about all the ads that really impressed you and left you thinking you need to find out about that product. Were there people in it? Most likely. Was the product in it? I’m willing to bet it was. If you think about it, this really starts to seem like common sense. Your advert is supposed to communicate the effect that the product has on people. This effect is brought about by the features, benefits or advantages of the product. Let’s break this down a little further.


This seems a little obvious at first glance; after all, your product is meant to serve people somehow. However, you will see many adverts which neglect the element of people and more often than not, these are the adverts that fail to capture the audience’s attention and drive action. The idea works best when you show us people who are somewhat representative of your target audience. So, not just any people. Try as best to match the people to the target audience.

In the book Influence, Robert Cialdini discusses the concept of shortcutting. People will look at situations or things and, based on appearances will make a determination. When people look at adverts, for example, they will look at the people in them and see how closely they relate to them. So if I feel the person is too far removed from me, I’m likely to switch off from an advert.

This sounds good when we think about video adverts, but what about something like print, radio or still images? On the radio, you cannot see the person. In print and still images, the complexity is that you have one frame to do all your convincing. This isn’t easy, but again the same rules apply.


The product part of this is a little bit more tricky. I like to look at Coca-Cola adverts to explain this. They lean into the people and product concept very much. It’s not just about showing the product but rather the effects of the product through benefits, features or advantages. So you want to show how the product brings people together in joy, like Coca-Cola. You want to show the relief the product brings. The saving that people make in time or money. You have to take a step beyond just showing the product.

So the idea is to show people enjoying your product or business’s benefit, feature or advantage. You can, particularly in a medium like print or still image, show the person suffering due to the absence of the product. While it is not quite as effective, it still captures minds. This is so because people relate to the frustration or problem. In print, it is usually followed up by a second still image showing the effect of using the product.

Radio or audio adverts present a different problem regarding the product element. You cannot show (at least visually) the effects of the product. So audio adverts are more complex in this regard, but it is still not impossible. This is perhaps the exception to the “showing is better than telling ” rule.

You have done 80% of the heavy lifting when you combine people and products. The remainder is product availability and pricing. For small businesses, this doesn’t always come easy. If you go and look at Apple’s early adverts for the iPod, you will get that you don’t have to show the people in full detail for this concept to work. One of the best Zimbabwean examples of the concept of people and product is the late great Oliver Mtukudzi featuring Olivine advert inspired this article.