LOL: Newspaper Industry Aims To Save Itself With Hideous Print Ads

The Martin Agency unveils a new campaign for the Newspaper Association of America. But does it matter?

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 ads look so decidedly un-smart, it hurts. Where to even begin? Hey guys: The 1990s called. They want their fake letterpress back.]

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]

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  • fbooker

    As a real estate broker I used print classified as a sure way to drive prospects to our web site. Very effective, even today. I agree about the design quality of these ads. They seem dated and ordinary.

  • Dave

    Andrew, you might want to read a bit more carefully before you pop off. John didn't say "no one under 50 reads newsprint." You did. He questioned whether anyone under 50 "regularly consume(d) their news" in the way depicted in the ad. His question was rhetorical, not literal, and I would say he's directionally correct. Oh -- and since you're a hard-line literalist, how many people, exactly, make up a "load"? Get over your bad self.

  • calgjay

    I'm educated, professionally employed, 34 years old and can't remember the last time I bought a newspaper. I also cut my cable service and use the Internet for all of my home media. The newspaper will die, it just may take a little longer than some think.... or not. 

  • andrew

    If you're going to be arrogant and claim that no one under 50 reads newsprint, then you ought to be right. As it is, loads of young people prefer to disconnect from the internet hive mind once in a while and pick up a broadsheet.

  • sullivanjake

    Correction:  The campaign was done by the Dean Martin Agency.  Although IMO, the copy reads like the client was pushing the keys pretty hard. 

  • Leigh Ann Kristiansen

    I've been working as a newspaper ad buyer for clients for 19 years.  I specialize in classified advertising, so it's not an perfect comparison, but I must say that we're seeing more and more customers using print to drive online traffic.  They are seeing a better quality lead from print than they do their online ads.

  • Stef Marcinkowski

    In Toronto, newspapers are still a going concern: to the affluent, 50+ commuter demographic. They just love all those ads for carpets, mattresses, leather furniture, fur jackets, $200 bottles of wine and retirement condos.

    To hook the next generation of kids, newspapers will need to step up their game with some serious Minority Report technology.

  • Marta Sofia

    I'd have to say that despite all the news outlets online I still consume most of my news in written good old newspaper form, It's a comfortable way to pass the time on commutes and on the coffee shop, I guess If I had an IPad it could be different but I don't.
    I'm 21 years old and read several newspapers regularly, I don't see that changing for me any time soon.

  • Chucolo

    Tout digital all you want, but digital don't pay the bills, at least not for the type of organization required to produce the level of professional  journalism you allude to. For now, and for years to come, print is the engine that generates the bucks. I'm sure you appreciated the freelance checks I assume you received from the likes of Wired, New York, etc. etc. Not so sure you would have been as excited if you were paid, say, a dime for every dollar you did receive, and that's pretty much what digital generates. Newspapers, admittedly, have some serious challenges to overcome, but if they do disappear, society's challenges will be far greater.

  • sarah g

    The funniest thing about the print ads telling you to buy printed newspapers is the QR code!!