Summer Programs. Extra-Wide Shoes. Big Lessons in Small Space Ads.
You’ll find them in the ‘marketplace’ section of a magazine or newsletter or along the column edges in the second half of long articles. Online on publisher sites, instead of box banner display ads, they’re the text ads with a link.
Small space ads. Do you read them? Do you like them? Do you respond to them? The New Yorker has the best variety. Summer camps in the Berkshires. Summer programs at colleges. Retirement communities in Arizona. Immigration services. Tour groups. Men’s extra wide shoes. The magazine even has a dedicated online media kit about the big benefits of small space advertising. Rates for one inch black-and-white seem to start around $1,700 and reduce with multiple insertions. You’re probably smart to time it to the editorial calendar so your service or product runs when the issue has your category or issue as a focus. When there’s extra space, you’ll see a ‘house’ ad by the publication, advertising his website or in the recent New Yorker issue, a big ad asking you to “like” it on Facebook.
Small space advertising is also the biggest marketing offering on Facebook and LinkedIn, two social networks where my agency and I have run dozens of campaigns for clients. There, the prices are so low and the tools so easy, I’ve even done one or two experiments on my own.
A small space ads needs to beg for your attention. It might employ a photo that stands out like a jacket or a logo, or a desperate headline that promises a magic cure or exclusivity. What I like is that as a creative marketer, it gets me back to the basics of advertising and direct response. I have to think about the craft of what actually works and sounds interesting — the right photo, the right words and the right order. You also have to keep to word counts and space limitations.
I know it because I’ve failed at it. It’s often smaller businesses that run these at great expense, vulnerability and without much professional help. During a period of my life when I freelanced and had my own business, I ran a campaign for a portrait photographer named Steve who wanted to break into the lucrative head shot market for actors. Unlike the casting couch genre of photographers who charged hundreds of dollars for portfolio shots, Steve was a warm, smart, no-nonsense guy who treated people right, so my campaign tackled pain points of getting your head shot taken (expense, photographer arrogance, sketchy business practices) and promised Steve as the antidote. “Headshots for Models with Heads” was the tagline.
The competitions’ ads showed typical customer success photos, so I suggested we do the opposite and run bold, witty headlines to tackle each pain point: “Just a reminder, a picture is worth a thousand words. Not dollars.”; “A photographer who captures great attitude. Not gives it.“; and my favorite that made Steve blush but his wife helped me get him to run: “It’s a myth models have to sleep with the photographer. But it’s true they usually get screwed.“
The client was skeptical about forgoing photography but agreed to my approach since, five years out of college, I was such a seasoned professional. I could only buy three inch by one inch display ads in the weekly stage publication, horizontal rectangles at the bottom of busy pages. I designed and placed the ads myself, running them on Mondays and Thursdays for some reason having to do with matinees I can’t remember. Pre-internet, calling his phone number was the way people would respond. I sat nervously by my phone as he sat nervously by his phone, waiting for any response. It was up to Steve to close the deal but it was up to me to provoke the calls. Each evening he’d call me to let me know how many calls he got. The first day, one. The second day, none. The third day, none. That Friday, one. I kept a tally of hash-tags by my phone, which must be the world’s least advanced marketing dashboard. We ran the campaign for three weeks and he spent about $600 on media and $800 dollars on my fee. He nabbed one actual job for it, which made him back half his money. He didn’t blame me completely, thinking we should have bought bigger space ads. I had my own thinking. I should have used a photo.
The sensitivity to small business budgets has always stayed with me. If I respond to a small space ad now, I let the business know that it’s because of the ad so they keep running them. I also judge them based on more than just my gut. What do you do?
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