Subtle messages drowned out

For the second year running, I had the pleasure of chairing the Extra Awards - the best snapshot I know of the state of newspaper advertising in Canada.It is also illuminating because, along with our domestic judges, we recruit distinguished foreign...

For the second year running, I had the pleasure of chairing the Extra Awards – the best snapshot I know of the state of newspaper advertising in Canada.

It is also illuminating because, along with our domestic judges, we recruit distinguished foreign judges for our panel.

Observations from British and u.s. judges help us see ourselves and our work in clear relief.

This year, our international judges included John Hegarty, legendary art director and co-founder of London-based Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

Hegarty is the creative architect behind Audi and Levi’s. (He did that famous black-and-white spot of the Russian youth smuggling his Levi’s back into the Motherland.)

Our other international judge was Tom Tawa. Tawa is a Californian, the former founding creative director of Chiat/Day, San Francisco, and art director partner of copywriter Steve Hayden. Together, they worked on Apple, a renowned and expert advertiser in newspaper.

What did we see at the Extras?

For one thing, a lack of big brand campaigns. Most, in fact, were extensions of brand campaigns created for other media.

It is clear newspaper in Canada is not seen as the medium for building brand images. I think we all know the reasons why.

There are the traditional reproduction problems. Register. Color. Bleeding inks.

When you are doing a big national campaign, and most brand campaigns are national, you produce for the lowest common denominator, the paper in your buy with the worst reproduction.

This drives a lot of visual campaigns right out of the medium. It is why we saw so few liquor advertisers, for instance, with entries in the show.

Then there is newspaper’s short life. It is today’s big news and tomorrow’s forgotten story. You throw it away after you read it. It does not hang around long enough, says conventional wisdom, to build an image.

Instead, newspapers offer a fast, ‘act now’ kind of environment. And the reader expects this. He or she buys it to get topical, useful, hot information for today. To find out about news, announcements and sales.

These are not subtle things. They make for advertising that is retail-driven and shouts for attention against all other news.

The Extras were full of excellent advertising of this ilk: Summerhill Hardware, Canadian Airlines International, Harry Rosen, as well as ads that use unusual shapes and sizes to grab readers by the shirt collar and pull them in.

In that environment, the media equivalent of the trading room floor, soft, subtle, emotional messages are often drowned out. So no one thinks to be there with one.

So is that it? Do you use newspaper for retail and rule it out for building image?

Maybe that depends on what you think an image is as well as how you go about building one.

Image is not just a visual. It is a total impression. The overall attitude of an advertiser, created out of many things: copy, type, layout, as well as photo and illustration.

You can use any of them to build a brand image in newspaper.

Take copy, for instance. The British are masters at it, using long copy to tell an interesting story about a product and build its image, with valuable information that is actually worth reading.

Potential

Canadians have yet to see the potential of this. We treat newspaper ads almost exclusively as posters.

Compare that with the work of this year’s speaker at the Extras, internationally acclaimed British copywriter Tim Delaney.

Delaney has over and over again demonstrated the power of copy, full pages of copy, to build images in newspaper for such image-driven products as Timberland Shoes (‘Timberland gives you back the coat 4 billion years of evolution took away,’ is one of his best.)

We saw no such examples as winners at the Extras.

We did see some examples of how to beat the reproduction and color problem, however.

A number of advertisers, Canadian Airlines International and Saturn among them, used four-color inserts for brand building. There, quality control is assured, as well as a clutter- and noise-free environment.

Color supplement

As one judge remarked, however, it is a shame we in Canada lack a high quality reproduction vehicle our international confreres enjoy – the weekend color supplement.

John Hegarty commented further on the reproduction subject:

‘One of the changes over the last five years in British newspapers has been the development of new titles using better print technology.

‘The consequent result has been campaigns that have been more imaginative in their use of the press. Brand building. Image building. Creating advertising that has gone beyond pure information.

‘My limited exposure suggests this is less likely to happen to you because of the conventional reproduction problems newspapers have.’

This is a challenge we can only hope the Canadian newspaper industry takes up.

Peter Lanyon is creative director of Lanyon Phillips Brink in Vancouver.

Alvin Wasserman, creative director of Wasserman Cozens Dundon in Vancouver, continues the dialogue on the underuse of image ads in dailies with a look at how ‘bad news’ affects ‘optimistic’ image ads. Page 26.