Advertising innovation requires a systematic approach

Innovative advertisement customized for Atlanta's High Museum (Creative Loafing, Atlanta)

I feel strongly that innovative solutions for advertisers have to be a part of any news redesign (and it’s often the starting point of my process). Why just move things around or dress them up, when you can improve the financial health of the enterprise? This blog post walks you through how we created a customized ad shape for one client, and some basics on how to think about creating ad innovations.

It requires, for many newspapers, a brand new way of cooperative thinking across editorial-advertising-marketing lines. Advertising innovation has to go beyond “let’s use an organic shape” (photo silhouette) jutting into editorial copy. Or, “let’s place the ads above the stories, instead of below.” Both are fine if they’re bringing in additional money. But something smarter, more strategic, and with more buzz, may be required to lure back lost advertisers, or those who might never have been sold on newspapers. If redesigning, and creating pages for a press test, why not aim to create some excitement for them?

This was my goal when advising Creative Loafing (Atlanta’s alternative newsweekly) on its redesign this year. One of the bolder strokes, which I’ve already blogged about, was the creation of a brand-new contents page, called START. This new sort of index features 8-10 of the most bold, provocative, smart, rude, funny quotes from throughout the paper, from reviews to letters to news stories to classifieds, inviting/luring/kicking readers inside. It sets an in-your-face, conversational, progressive tone that was missing from the previous, old-school contents page. (Learn more at earlier blog post.)

From the start, a key component of this page, and actually the complete two-page spread, was a strong new advertising destination. Early sketches had an advertising component “intruding” on the editorial space on the START page. (The block nature of the quotes content made this possible.) A mockup created by the staff, below, for the advertiser American Apparel, shows how the concept would work. This was printed in a press test and taken out to key advertisers, to gauge their interest.

Prototype created for Creative Loafing-Atlanta's innovative ad position on Pages 2-3

After the above ad was printed on a mockup, I suggested to the staff to put a vertical hairline rule to the right of the ad, to help delineate advertising from editorial space. Further tweaking (read on) was later advised to help clear up this potentially thorny issue.

At the very top of this post is the fruition of our concept: a real-life ad created for the local art museum, promoting a big exhibit on Salvador Dali. For this particular client, the CL staff modified my concept just a bit – I had called for a rectangular, usually reversed bar bringing the advertising message into the editorial space. But in this case, it made sense to bring Dali’s twirly moustache into the “Intruder” space. The dramatic crap on Dali’s face adds to the excitement as well. The entire design wakes up the reader and forces them to look at the page – to process the ad, and to dive into the START quotes as well. It’s a playful and impactful interplay of advertising and editorial, and a great way to invite readers into an exciting publication.

What to charge for this? How to fit such a weird module into your rate sheet? First, look at the real estate that it takes up. (See image below.) It’s 4 columns on the left page, one full column on the right page, plus … a little bit extra. Do you bill this as five columns? NO. You bill according to impact, and presence in the book. The page 2-3 spread is always super premium real estate, and should always be charged at a higher premium. But if done correctly, this sort of ad position could be charged at a premium two-page rate. Why? It actually has greater impact than a 2-page full ad spread, since there is compelling editorial incorporated into it. And the argument is strong that readers’ “eyeball time” will be greater on this spread, since the two kinds of content are married in a smart way.

Yellow area shows the advertising real estate for the "Intruder" ad created for CL-Atlanta.

In Atlanta, and anywhere I conduct the “ad innovations” conversation, I get pushback, usually from the editorial side. And rightly so. “We’re concerned about confusion by the reader, about what’s editorial and what’s advertising.” I’m trained as a journalist and I hear you. I want to maintain editorial integrity, but I also want to keep the enterprise thriving. There are ways to keep these boundaries clear, and even create a little buzz along the way.

After I saw the initial layout of the Dali ad, I suggested to the staff that they include a disclaimer, built into the architecture of the ad. You see a mockup of this disclaimer below:

A disclaimer helps distinguish innovative advertising from editorial - and create buzz (Creative Loafing - Atlanta)

A little snarky? Yes. A little showy? Yes. Redesigns these days need to create buzz. Need to call attention to themselves. And not just “check out our new look” – but, rather, Check out our cool new offerings for advertisers, tied in closely with smart new editorial features. Get in on the action. Here’s who to call.

Creating these destinations requires a new kind of cross-departmental conversation. Mediating these new relationships, prototyping customized solutions, and generating excitement among the staff is a lot of what I do for clients these days. If you’d like more information on 1-3 day “Advertising Innovation” workshops, bringing your newsroom and advertising-marketing departments together in new ways to improve the bottom line, contact me at ron (@)

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