Advertising Print: This Will Be A Brief Piece
If you have worked in advertising, magazine ads were probably the core of your original portfolio. It’s what we learned to create advertising for and of what our earliest ‘books’ (what the industry calls the portfolio) were comprised. Like outdoor billboards and posters, newspapers and magazines are the easiest canvases for which to create ads — a simple bold concept expressed with words and picture over a series of three executions. My first portfolio had about six different campaigns from night classes at School of Visual Arts. An airline. A soap. A cookie. A sneaker brand. I think my best was a tourism campaign for the exotic small rugged country of Bhutan nestled among India, China and Nepal in the Himalayas. Each ad highlighted something interesting about the country (The abominable snowman. Eating yak.) and warned people with a wink that this wasn’t Hawaii or Disney, separating the earnest professional tourist from the amateur umbrella drink. The tagline helped the right target self-select the destination: “Bhutan. For Travelers. Not Tourists.”
I loved expressing ideas through print. Sure there were other media channels back then but TV commercials were too complicated for beginners, direct mail required a lot of work to put a piece together, and only other copywriters cared about radio scripts. And what about mobile and web advertising ideas? Well I started in 1992 when CD-ROMs were barely around.
Magazines are still my favorite indulgence for plane rides. For a cross-country client trip to San Francisco last week, the stop to the news stand was an important errand. Since I’m such a deep person, I grabbed a mix of Vanity Fair, Star (How else to catch up on Prince William’s lovelife?), Details (James Franco is everywhere), The Atlantic and then saw Time with the dog on the cover: “What Animals Think.” A dog lover and pet owner, I picked up the famous newsweekly. It felt so, well, thin. The reason of course was the lack of advertising. Not just less which we’ve all heard about but — almost none. Like barely any.
I decided to analyze what was there, which only made me more depressed:
- 6 paid ads in total (!), including Siemens (my agency’s client) on the inside cover, DoubleTree Hotels, Geico, Toyota (a flaky forgettable brand ad) and a Honda Clearance ad. The back cover had an ad for iPhone 4, in case you forgot it had been released.
- 1 double page spread: Jeep
- 2 nonprofit (Stand up for Cancer, American Red Cross) or internal Time Life ads for family products
- 16 consecutive pages without ANY advertising
And this is Time, the iconic newsweekly. We’re not even talking US News and World Report. Vanity Fair and Details of course are a different matter. They are books loaded with ads, although my gripe with them is quite different. Those two are full of old-school passive image ads. Mostly photography and brand logo. Few headlines or the most minimal body copy. Rare is the ad that asks you to actually do anything and many don’t even have a simple modern URL where you could see more choices. Virtually none have any actual product news to report — another classic use of advertising gone or forgotten. In a world of modern brands engaging with customers if not actually selling their products, this old fashioned approach excused with words like “branding” is reckless and short sighted. They’re basically image billboards (of which I am a fan) but ones that no one really sees or can do anything with.
Sure, there are trade ads from the Magazine Publishers Association talking about how print isn’t dead, and I suppose fashion and lifestyle magazine data would support that claim. Outdoor advertising is print-like and growing. iPad advertising could be argued to be interactive print. Perhaps Time should go for a sponsored content model or publish bi-monthly instead.
The real good news is for readers of actual articles. There’s basically no interruption on catching up on the royals.
Note: I’ll be on vacation for awhile, so I won’t be publishing regularly again until September. Please catch up on previous articles and write pithy comments
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