How to Sell Under the Radar: Keeping Ads from Ruining a Great Infographic

Reading time: 4 min

There’s no mystery here: companies want to sell things. Increasingly, they’re turning to infographics to do it. But overt advertising undermines everything infographics do best. Instead of informing and delighting the viewer with valuable data portrayed with graphical verve, ads cheapen and annoy. More often than not, they land the project deep in the Internet’s vast wasteland of unshared content. We’re inundated with advertising every day, everywhere we look. Ads are so pervasive that they’ve lost a lot of their power. Infographics aren’t just ads dressed up in new shoes, they’re something else: a refreshing, informative, fun, and shareable tool for communication that we can actually enjoy consuming. But don’t despair, companies. When done right, infographics can still help bolster a company or product’s public image. Here are some oh so subtly advertorial infographics that show you how to get the balance right.

Provide Something Useful

When you’re trying to maximize your brand’s impact subtly, nothing is better than the reference infographic. Reference infographics – like kitchen conversion charts, periodic tables (above), or the below guide to buying holiday plane tickets – are tools, and good tools get used. If you’re really providing something helpful, viewers might even print the piece for easy reference around the house or at school. And when you can inspire your viewers to spend their own money on ink to print your subliminal advertising, you can call yourself a marketing genius.

Hide the Ad in Plain Sight: The Inconspicuous Logo and Tagline

Good infographics tend to take on lives of their own. Viewers post them to profiles, use them in blog posts and chat about them in comment threads, bringing you thousands of attentive, entertained eyeballs. This is golden, even if you haven’t incorporated anything directly advertorial in the message. As long as you’ve included a little logo in the bottom corner (like in the KAYAK infographic, above), the viewer will know who made the piece. It’s subtle, almost subliminal advertising that can help build a solid, positive brand impression. It’s the sort of intangible, amorphous influencing of public opinion that makes many companies uncomfortable, but it’s a very powerful force in the marketplace. The viewer, amused or informed by the infographic, thinks: “Oh, this company is actually pretty cool.” Will this person be more likely to purchase a product or service from this company in the future? You bet she will.

Demonstrate a Need: The Strong Argument

In many cases, framing a persuasive argument is enough to lure new customers. You can do this by illustrating the shortcomings of your competition (naturally positioning yourself in front) or by highlighting a particular problem for which you have a solution. You don’t have to spell anything out. In this age of tech savvy, wary consumers, simply illustrating the need can drive customers in your direction. In the infographic below, WebRoot demonstrates the security risk of BYOD devices on company networks, positioning themselves as the logical solution.

In this next image, Cricket Wireless creates a compelling argument for pre-paid cell phone plans (vs. contract plans). They never explicitly offer their services, but the argument, alongside the mini Cricket logo at the bottom of the image, may be enough to gently persuade a viewer on the fence. If it isn’t, Cricket Wireless still enjoys some brand boosting by offering helpful, educational content.

Build and Use Brand Identity

For small companies, creating infographics may feel like a rather large investment, one that they struggle to justify if it isn’t an obvious ad. To these companies, we say have a little faith in your viewers. Our advertising-weary eyes need something new, and we deeply appreciate being made to feel like more than moneybags with legs. Think of this as an opportunity to reinforce your brand. The more recognizable you become, the more trust you build. Trust may feel like an intangible, since you can’t measure it with numbers, but it’s a powerful and important part of the consumer’s consciousness. Use metrics like page views and “likes” to gauge the success of your infographic project. If it’s a well conceived, well-written, and well-designed piece that provides entertainment, information, or reference value, it will probably see impressive traffic. Now compare those numbers to the metrics on one of your direct advertising pieces. I’ll bet you a real dollar your infographic did better.

If you’re already a reasonably well-known company, you have a huge advantage. You can afford to produce content that doesn’t convert in obvious ways, like the interactive infographic from Google (above). You also already have a color and font palette that’s recognizable to the public. Make the most of that to build your brand, and focus on making the image as viral as possible. For you, impressing people who are already familiar with your company is as important (maybe more) than finding new customers. Anni Murray is a writer, editor, multimedia artist, amateur mycologist, and biology student. She is currently working on Prism, a speculative science fiction story cycle. Follow her on Twitter.

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