David Sharpe

Associate Creative Director and Senior Vice-President, SMW Advertising, TorontoThe image campaign for the Lexus LS400, a luxury car introduced to the market in 1990, flowed directly out of the engineering concept, David Sharpe says.'It was really just trying to spell out...

Associate Creative Director and Senior Vice-President, SMW Advertising, Toronto

The image campaign for the Lexus LS400, a luxury car introduced to the market in 1990, flowed directly out of the engineering concept, David Sharpe says.

‘It was really just trying to spell out the mission the Lexus engineers were on – `the relentless pursuit of perfection,’ ‘ Sharpe says.

‘All the agency had to do was to box that in terms of the right pictures and words,’ he says.

Placed in The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business section, The Financial Post, The Financial Times and Les Affaires, the newspaper campaign was heavily buttressed by color magazine advertisements, says Sharpe, to show off the car’s ‘glistening interior.’

Q. Why did you choose newspapers for this campaign?

A. There’s a certain editorial feel to a newspaper. In and of itself, it deals with news and newsworthy things. For the launch, it seemed ideal.

Also, the campaign was going to be copy-heavy. This car could not be sold on looks alone, at least not at that point.

Also, the audience for this car tends to be business people, predominantly men. There’s really only one way to reach these people and that’s through a targetted business medium.

With tv, you’d be wasting your media dollars, because only about 1% of the population can afford this car. Business papers and business sections were the right vehicle to go with.

Q. Are newspapers underused for image advertising?

A. It’s hard to say. I’m not sure they are. For some things, you just have to have the color. When you’re talking image, you’re talking emotive things. Newpapers just don’t give you the emotion that comes from color.

They work well as part of an image campaign. Most creative people and media people understand the limitations of newspapers, and the creative applications too.

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

A. I think the best image building campaigns are indigenous to the product. They flow out of the product. The creative is not easy to do, but it’s a joy to do, because it’s simply an extension of what the product is all about.

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

A. Color, obviously. And newspapers don’t allow you beauty of middle tones, the greys that give it the subtleties.

You have to shoot the photography relatively contrasty. The paper soaks up the ink, so if you have dark shots, it really goes mushy. That’s a problem if you’re trying to light something in a very subtle way in order to bring out its contours.

The trouble with newspapers, to make any kind of impact in them, you have to go big, to afford the white space, unless you’ve got some really clever intriguing teaser campaign that you can run page after page.

And in this day and age, when money’s tight, clients really balk when you say we’d like you to run 1,800 lines.

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. I think if the quality could come up in the paper stock, it probably would. There are a lot of advertisers that shy away from newspapers for that very reason.

Layout, I’m not so sure. Flexform is an intriguing use of the medium. You can buy different shapes, L-shapes, T-shapes, and you can tailor your creative to it. It’s been around for years, but it’s just not the kind of thing that comes to the top-of-mind.

And you have to pay a premium, so it’s not used that often.

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

A. In Britain, they are better read. They have a heritage of literature, a strong background in theatre. They use wit and intelligence in a way we don’t, can’t, won’t. They’re willing to take a joke. It’s warped and twisted humor, but it works. Canadians are pretty serious and sober.

In the u.s., they are always looking for information. The individual is the almighty down there and they want to be informed, so they can make judgments and decisions better. Also, there are more advertisers that have simply got more dough.

Q. From time to time it is suggested that one of the main reasons that a lot of 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 don’t think so. It can’t be as visually driven, because of the limitations of the photography. The copy has to take on a more dominant role. They are harder to write, perhaps, but it’s still possible. The British do it all the time.