Flying blind

So what have you done for us lately? Look, don't get us wrong. The Canadian newspaper industry has been very progressive about creating a greater role for advertisers and buyers in the management of NADbank, its key research resource. In the...

So what have you done for us lately? Look, don’t get us wrong. The Canadian newspaper industry has been very progressive about creating a greater role for advertisers and buyers in the management of NADbank, its key research resource. In the past, we couldn’t expect answers to hard questions. But now, with representation from the buyer and advertiser communities on NADbank’s committees, those hard questions are being asked and answered. And for this, we commend the daily newspaper publishing community.

But we need more.

Our end goal, in all the media analyses that we do, is to understand the relationships that consumers have with the media we recommend. And as newspaper buyers, we have questions that simply are not addressed by NADbank in its current form. Some of these relate broadly to the medium, some relate to opportunities offered by specific newspapers or groups of newspapers. Most of them are reasonable and, with the right research, can be answered.

Let’s review a few of these questions:

Ad Size and Colour: These are fundamental issues that affect both cost and readership. But to what extent?

The last comprehensive research that we’ve seen on ad size and use of colour dates back to the 1970s. It’s reasonable to assume that the world has changed since then. Newspapers certainly have: In the ’70s, few had reliable colour; some had none at all.

Does colour have the same impact today that it did then? Is spot colour still an improvement, in the reader’s eyes, over black and white? What norms in readership impact can be expected from a change in ad size or colour? Does a half-page ad generate half the readership of a full page? These are essential questions, and we need to be able to answer them with up-to-date research.

Positioning: Positioning is another fundamental – one that has never been adequately addressed through research. Many dailies offer front-page or front-of-section banner positions at premium rates. They offer page A3 positions, stock island ads and editorial adjacencies. These positions seem to make sense – but increasingly, buyers are being asked to provide quantitative evidence to support our recommendations. And frankly, we’d like to be able to do that.

Is the limited amount of premium inventory something for which we as buyers should compete and pay unreasonably for? Perhaps. It’s certainly done in outdoor and television (although those media also offer "efficiency" buys). But in newspaper, for the most part, we just don’t know to what extent the reader notices or is exposed to premium-positioned ads. This would be valuable information to have – and in our estimation, it’s incumbent upon the newspapers selling these types of positions to start making it available.

Day of Week: Remember "Food Day"? That’s Wednesday, for those of you who are new to the business. That used to be the day that grocery chains all inserted their flyers into dailies. And as a result, many newspapers developed complementary Food sections on Wednesdays, to provide space for ROP grocery advertising and other ads aimed at the food buyer. But is Food Day still relevant, given that most food flyers are now distributed through other avenues?

Thursday, it seems, has become "Computer/Information Technology Day" – at least in Toronto, where three of the four dailies now offer special computing sections. Is that truly an effective vehicle for advertisers? And what about those advertisers who avoid Mondays, because of the relatively light business coverage, and the absence of stock market reports? Is that a wise decision – or is it possible that they might benefit from the diminished clutter in Monday editions?

A couple of key issues emerge from all of the above:

Readership by Day of Week: Circulation is one thing, but what about readership by demographic group, or even by area of interest (principal grocery shoppers, car buyers, MOPEs, and so on)? These are our clients’ consumers: How are they interacting with their newspapers on a day-of-week basis?

Sectional Readership: This is a biggie. Every broadsheet in the country produces multiple sections every day. So why does almost every media planner request Page A3 with no premium for most of the ads that they book? Obviously, they believe that Section A is the best-read section in the paper. But are they mistaken?

It’s our belief that the larger papers do indeed have the readership data to support day-of-week and sectional preference decisions, but they’re afraid that releasing this data would result in more aggressive negotiation by agencies seeking to pay less for lesser-read sections.

That could happen, all right. But wouldn’t it also help to substantiate the argument that we should pay more for better-read pages and sections? This would be particularly important for clients seeking to optimize reach of a paper’s total readership.

By the same token, charging a lesser rate for lesser-read sections might help newspapers build a case for increased frequency by existing advertisers – and might help expand their franchise by bringing new advertisers into the fold.

FSI Research: More and more clients – retailers in particular – distribute large numbers of freestanding inserts nationally each week. And many have turned from dailies to community papers, to take advantage of the opportunity to target more discretely to high-propensity households. Because they can’t accommodate more tightly defined geographic distribution patterns, a lot of daily newspapers are missing the boat on this one.

If the daily newspaper industry ever did choose to put a focus on this area, they’d be satisfying a pent-up need – and the payout would probably be well worth the effort.

So there you have it. Research is becoming the great equalizer in our deployment of media. Some of the research discussed here is, in fact, being done – it’s just not being made available to the buying community. And some isn’t being done, even though it clearly should be.

The onus shouldn’t be on advertisers and agencies to fund this kind of research. It’s up to the medium to take on this responsibility in order to sell itself – and to accept the consequences, both good and bad, that this effort will yield.

So how about it, folks?

Bruce Baumann is vice-president, research director with M2 Universal Communications Management in Toronto.

Also in this report:

- NADbank building on solid base: Newspaper readership study evolving in dynamic market p.B18

- The war: views from the sidelines: The battle of the national dailies is causing other papers to redesign, rethink their news delivery p.B20

- Spotlight on Newspaper Creative p.B23

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group