Montreal View: Advertisers missing the boat on local alternative press

National advertisers and the agencies handling their accounts are missing an excellent opportunity to sell to young people living in cities.Their mistake is particularly apparent in Montreal, where a burgeoning local, so-called 'alternative' press is offering advertisers an excellent medium in...

National advertisers and the agencies handling their accounts are missing an excellent opportunity to sell to young people living in cities.

Their mistake is particularly apparent in Montreal, where a burgeoning local, so-called ‘alternative’ press is offering advertisers an excellent medium in which to advertise their goods.

Voir, Hour and Mirror are Montreal’s three news and entertainment weeklies offering national advertisers the perfect medium to reach urban-hip and influential young people. Young people spending enormous sums of money on products such as clothes, stereos, recorded and live music, snowboards, vacations and beer.

A quick check of the advertisers currently in these publications reveals there is advertising relating to only a few of these product categories, and, in the case of recorded music, it’s only a smattering relative to what the music magazines receive.

There is a lot of retail advertising relating to the above product categories, but there is little national advertising from the large manufacturers.

Why? I had trouble finding anyone who could offer a convincing explanation. The agencies representing clients selling to this market are simply asleep at the wheel.

I am not suggesting these offbeat weeklies are the only means of reaching this audience. I’m saying they are ridiculously underused. And, that this is to the detriment of advertisers.

It’s a missed chance because an ad agency or ‘media-buying agency’ is incorrectly using media planning criteria.

National advertisers have been a tough sell, says Lubin Bisson, promotion manager for Voir and Hour, the French and English Montreal weeklies owned by the same company.

‘It’s a process of educating national advertisers,’ Bisson says. ‘We’re beginning to be seen as a `legitimate’ medium. It has been a long process.’

‘The biggest problem with national advertisers is teaching them to ignore the cost-per-thousand [readers,]‘ he says.

Uh-oh. It’s another case of the number-crunchers getting things wrong again. Cost-per-thousand measuring is blinding people.

For many products, there are more important considerations for selecting media such as when and where the publication is read, and the degree to which advertising in the publication affects purchase decisions.

These criteria are more important to many advertisers, particularly advertisers of impulse/entertainment items, than a cost-per-thousand calculation.

Music advertising is a case in point.

These weeklies are strong on entertainment coverage, particularly of new rock music and local music. There are a lot of ads for live music. Great. There are not nearly as many ads for recorded music and this doesn’t make sense.

I would bet money on the fact these weeklies are read by some people just before they walk into a record store. I have seen people reading them in restaurants and bars located right near record stores.

There is ‘some market-testing going on by the record companies,’ Bisson says.

He provides what I think is a funny example of a test, which appears consistent with someone’s bone-headed approach to media planning.

Bisson says some agency or record company is testing an ad for the new Barbra Streisand cd. Barbra Streisand? In the alternative weeklies? What?

Bisson is appreciative of the advertising even if it was a test. In general, he was diplomatic about the reticence of ad agencies to direct national advertising his way. The vitriol and condemnation here is all mine.

There has been some national advertising. It’s not all bad. Geo, the car company, has been advertising in the weeklies and music magazines, and so have Levi’s jeans and Black Label beer.

But, these are just crumbs. The problem, as best as I can figure, is that there are too many people making key decisions over things that should be decided, or, at least greatly influenced by 25-year-olds.

There are too many media directors, so stuck in their 1970s ways that they can’t conceive of trying new media. Others are too worried about losing their jobs to let the young people in their agencies contribute all they can to campaigns that are mostly directed at young people.

Advertising is supposed to be the field where creative, unconventional, risk-taking people work.

That certainly has to be the furthest from the truth in the cases of the media buying departments of some agencies, and at over-glorified ‘media buying agencies.’

Michael Judson is president of Judson Woods, a public relations and advertising company in Montreal.