Barry Jones

Creative Director, Enterprise Advertising, TorontoA campaign for IBM Direct, in which readers are invited to call ibm operators 'Mike' or 'Susan' for answers to questions about buying a computer has generated 50,000 calls and helped change the company's image, says Barry...

Creative Director, Enterprise Advertising, Toronto

A campaign for IBM Direct, in which readers are invited to call ibm operators ‘Mike’ or ‘Susan’ for answers to questions about buying a computer has generated 50,000 calls and helped change the company’s image, says Barry Jones.

Jones says the Mike and Susan campaign has tapped into the ‘enormous amount of frustration and confusion’ people feel when buying a computer.

As well, it has provided ibm with a chance to put a friendly face to its corporate image.

‘People felt that ibm was a large, grey, unapproachable, distant company that didn’t care about ordinary people,’ Jones says.

‘The company felt, and we agreed enthusiastically, that this represented a great opportunity for ibm to change that perception by offering a 1-800 telephone number that would help people answer some difficult questions about buying a computer,’ he says.

The campaign began in April and has run nationally in all the ‘A’ markets.

Q. Why did you choose newspapers for this campaign?

A. We proposed to the client newspaper and radio, right off the bat. We felt that we needed a medium that could convey emotion, which is what radio does, and we needed a medium that could present the story in a rational, linear way.

People get the emotional content out of the radio, and they get the intellectual content out of the print. They seem to work together pretty well.

The newspaper is a news medium. It is an immediacy medium. We wanted to get the feeling that something important was happening here. A telephone line, a help line, is something that you do immediately. It’s not a long-term proposition.

We also wanted to make sure that people understood what the concept of IBM Direct was, without having to count on radio to do that.

[The newspaper ads] gave a face, a look, a feel, to the people at ibm, even though we didn’t use photography, that we thought had some warmth.

Magazine is a relatively slow-acting medium. It has its uses, certainly. But in this case, we felt that this was actually a news story. Magazines are not a news medium.

We may have used tv instead of radio, if we’d had the budget and the time, but we were on a relatively short leash on this project.

Q. Are newspapers underused for image advertising?

A. Can I talk about the word ‘image’ for a minute?

The traditional definition of the word ‘image’ as it applies to advertising is thematic, or personality, or stuff that doesn’t necessarily sell things immediately.

Traditionally, advertisers would have a thematic campaign and price-point advertising.

People like McDonald’s, that have enormous budgets, still do image advertising, stuff that tugs at the heartstrings, and they also do promotions for 99-cent hamburgers.

But for most advertisers, budgets for advertising keep coming down, and most feel they want their advertising to do everything. They want to project the image, but they want to sell something as well.

It never occurred to me that this was an image campaign. This is something that was a call to action.

We knew that we had to make ibm seem more friendly, but we also had to get the phones to ring. Image advertising has to work a lot harder than it ever used to.

Q. Excluding your own work, what have been some of the best examples of image advertising in newspapers?

A. Danier is the only one that comes readily to mind.

Q. What qualities do successful newspaper image campaigns have in common?

A. They appeal to your heart, as opposed to your intellect. They touch you in a non-rational way.

Q. What specific challenges does the medium represent – what are its limitations?

A. One of the important ones is reproduction.

Image advertising has to look lovely. It has to have nice images. Although there are some, like Danier, who have managed to do superb image advertising in newspapers, it’s something that a lot of art directors do not want to get involved in, because they can’t control the reproduction as closely as they can with magazines.

Also, when people are reading newspapers, they are more often than not in a scanning mode. It’s something they are doing when they are doing other things.

When people read magazines, they carve out some time to do it. It’s a lot harder to deal with reflective issues, or issues that make you think or take you through a thought process, when you are talking to someone who is waiting for a bus. They’re not in the mood.

If you could overcome those two issues, then you could use newspapers with a lot more confidence for image campaigns.

Q. Do you think technological innovations, such as a new four-color process or more flexible layouts, would convince more advertising agencies to use newspapers for image building?

A. There have been some advances over the years. Part of the obvious limitation is that the stock that you print on is not very kind to full-color photography.It’s not slick, it’s not glossy, it doesn’t give you enough contrast, it doesn’t have the weight. If these problems were overcome, I would certainly be more confident about recommending full color than I am now.

As far as layout is concerned, newspapers are really working hard to try to accommodate creative people on that issue. I’ve found that newspapers are more than accommodating, especially these days, in such a competitive environment.

Q. Why is it that image advertising in newspapers is more prevalent in Britain and the United States than in Canada?

A. Is it possible that we are behind in technology? Do they have magnificent presses? Do they have better inks? I don’t know.

I would think The New York Times is more like a magazine than any other newspaper in the world. People treat it with reverence. It’s something they feel they should carve out the time to read. People carry it home with them on Sunday mornings and spend two hours looking at it.

It may also be that budgets in the States allow for newspaper as well as magazine when it comes to image building. But I don’t really know.

Q. From time to time it has been suggested that one of the main reasons creative directors don’t use newspapers for image advertising is because it’s harder to be creative in newspapers. What do you say to that?

A. I think you just have to have a different mind-set when you approach the problem.

My favorite ad of all time was a newspaper ad from Doyle Dane Bernbach for Volkswagen. They ran it the day that Neil Armstrong got back from the moon. It is the best example of timely creativity I’ve ever seen.

There’s a picture of the moon-landing module at the top of the ad. At the bottom of the ad, there’s a tiny little vw logo about the size of a dime.

The caption reads, `It’s ugly but it gets you there’. This is back in the days of the [Volkswagen] ‘bug.’

This ad ran in every newspaper in the western world. And that, to me, is the fun of newspapers – you can be topical, you can leverage that kind of thing to make your ads creative.

Q. What trends do you see in image advertising?

A. I think more and more advertisers are trying to make sure their image advertising sells something. Not six months down the road, not a slow build, but a fast build.

The IBM Direct stuff is probably a good example of that. They needed an attitude, and they needed to make the phone ring.