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Ad Stand: The Newspaper advertising crisis

Newspaper ads are struggling with a crisis and maybe it’s time they stepped out of the shadow of TV ads

Delhi | September 27, 2016

Adstand by Naresh Gupta

Can you quickly recall the ads you read in newspapers today morning? Okay can you go back and recall what you read a week back? Was there a newspaper ad that made you stop and say: this is nice, or this is clever or this is too good?

There is a crisis that newspaper ads are struggling with. The one single reason why brands create advertising is memorability. If the advertising does not create memorability, then it is an expensive indulgence that the brand can avoid.

Crisis of memorability

The three largest categories that use newspapers extensively are real estate, retail and e-commerce. Maybe, the three categories are responsible for the crisis of memorability that newspaper advertising faces today. Real estate advertising is transactional, the builders are not looking at long-term traction; they look at quick transaction. This makes the real estate newspaper advertising low on idea and high on details. The belief that prospective buyers are looking for details and the ad needs to say everything that can be said has turned real estate ads into catalogue listings. E-commerce websites too look at newspaper advertising as catalogues to announce sale, there is rarely an attempt to build an idea in those ads. The entire retail sector has taken newspaper advertising back to the days of origination. In the earliest days, newspaper ads were catalogue listing. Today, newspaper ads are back to being catalogue listing. Therein lies the biggest crisis newspaper advertising faces today.

Crisis of craft

Last week, Snapdeal released expensive jackets across the country, announcing its new identity and its new consumer proposition. Unbox Zindagi is an ambitious brand building exercise that the brand undertook. A key element of the campaign is an anthem that tells the story of the brand. Snapdeal turned the song into the body copy for the launch ads in newspapers. The Hindi lyrics of the song were written in Roman script and became the body copy for the ad. The Roman Script Hindi was used in English newspaper ads that were released across the country, including in areas where Hindi is not the primary language. Brands invest in newspaper advertising to connect with its consumers, to tell the story of brand in the language of consumers. Snapdeal missed an opportunity to really connect and narrate the story of its brand. By being poor in craft, the brand did not create the edge it could have by being true to craft. Maybe, memorability of the individual newspaper ad was never considered and it was only used as a tactical weapon to make some noise.

Last week was also an expensive indulgence from Louis Philippe shirts across the country with a gatefold that opened into a look at how they have changed the shirt forever. The hyperbolic ad was more of a self-indulgence from the brand and less of a promise to the consumer. Did the brand need really expensive real estate to tell the consumer that Louis Philippe shirts have changed forever? Incidentally if you do end up visiting the website of the brand, then none of the tonality of the press ad exists on the web. Is the brand then suffering from an identity crisis?

Crisis of context

Like Snapdeal, Uber too launched a new campaign to announce its new consumer promise. Uber is no longer everyone’s private driver, Uber makes you move forward. To launch the new campaign, the brand has released large format expensive newspaper ads across the country, looking for people who can be Uber drivers. The press campaign supplements the web campaign, which is the story of Shankar the driver. The newspaper ad is the story of another driver whose daughter is a chess champion. The campaign works till this extent. Does the campaign need English newspapers to advertise or should it move to language newspapers? For both relevance and reach, language newspapers will deliver far better impact. By being in English newspapers, has Uber lost the wider narrative? Language newspapers do deliver better reach and equally good quality of audience to the advertiser. The potential Uber partners are more likely to read the language newspapers than the English ones.

Uber may have missed the context of audiences’ lives completely.

Does newspaper advertising need reinvention?

Newspaper advertising is expensive. Brands invest a large part of their marketing budget in newspapers to build immediacy in brand advertising. Enhanced transaction or greater traffic on site or greater number of calls on the toll-free number cannot be the way to measure the impact of newspaper adverts. Memorability has to be the key. Especially now when we are burdened with information overload and have shorter attention span.

I have just picked four random examples from brands that have over-invested in newspapers. For brands that have not over-invested, memorability becomes even more important. That is the only currency hundreds of brands should live by. It’s time newspaper ads stepped out of the shadow of TV ads.

(Naresh Gupta is Managing Partner and CSO of Bang in the Middle. The views expressed are personal.)


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