That Sunday marketplace is offering an ever-wider variety of pitches from advertisers. Options for marketers taking a ride in an FSI range from one-page color fliers and slick booklets, to bound catalogs, die-cut cardboard, DVDs and CD-ROMs that offer a digital twist to print advertising.
That creativity extends to the sample, a tactic especially useful for product introductions. Current technology allows samples to be placed among the other inserts or in their own pockets that are part of a polybag.
In the last few years, preprints have seen growth as high as 10%. For newspaper advertisers, the strength in FSIs has helped offset persisting, significant declines in classified ad revenue. Preprints also attract a diversified advertiser base that offers some protection against cyclical ad spending.
not tied to one industry
"We've seen nice growth [in FSIs], and it's been pretty consistent across [ad] categories," says John Wollney, director of preprint advertising for Tribune Co.'s Chicago Tribune. "If one industry goes up or down, we're not tied to one industry."
At The Washington Post, preprint volume has grown annually for 10 years, says Royston deSouza, director-retail advertising at the flagship paper of The Washington Post Co. "We have been picking up a number of advertisers that heretofore would not have viewed newspapers and preprints as a viable option," Mr. deSouza says.
The Post's ad manager for preprints, Vance Dippold, attributes the gains to a 20% increase over the last five years in the number of targeted-delivery zones the Post offers. That targeted delivery also is bringing samples back. Now, the Post is working with advertisers to expand sample distribution by ensuring that items can be fed through its inserting machines.
Newspapers are one of the three best ways to distribute samples, says Ray Black, product manager at Valassis Communications. The other two venues-events and in-store sampling-lack newspapers' status as "invited media," Mr. Black says, with all the clout of their ZIP code-based delivery.
Opening the paper to find a sample plastic trash bag or package of cereal is "not like a random intercept in a store or at an event," Mr. Black notes, because the message is going only to the desired consumer group.
"Samples with newspapers absolutely break through the clutter and get attention," says MaryAnn Rivers, Valassis' VP for new-business development and product management. If there's any downside, she notes, it's in the limited availability of polybag advertising opportunities-one bag per newspaper market each day-and the physical limits papers have to set on what may be distributed.
One way around that is to put an item in the polybag as a "topper"-on top of the newspaper, rather than inside it or in a small pocket attached to the polybag. Valassis used this alternative with Ikea, which bought topper positions to get its annual catalog to consumers in a test market. "That was one example of an advertiser that was direct-mail-focused actually moving into the newspaper space," Mr. Black says.
With each sample costing a nickel or more, assured delivery is crucial, so Sunflower Group will take a prototype bag and go "toss-testing" in a residential neighborhood to make sure the bag will hold up. "The last thing we want to do is deliver a few million ruined samples on behalf of the client," says Eric Douglas, VP-marketing at Sunflower, an FSI company based in Overland Park, Kan.
The cutting edge in FSI samples may be the CD. That kind of sample digitizes the audience, says David MacEachern, chairman-CEO of iMedia International. Since 2001, iMedia's Hollywood Previews subsidiary has promoted movies and music by inserting in newspapers CDs containing film clips, songs and text.
"Think of that as a thousand-page book with an hour of video, all trackable and reportable," Mr. MacEachern says. IMedia can see how users are accessing information as they go from the CD to the Internet, recording detailed data.
Newspapers are the perfect distribution arm for iMedia, Mr. MacEachern says, because of their targeted delivery.
Newspapers are also potential customers for iMedia's ability to get out CD-ROMs in a timely and attractive fashion, he says. The company is working with a major metro to combine the paper's editorial content with paid advertising on a CD.
Mr. MacEachern sees CDs as a new kind of sample. Perhaps, he says, such CDs will play a role in this year's elections via digitized videos of candidates-the discs could even have an interactive element in which a consumer clicks on a question that takes him to a profile of the candidate. "It really is a convergence tool," he says, uniting print, audio, video and the Web.
Samples in free-standing inserts
The following have been distributed in newspapers:
Die-cut cardboard items (model plane, holiday ornament, miniature window)
Plastic cutting board sheets