Newspapers an often underrated medium

When people talk about the quality of advertising and creative ideas, they usually start with television.The razzle-dazzle medium is all light and sound and motion. Pure showbiz. And it is often the medium that creatives and media people think of first...

When people talk about the quality of advertising and creative ideas, they usually start with television.

The razzle-dazzle medium is all light and sound and motion. Pure showbiz. And it is often the medium that creatives and media people think of first when planning their advertising campaigns.

Creative underused

But newspapers? The observation may be a bit unfair, but it takes little time surveying the press before a consensus is clear: there is not a lot of great creative in newspaper advertising.

That is unfortunate because there are many positive attributes that newspapers have.

For a start, newspapers are useful.

You can use them to wrap fish, spread under the cat box, or in the birdcage.

You can stuff them in cracks to stop draughts, and in the fireplace to start a nice warm fire.

You can keep the kids amused by teaching them papier-mache.

In the movies, secret agents lurk behind newspapers while keeping a beady eye on the bad guys.

And fish and chips do not taste right unless they are swaddled in newspapers.

Tightly rolled, a newspaper has exactly the right length and heft to make an excellent fly-swatter, which is more than you can say for a tv set.

And, of course, newspapers are good for telling you what the world has been up to while you slept.

Highly personal

Perhaps best of all, newspapers are a highly personal medium.

People tend to hold a newspaper up to read it, effectively surrounding themselves with the largest pages and shutting out the rest of the world.

Papers are a habit, a bit like a warm bath – something you slip into, rather than just flip through like a magazine.

If newspapers can be so interesting to readers, imagine the great opportunity newspapers must be to creative people who conceive the adverts.

In this writer’s opinion, newspapers are the most interesting medium of all.

And television is perhaps the most misused medium in the marketing of products and services.

Television simply does not have the time to give you more than a quick impression of the news.

Newspapers give you all of it, from the big global stories to the little snippets that illustrate the essential ridiculousness of the human condition.

For instance, I read about the Ohio chicken that flew 94 metres, establishing a new world record. I read about the worldwide craze for bungee-jumping. I read about a thief who gave his victim $20 from a wad of notes to take a taxi ride home.

None of this information made me any richer or wiser, but I read it with interest.

And that is the point.


People read newspapers because they are interested in what newspapers have to tell them. When newspaper advertising is interesting, they read that, too.

Without a doubt, there is a lot of room in a newspaper for the creative person to be creative. There is the size of the page, in broadsheets in particular. A full page can be very dramatic.

And a double-page spread can have immense impact. The reader can be engulfed in it as though he were actually inside it.

Best of all, perhaps, is that newspapers offer advertisers the greatest amount of flexibility.

Initially, dailies are selected for the practical requirement of speed.

Magazines are too slow, considering the long lead times, and television and radio are not able to handle the large amount of information a company may want to get across about its product or service.

Television advertising creates an impression.

Newspaper advertising creates action.

People call the phone numbers and clip the coupons from newspaper ads. They walk into stores with ads in their hands and say, ‘Give me that.’

The strength of newspaper advertising is that it can tell people everything they need to know to make an informed buying decision: what size, what shape, what color and what price your product is, how it fulfils their wildest fantasies, and where to go to get it.

Now, if newspapers can offer a market so much, why is it that we Canadians barely give newspapers consideration?

We do not believe in them like the British do. Or the Australians. Or the Europeans. Do they know something we don’t?

For Canadian marketing people, this is what it is all about: the old chestnut about whether you should advertise in the newspaper or on the television.

Here in Canada, the choice has been an obvious one. And research has backed up that argument.

Research can tell you when the tv is switched on. They can even tell you what sort of people have the tv on; what age or sex they are.

But they cannot tell you how much attention is being paid to your ads.

Research also tells us when we are more likely to sit and watch tv.

But, honestly now, don’t you, too, go out and put the kettle on, or see how the kids are getting on with their homework, or glance at the tv guide to see what is on another channel?

And where do they print the program guide? In the newspaper. Exactly the point.

Seriously now, don’t you find it infuriating when you hear a hysterical voice instructing you to ‘Buy Now?’

It is nine in the evening; it is dark outside; you are settled in for the night. Do they seriously expect you to run out and buy a soap powder?

Of course they don’t. But they do expect you to remember all that high-pitched enthusiasm first thing tomorrow morning when you finally decide to go shopping.

In the meantime, you will watch more tv programs, see more commercials, sleep for eight hours, get up, shower, have your breakfast.

And read the newspaper.

If you are going to buy anything today, that newspaper just might be where you will read about it.

Newspaper advertising seems the last bastion of marketing conservatism.

‘Sorry, our competitors are on television, so we have to be, too.’

‘You can’t demonstrate a product in press.’

‘Canadians are illiterate.’

Oh dear, how sad. No wonder so many new products fail in the marketplace.

Imagine a soap powder being launched in newspapers. It would stand out. People would remember it. They would see it just before they went shopping. Not the night before.

The same applies to breakfast cereals, bug killers, beer or a bakery.

The first rule of advertising: get noticed. Easy in newspapers.

Second rule of advertising: dominate the medium. Difficult and expensive on tv. Easy in newspapers.

Anyone who tells you it is impossible to demonstrate product in the newspaper is really telling you you’re using the wrong advertising agency.

But that is another story.

One of the major reasons why there is little creativity in newspapers is the attitude of many agency people. They have never really learned how to use the medium. They have never fully used the benefits newspapers have to offer as a creative vehicle.

I would never hire a writer or an art director who did not have training in print. It has been said that creating print advertising shows the real professional from the hack.

Young creative upstarts want to do tv creative first. They do not learn how to art direct or how to write.

Ironically, advertising campaigns can often be most memorable in press, yet the medium which is most informational is frequently neglected.

When an advertisement in a newspaper is good, it can move consumers to buy the shipload.

When it is not, well, you can always use the paper to swat flies.

Michael Fromowitz is senior vice-president, executive creative director at Toronto-based McCann-Erickson Advertising Canada.