Paper sell selves as 'destinations'

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As newspaper publishers try to get advertising to ignore slumping paid circulation in favor of rising readership figures, the industry has tapped the Martin Agency in a $50 million effort to get media buyers to reappraise the medium. The stakes are high.

"You'd think that compelling [readership] argument would cause advertisers to be beating down our doors," said Newspaper Association of America President John F. Sturm. "This campaign is the most important effort we've ever undertaken."

Speaking to the NAA's members in Chicago last week, Martin CEO Earl C. Cox painted the campaign-which boasts that newspaper advertising is "a destination, not a distraction"-as a broadside against other media. While electronic media are struggling with Internet ad blockers, digital video recorders, ad-free satellite radio and Internet pop-up blockers, Mr. Cox said research shows 52% of consumers cite newspapers as their preferred medium to view advertisements.

"I've heard a lot of frustration ... but that's about to end," he said. "You need to get your swagger back."

He said the ads stemmed from research showing that advertisers thought of newspapers as static, inflexible and hard to buy and that those "customer-service and satisfaction issues," combined with the industry's high-profile circulation woes, were obscuring the media's value to many advertisers.

(Joycelyn Marek, VP-marketing at the Houston Chronicle, noted a day earlier one buyer told her: "Our typical newspaper buy takes 10 hours while we can buy 50 magazines in two hours.")

NAA's research also found that readers viewed advertising as a positive part of their newspaper-reading experience.

The "retro-modern" ads, which contain whimsical images of flying elephants carrying coupons and founding fathers floating in baskets, is supposed to remind advertisers that newspapers are both classic and contemporary, Mr. Cox said. The text emphasizes the importance of shopping to newspaper readers. "What made freedom of the press so important to the founding fathers?" one asks. "Maybe it was the coupons."

Another asks: "What kind of person is just as interested in jewelry ads as political news?" The answer: "Someone with an anniversary next week."

Martin's creative work also includes a sales presentation template that can be customized for individual local newspapers. And the online and print ads started running last month in advertising trade publications (including Advertising Age) and newspaper business sections.

Print-media buyers said a marketing push by the industry is long overdue, but some question the emphasis. Sy Chaba, media director at Kelly Scott & Madison, Chicago, said newspapers would be better off focusing on improving reader engagement, long considered the strength of the medium, and pitching that to advertisers.

"They're saying newspaper readers like the ads, and that's a fair assessment," he said. "But I can show you three other studies that say the level of reader attentiveness has dropped threefold ... They should be focusing on the news more than the ads."
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