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

Google launches a campaign about news connections

The search engine is using archival footage to convey what Canadians are interested in.

Google Canada and agency Church + State have produced a new spot informed by research from the search giant that suggests it is a primary connector for Canadians to the news that matters to them – a direct shot across the bow of the legislators presently considering Bill C-18.

In a spot titled “Connecting you to all that’s news,” the search giant harnesses archival footage reflective of many of the issues Canadians care about deeply, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, truth and reconciliation and the war in Ukraine, to demonstrate the point that many Canadians turn to Google as a gateway to the information and news they’re seeking.

“From St. John’s to Victoria and everywhere in between, when Canadians want to understand or get updated on the most pressing topics, Google connects them to the news sources that provide it,” says Laura Pearce, head of marketing for Google Canada. “All of us at Google are proud to be that consistent and reliable connection for Canadians to the news they’re searching for.”

In some ways, the goal of the campaign was to tap into the varied emotional responses that single news stories can have with different audiences across the country.

“News may be factual, but how people respond to it can be very emotional,” explains Ron Tite, founder and CCO at Church + State. “Importantly, those emotions aren’t universal. One news story can create completely different reactions from different people in different places. Because of that, we simply wanted to let connecting to news be the focus of this campaign. We worked diligently to license a wide variety of actual news footage that we felt would resonate with Canadians.”

The campaign can be seen as a statement by the search provider on Bill C-18 – the Online News Act – that is currently being deliberated by a parliamentary committee. That legislation seeks to force online platforms such as Meta’s Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to pay news publishers for their content, echoing a similar law passed in Australia in 2021. The Act has drawn sharp rebukes from both companies, with Facebook threatening to ban news sharing on its platform.

Google Canada is not commenting on whether this new campaign is a response to C-18, but it has been public in its criticism of the legislation. In testimony delivered to parliament and shared on its blog, Colin McKay, the company’s head of public policy and government relations, said, “This is a history-making opportunity for Canada to craft world-class legislation that is clear and principled on who it benefits.” However, he noted that C-18 is “not that legislation.”

The campaign launched on Oct. 24 and is running through December across cinema, OLV, OOH, podcast, digital and social. Airfoil handled the broadcast production.