A “save the newspapers” ad campaign: Marketing gurus respond

Saving newspapers …


Updated, with links to promising smaller-market ad campaigns at bottom.

Just a day after posting some thoughts about the state of newspaper marketing, along comes the above campaign by The Newspaper Project promoting … appreciation of the printed word. (Click to enlarge.) While I had my own instant reaction to the effectiveness of the ads (below), I thought I’d try to be a good reporter and ask a couple of friends, experts in the fields of marketing and advertising, for their critique. They appear as comments to this post.

Jonah Bloom is the editor of Advertising Age and obviously, a big fan of printed news. (Disclosure: I have consulted with Ad Age on its own evolution for the past few years.) While he applauds efforts to market the industry, he calls the campaign “generic” (I certainly agree) and offers some good suggestions about how to get more on-point.

The second detailed comment below is submitted by a friend here in Chicago who is pretty high up at a worldwide ad agency, who is nameless because of corporate policy requiring approval for such comments. (We don’t have time for that, people – this matter is urgent.) Perhaps his most provocative critique: The tagline “People Depend on Newspapers simply isn’t true, it’s completely indefensible. People rely on CNN and blogs for their news.  We get something else from newspapers.”

Interesting responses from both fellows, which I appreciate.

My own reaction? Nice sentiments, perhaps, but painted with such a broad brush that they are not compelling. A missed opportunity. Perhaps it’s hard to make any sort of personal connection with a campaign distributed on a national scale like this. But it suffers a bit from newspapers’ longstanding arrogance that they were worthy of  purchasing, reading, and appreciating because “we’ve always been around.” These ads come nowhere near answering the question, “why, exactly, would it be a national (or local) tragedy if newspapers disappeared?” That seems to be the essential question that needs to be answered at the moment.

Tell me, specifically, why you think you are so indispensable. Why you are worth forking over my 50 or 75 cents each day, less than a cup of coffee! Think It’s A Wonderful Life here for a minute. How would Bedford Falls be different if you weren’t around?

An ad campaign I’ve created for a client newspaper is headlined in bold type: “What have we done for you … lately?” Following in smaller type are bullet points, just a sentence or two, with recent scoops, exposes, and investigations that are making a difference in government and society. (In one case, the paper identified the outrageous pay of members of a governing body, which in response to the story, was immediately docked by their leader.) Each item has the headline of the story, and a link back to the archived story on the website, for those who missed it. Just six* serious, specific stories that only you have published, in print or online … stories that aren’t being covered by competing local or national papers, or television, or blogs. Do you have ’em?

My suspicion is that if you put American papers’ feet to the fire, few would be able to come up with these six compelling bullet points. Watergate doesn’t count. Your “pick-the-Oscars” contest (which 5,000 other media outlets covered) doesn’t count. Publishing school lunch menus, helpful as that may be, doesn’t count.

Go ahead and steal the “What have we done for you …” ad concept if you like. Just send me a PDF so I can post it here, and we can be reassured that indeed, newspapers are doing some good, really making a difference, and would truly be missed by your community if they go under.

[UPDATE: Just was turned on to a few examples of smaller papers doing very solid “why we matter” marketing, on their own. Link to see some promotions, in print and video, from the Fosters Daily Democrat, in Dover, N.H. Why aren’t more papers doing online ads like this? Also view a campaign from the Waterbury, Conn., Republican-American, where Anne Karolyi, Litchfield County editor, and Scott Griffin, design editor, created an impactful series of print ads. Congrats to these folks.


* Also see my recent post, “The Power of Six,” from a few posts back.

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  1. jonahbloom

     /  March 4, 2009

    These are solid print ads, and it’s good to see newspapers trying to remind readers of the role they play in society as a whole. But I guess, given that newspapers find themselves in such dire straits I’d like to see something a little less genteel, and with some sort of call to action too.

    These speak to people on a very generic level, but the great thing about newspapers, particularly local newspapers, is that they speak to people about their communities and things they really identify with. So what about a campaign that specifically told people exactly what they’d be missing if the paper running the campaign went away. “No one else will tell you if the school board is making plans to close your local school.” It could run across other media too, the billboard ad could say: “This billboard can’t tell you if the school board is about to shut your local high school. But the [insert newspaper name here] will.”

    And, as I say, there ought to be a call to action. Maybe it’s “Buy a second copy today and introduce a friend to all that the [insert paper name here] has to offer.” Or maybe it’s issue-centric. Using the school example again: “Log on to our website today, and let us know what you think of the school board’s plan. Let’s show them the power of you and your local paper.”

    Not saying that nails it. And not saying this campaign is bad. Just think I’d like to see the next iteration of ads being a little more specific, a little more direct, and asking people to show their support.

    There was a brilliant moment in the video that the journalists at the Rocky Mountain News put together about their last ever issue. They canvassed a couple of locals on the street, and one guy – a middle aged black guy, waiting for a bus somewhere – said that people wouldn’t know what they had until it was gone. I think that’s true. I think a lot of people love and depend on their local news organizations, and this campaign should be prepared to actually tell them specifically what’s going to be lost to them. Sure, that includes ‘freedom,’ but how will it impact me–in real terms–if no one’s holding my local businesses/government/sports franchises etc to account?

    Thinking out loud here… and looking forward to seeing the discussion.

    Jonah Bloom, Editor, Advertising Age

  2. AdGuy Print Fan

     /  March 4, 2009

    About Me
    I’m an account/strategy guy at one of Chicago’s leading advertising agencies. I’m one of those Gen X’ers who reads papers, or at least a newspaper (the Wall Street Journal) at least 5 times a week front to back. I value my reading routine during my commute each morning as my last minutes of personal time before starting the daily grind.

    The Strategy
    The Newspaper Project needs a clear target that they believe can be influenced. They’re presumably selecting “current readers of papers” as the target (since these ads are running in papers) but there are two challenges with this choice. First, by selecting current readers NP essentially admits that they cannot grow their base and can only hope to slow the decline in readership. Second, this target is unified by one activity (reading papers), but NP does not demonstrate a clear insight to higher-order shared mindsets among their readers that will lead to deeper advertising messaging with a greater likelihood of success.

    The Intended Outcome
    Ads typically fall into one of two camps: changing attitudes or encouraging action. It’s very hard to determine what NP wants to accomplish with these advertisements. If NP wants to change attitudes it’s not clear which notions the ads combat (that newspapers can’t be enjoyed on the beach?!). If NP wants the consumer to take action they really don’t spell it out.

    The Brand
    I applaud the newspaper industry for banning together to do something about a core issue threatening business; it’s precisely time to use collective strength. I suspect that Newspaper Project is a new initiative but it scores so poorly on inspiration that I find it laughable. Newspaper Project is, frankly, not even a good internal project name. This is the type of brand name that NASA engineers would have selected in 1955. Dove used CampaignForRealBeauty.com, not ShampooInitiative.com. Nike used JustDoIt.com, not GoodShoes.com.

    The Tagline
    Which leads us to the tagline where things get no better. “People Depend on Newspapers” simply isn’t true, it’s completely indefensible. People rely on CNN and blogs for their news. We get something else from newspapers. NP needed to do research with readers to unearth exactly what it is readers get from reading papers to ensure their tagline resonates with the target. I can’t guess what the research will show, but some areas they might have explored are the sense of superiority readers have over non-readers, or the feeling comfort readers find in the daily routine of reading.

    The Creative
    They used stock photography which usually leads to hideous art direction with no differentiating or ownable look. Patriotism is a dominant theme that is never explained – the Beach ad uses “America” in the headline and an image of the Declaration of Independence in the Red, White and Blue ad. The Beach ad headline “America’s first portable information device” isn’t strong or important, but at least the supporting copy reframes the claim as “America’s best information device.” The rest of the Beach copy seems to be out of touch with our society; we aren’t really concerned about “trust” these days … we care about the economy! The Red, White and Blue ad copy is also misdirected – free speech is the rallying cry of Bloggers and a space that edited papers will not be able to reclaim.

    The Website
    I almost forgot to check out newspaperproject.org because I assumed it would be little more than a bank of the print ads. The site seems to be written for newspaper industry professionals, not the consumers that the NP wants to influence. It’s further baffling that the site explains that NP was founded in 2009 but the blog has posts dating back to August 2008 which seriously erodes credibility by creating the sense that someone back-dated entries.

    The Grade:
    Grade: D . A complete waste of money and time with no hope of making a dent in circulation decline. I’m not giving it an F because they spelled all the words correctly.

  3. Gary Doyle

     /  March 6, 2009

    There is probably no group of marketers more hopeless as a whole than newspapers. I don’t know why … maybe it’s their intrinsic belief in objectivity that leads them to mistrust advertising, or maybe it’s simply until the last 10-20 years they’ve been monopolies in the markets where they exist, so they don’t have to effectively market themselves.

    Regardless, they tend to be pretty hopeless. Certainly I could make a case for newspapers’ role in our lives … a degree of integrity, believability, reliability, that the internet, blogs etc. just don’t possess. But “portable information device” (what, an iPhone isn’t?), or “defending freedom daily” are just out of touch.

    There’s a case to be made for newspapers’ continuing relevance but these ads don’t start to make it.

    (Creative Director at the Cramer-Krasselt agency in Chicago)

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