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Tradeshow Displays: What Makes Them Work

by Jared McCarthy  |  
January 18, 2005

Creating tradeshow displays is one of the toughest challenges that creative firms face. But if done right, they can be showstoppers. Here's why they are so tough—and what you can do to make them work.

Tradeshows are mazes. People come in, get lost, spin around and (with a little luck) find what they are looking for (mostly, cool free stuff!).

A bird's-eye view of a tradeshow looks a lot like a grocery store, except instead of shelves and cereal boxes there are aisles and tradeshow displays. Your goal is to get the right people to stop and look at your "cereal box."

Think about the last show you attended. How many of the displays stick in your mind? How many stopped you, or at least slowed you down? Not many? OK, follow these rules and make it happen.

Rule #1: Tradeshow Displays Don't Sell Stuff

A common misconception is that tradeshow displays sell stuff. They don't. The job of the display is to make people stop so that you can sell stuff. If you're counting on the display to do your job, you're asking it to do the wrong thing.

No big explanation here. Just remember that the only job of the display is to be a stop sign, or at least a speed bump.

Rule #2: Sucker Punches Work

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Jared McCarthy is the proprietor of McCarthy Creative. For more information, visit

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  • by Terri Wed Mar 18, 2009 via web

    As a designer I wish more companies would take your advice. So true all of it. A banner is mini billboard at a tradeshow, would you put all that copy/images on a billboard? Of course not.

  • by Mel White Tue Apr 14, 2009 via web

    I completely agree. As the marketing manager for Classic Exhibits, a portable modular display manufacturer, I often see graphics that are encyclopedic. Trade show graphics are billboards. They are meant to entice and communicate to people with little time and even shorter attention spans. It's up to your staff to sell. It's up to the graphics to get them into the booth.

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