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Ways to Create a Great Ad #1: Reveals

In '100 Ways to Create a Great Ad' Tim Collins offers an overview of a hundred tried-and-tested approaches used by advertising creatives. Tim has selected 10 of these to be featured by D&AD, which means there's 90 more in his book. 


A classic headline reveal can be seen in the Nike poster ‘’66 was a great year for English football. Eric was born.’

We initially assume the ad is referring to England’s only World Cup win. But we find it’s actually referring to the birth of Eric Cantona, who played for Manchester United.

D&AD Great Ad Campaigns
01 / Nike / The classic structure of the headline reveal. The first sentence sets up an assumption and the second contradicts it. / 1994

A similar technique in TV is known as ‘pull back and reveal’. The viewer is led to believe they’re seeing a particular situation, only to find out that they’re looking at a totally different one. This can generate a quick visual joke. For example, we might think we’re looking at a glamorous or idyllic environment and then discover we’re seeing a mundane or squalid one.

02 / Old Spice ‘I’m on a horse.’ This phenomenally popular Old Spice commercial ends with a visual joke known as the ‘pull back and reveal’. / Wieden + Kennedy Portland, Black Pencil, 2011

The technique can also be used to more serious effect, as in the ‘Points of View’ ad for The Guardian. At first we think a skinhead is running away from someone. Then a different angle makes us think he’s attacking a businessman. But a wide shot helps us understand he’s actually saving the man from falling bricks.

The Guardian - Points of View

03 / The Guardian / This ad for The Guardian newspaper is a master class in reversing viewer assumption. We think the skinhead is attacking the businessman, then discover he’s actually saving him.

Radio advertising is well suited to this sort of misdirection. An ad created by Ricky Gervais for the Prostate Cancer Charity features a doctor giving a man a rectal examination. Afterwards, the man asks, ‘Does he have to be here?’ We then hear the voice of a third man, who’s been in the scene all along. This kind of ‘radio reveal’ can be a good way to generate surprise.

Check Up, Publicis, In Book, 2006

If you're interested in learning how to write for advertising, why not take a look at our advertising copywriting training course with Will Awdry. 

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