Saturday, February 10, 2007

Wrong number, E.T.

The Newspaper Association of America is about to launch an umpteen-million dollar ad blitz that inadvertently reinforces all of the perceived weaknesses of the industry the campaign is supposed to combat.

When you see the first of the ads scheduled to debut on April 2, your initial impression might be that you are witnessing an April Fool’s spoof gone bad. But you would be wrong.

Unless something changes between now and then, the NAA will portray the newspaper reader as the E.T.-like doofus illustrated in the sample ad (below left) originally published by Advertising Age.

The new campaign, which follows $75 million spent on other goofy ads last year, is aimed at making newspapers look “contemporary, progressive and dynamic” to potential advertisers, according to the creative chief of The Martin Agency, the shop producing the campaign.

The NAA has not stated the amount it intends to spend on the new campaign, but it presumably will be equal in scale to the 2006 effort.

Far from achieving the intended result, the caricature dominating the ad reinforces the negatives that have caused a growing number of advertisers to steer away from newspapers.

Depicting the newspaper reader as a middle-aged alien (with a Col. Klink monocle, no less) hardly seems the way to convince media buyers that this remains a vibrant, mainstream medium. Harnessing the alien to an array of retro technology portrays him as anything but the sophisticated, plugged-in consumer that marketers covet. Sticking the newspaper on a pole in front of the alien’s face suggests anything but a contemporary, progressive and dynamic medium.

The NAA and its agency got this ad wrong, because they have fallen into the trap of trying to defend against the perceived deficiencies of their product, instead of crafting a positive message about its strengths.

We all know what’s wrong with newspapers. Print is static in an age of streaming video. The news arrives later in print than via broadcast, the Internet or mobile devices. Print puts editors, instead of the consumer, in charge of what’s covered.

But those “negatives” are the very strengths that newspapers should be emphasizing to readers and advertisers. In a world of over-hyped, over-amped and over-saturated media, newspapers collect, select and organize the news of the world and your community, presenting the results in a simple, easy-to-use format that doesn’t require a power supply.

As I have suggested in the sample ad below (at right), newspapers are the perfect way for people to cut the cord for 20 minutes a day and plug back into what’s important in their lives. That appeal transcends age, income, gender, geography and socioeconomic status – and should make equally good sense to readers and advertisers alike.

With more than 90% of newspaper revenues still coming from print, newspapers must reinforce the value of their core product. Even as they develop the digital businesses that will help carry their franchises into the future, it would be a huge strategic error for publishers to denigrate print or dissociate themselves from it.

Yet, that’s exactly what the E.T. ad is doing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm... an ad campaign directed at media buyers that does not appeal to a self-defined newsosaur who knows how to set type letter-by-letter. Present, in picture format, the media buyers as they see themselves... multi-tasking, multimedia aliens. Sounds like the NAA is on exactly the right track!

10:07 AM  

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