Good print ads can be mini-tutorials for design engineers

Article By : Bill Schweber

Some ads try to enhance a vendor's image, but ones which are basic mini-courses can be very useful in communicating rich technical information.

Even though digital publications have pushed many print publications and their pages aside, I have a small confession to make: I still like looking at ads in the old-fashioned technical print magazines. Something about them is almost therapeutic while I turn a page and discover something new that I didn’t know before, and I wasn’t even looking for it in the first place. Spend a minute or two with that page, and that makes you a little bit smarter.

I am sure marketing experts have established many classification categories for these ads, but I have just three: the image ad (“come to us, we’re the leaders in XYZ”), the product-specific ad (“our new Model XYZ outperforms anything on the market”), and what I consider the most interesting, the tutorial ad (“here are many ways to solve your problem, but using our XYZ may be the best”).

I was reminded of this recently while thumbing through a mechanical-engineering magazine I came to read while waiting at the dentist, as I’m not really interested in the fashion and lifestyle publications in the waiting rooms. The ad was from Exair, a maker of air blow-off devices widely used in the industry for cooling; blowing chips, scrap, and dust from workpieces; and drying bottle after washing and before the label is attached.

I can’t determine why so many companies expend a great deal of effort and money creating these useful ads and then don’t post them on their website. That makes little sense since the information is still valid and useful in either format.

The ad I saw was one-page and yet conveyed many lessons as it explained the four design approaches to building a blow-off unit: a basic drilled pipe, onto flat air nozzle, blower air knife, and its own “super air knife”.

This comparative ad for air blow-offs is an excellent example of an informative, useful mini-tutorial.

Frankly, I had never thought about the subject; I figured “it’s an air blower, what’s the big deal?” It’s easy to be simplistic and naïve when you don’t know much. The ad included the operating conditions under which the comparisons were done, which provided a useful context.

What I liked about the ad is that it doesn’t just say “those other blow-offs are not good, and ours is the best.” Instead, in just one page, it looked at the four options with respect to upfront purchase cost, operating energy cost, and maintenance cost. It also reveals performance effectiveness, audible noise, and adherence to safety regulations, all with representative numbers to illustrate the point. Sure, the numbers are probably skewed in their favor, but it still provided a clarity to the case they were making.

I recall a similar type of print ad from years ago for voltage references. At that time, analog vendors had worked out the process technology techniques needed to incorporate them into A/D and D/C converter ICs. That ad briefly compared the various types of standalone reference ICs as well as the alternative of using an A/D converter with an internal reference. It showed that the integrated references often provided acceptable performance for many applications, and with a dollar and real-estate cost-saving.

But it also showed, again with some numbers, that for some designs needing higher resolution and accuracy, a separate standalone reference would be the right choice. It was up to the design engineer to decide what made sense for the target application. That ad clearly summed up the various technical attributes of each approach. I’d call them pros and cons, but a “con” in one situation may be a “non-con” or even a “pro” in another.

Have you seen an ad for a component which really made you stop, pay attention, and then turn the page—or go to another screen—saying “I learned something useful there” after spending a few minutes? Do you prefer these no-nonsense tutorial ads to ones which are focused on a vendor’s image, capabilities, or a single new, presumably better part?

This article was originally published on Planet Analog.

Bill Schweber is an electronics engineer who has written three textbooks on electronic communications systems, as well as hundreds of technical articles, opinion columns, and product features. In past roles, he worked as a technical website manager for multiple EE Times sites and as both Executive Editor and Analog Editor at EDN. At Analog Devices, he was in marketing communications; as a result, he has been on both sides of the technical PR function, presenting company products, stories, and messages to the media and also as the recipient of these. Prior to the marcom role at Analog, Bill was Associate Editor of its respected technical journal, and also worked in its product marketing and applications engineering groups. Before those roles, he was at Instron Corp., doing hands-on analog- and power-circuit design and systems integration for materials-testing machine controls. He has a BSEE from Columbia University and an MSEE from the University of Massachusetts, is a Registered Professional Engineer, and holds an Advanced Class amateur radio license. He has also planned, written, and presented online courses on a variety of engineering topics, including MOSFET basics, ADC selection, and driving LEDs.


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