Graphic design is an invisible art to most of the world: most people don’t even think about its psychological effects.  They might notice the text in their favorite magazine is easy to read, or that the way their favorite website is laid out looks nice, but they often don’t make the connection.

When it comes to advertising in particular, most people don’t realize the effect it has on them.  While there’s been plenty of ink devoted to exposing dirty copywriting tricks, not much has been written on how graphics can be used just as effectively.

So I took a page from copywriter Neville Medhora’s sarcastic guide to how to use copywriting to scam people and build businesses destined to fail in the long-term.  So if you’re too lazy to bother with all that “talent” and “practice” nonsense, here’s a guide to how to make a killing anyway.

Use Crappy Graphics

Any attention is better than no attention!  And your goal is to get it by any means, so do what you have to.  Use loud and garish colors; dancing, blinking, and pirouetting GIFs; and huge, obnoxious fonts.

Not actually a scam, but I couldn't resist.

Not actually a scam, but I couldn’t resist.

You’re not trying to build trust in your brand, or establish a brand at all, just get as many clicks as possible, whether or not they’re out of genuine interest or morbid curiosity.  Your material doesn’t need to be easy to look at, since the customer only has to look at it long enough to move to the next stage in the sales process.  Forget about building engagement, getting repeat visitors, or any of that nonsense.

You know those “One Weird Trick” ads that came out of nowhere and took over the internet?  Of course.  And have you noticed how all their graphics were apparently done by a child drawing with a mouse?  Of course.


From Slate

This is a deliberate choice, according to business professor Oleg Urminsky in a Slate interview.  “People notice when you put something in the space that’s different, even if it’s ugly,” Urminsky says. “This might hurt the brand of established companies, but the companies here have non-existent or negative brand associations, so it may be worth it for the extra attention.”

He also adds that this helps them convince poor and uneducated people that they’re “one of them “– just a regular Joe with who just brought his first computer with the sole purpose of sticking it to the man – not some fancy Madison Avenue outfit with all that PhD stuff like “ad budgets,” “basic design knowledge,” and ”Photoshop.”


From Catch Up Lady

Use Appealing but Irrelevant Images

“Around 2010, I did something we rarely do, I spoke with members of the public about what they felt were the best ads of the day. Disturbingly, the ones they all liked, found funny and remembered, were terrible ads. They were dancing cars, talking babies, it was clear how little they knew about what was good advertising.”  —Tom Goodwin in The Guardian

Goodwin was using this as ironic an argument against ad industry elitism, which is a problem, yes, but let’s take it as literal advice instead: the lowest common denominator we’re aiming for has no taste and will flock towards anything they find cute or that amuses them.   So make sure to pepper your advertising with things people find cute or appealing, with no concern for the relevance of the image to whatever you’re selling.

Remember this crap?

For the record, this was just a city-building game.  No breasts were involved at all.

This can take a few forms.


Your target audience has the attention span of a goldfish, so what better way is there to draw in cheap views than by hooking yourself, lamprey-like, onto whatever’s currently popular?  Who cares if it has any relevance to what you actually sell?  If the audience wants pop culture references, lame references to news stories, and cheap election jokes, give it to them.  Copyright, what’s that?

Uh... From Brandchannel

“Cute” and “Amusing” optional.
From Brandchannel

Social Proof

Pepper your material with stock photos of people looking happy, or things that vaguely bring to mind the good life, but don’t offer any solid evidence of how your thing is supposed to lead them to that.  For example, piles of money, impossibly beautiful people holding hands, and pictures of mountains overlaid with motivational quotes.

Or, even more insidious, gear your designs to reflect vague concepts you want to be associated with but in no way offer, like wealth, love, and joy.  Use lots of over-the-top visual metaphors and color symbolism for these things in your designs.  For example, look at scratch-off tickets.


From 6abc

Don’t focus on the lightning-strike odds!  Don’t even stop to think about what you’re buying!  Just think about how rich you’ll get!


This ad gets a two-in-one bonus.

Discourage Too Much Reading

Image, image, image.  It’s all about image.

Make your headline big, bold, and appealing to encourage people to read only that and skip over all that other boring crap.

If you must include text, make sure it’s in big, dense, hard-to-read chunks.  If you can make it small, even better.  Legitimate advertisers know copy is the number one key to making sure that customers understand the value their product offers.  Your product offers no value, so encourage readers to skip it.


…Be warned that if you follow this advice, that “killing” won’t last very long.  While tricks like this are effective in the short term, they always backfire in the long term.

What are some of the dirtiest graphic design tricks you’ve seen?  Leave us a comment.