In 2009, media critic Clay Shirky wrote an essay called "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable," in which he put the economic woes of paper-based newsmedia into historical and cultural context. The tl;dr version of his argument: "Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism." Did the newspaper industry get his memo? By the looks of the Newspaper Association of America’s new dead-tree-centric ad campaign, not so much.
The campaign, created by The Martin Agency and titled "Smart is the New Sexy," includes the de rigueur elements of any modern brand advertising campaign: a Facebook push, a Twitter hashtag, a cluster of YouTube videos. But the main elements are —surprise—big ol’ print and banner ads.
The campaign plays lip service to the web by tossing the word "digital" around here and there, but let’s be honest: These rather ugly ads are all about the wood pulp. The visual materials unequivocally highlight a literal news-paper: held lovingly over a cup of morning coffee, peeking coyly from behind a cocked high heel, spread out impressively next to a sad, tiny-looking smartphone. Everyone in the ads is, supposedly, sexy (for cartoon characters anyway). But seriously: Outside of an occasional lazy Sunday, does anyone under the age of 50 regularly consume their news this way?
Brand advertising is hard, especially when the "brand" being pushed is more of a noble socio-cultural ideal than an actual brand. But the NAA’s "paper! ain’t it grand?" messaging comes off tone-deaf at best and reeks of flat-out desperation at worst. Smart is sexy—but what does that have to do with printing presses and home delivery? And I’d bet that more newshounds can "find Iran on a map" (as the campaign condescendingly crows) thanks to Twitter—or gee, I don’t know, Google Maps?—than a broadsheet. Yes, paper-based news isn’t going to croak tomorrow. But it’s not the future—at least, not under its current business model. If news organizations don’t want journalism—the thing worth saving—to go down with the newsprint ship, they need to think bigger and better than this.
[Top image by NS Newsflash]