It has finally happened! After years of debate and in-fighting, Britain’s national newspaper groups have mounted a concerted effort to sell the medium to advertisers. And it may be early days, but they have started in style.
The launch of the Newspaper Marketing Agency (NMA) in the new British Library was graced by the presence of the culture secretary Tessa Jowell, standing in for Alastair Campbell (she apologised for being a mere secretary of state when they were expecting someone more powerful).
The agency produced new research demonstrating the hold that sports pages exert over ABC1 males. Fifty-four per cent of male sports fans read the back pages first, a fact too often ignored by advertisers, agencies and the auditing companies that have a strong influence on the way press advertising is bought.
And it saw the launch of the NMA website, which is full of case histories and facts and figures about each national newspaper group, as well as links to each newspaper’s own advertising website. Crucially, the site also shows lots of ads, focusing on the best creative treatments from the UK and around the world. Maureen Duffy, the NMA’s chief executive, says: “The website is our key communication tool and it will be instrumental in providing fresh inspiration and pushing newspaper advertising up the creative agenda.”
She’s right to do so. The way to make newspaper advertising fashionable again is by inspiring the creatives so they want to see their ads in newspapers. The website is a good start, but there’s room for plenty more great ads, past as well as present. Unfortunately, there are also a few teething troubles and some of the reproduction leaves something to be desired.
There’s a section showing the best use of long copy, but the first ad, for Nike in South Africa, has such long copy – 11,000 words, believed to be the longest in advertising history – that it’s almost impossible to read, even by zooming in and printing it off. It’s not helped by a misprint in the site’s introduction to the ad, which is reproduced no fewer than three times.
In the “best use of space” section, there are ads for Kia Motors in the US. One shows a tiny starburst, another a tiny balloon, but unfortunately I can’t read the copy to see what the ads are talking about. And in the “black and white” section, clicking on the Sainsbury’s Nectar link takes you straight to a BT ad. If you then click on the BT link, you get taken to an NHS anti-smoking ad.
But these are quibbles which will no doubt be quickly sorted out. There are lots of terrific and inspiring ads, usefully sorted by product category or style of advertising, as well as a director’s showcase, chosen and analysed by Dave Dye of Campbell Doyle Dye. Duffy says that it will become the largest portfolio of creative newspaper excellence worldwide.
As the site develops, it would be nice to see it include some classic newspaper ads from the past. How about a press advertising Hall of Fame, showing some of the best award-winners over the years? Or why not recreate the seminal book 100 Great Advertisements, published 25 years ago in an earlier exercise to promote newspaper advertising by Times Newspapers, Mirror Group Newspapers and Campaign?
For that book, ten top creative directors were each asked to choose ten great newspaper ads of the previous 25 years. They included classic ads for Volkswagen, Benson & Hedges, Heineken, Guinness, Smirnoff, the Health Education Council and both Avis and Hertz: Avis headline: “When you’re only No.2, you try harder. Or else”; Hertz headline: “For years, Avis has been telling you Hertz is No.1. Now we’re going to tell you why”.
But inspiring advertisers, agency planners and creatives about newspaper advertising is not just a question of showing them great ads. You also have to remind them of the power and magic of the newspaper editorial, which is why the NMA fielded Mihir Bose, the Daily Telegraph’s sports editor at its launch. He gave a witty speech pointing out that, even in these days of wall-to-wall TV and radio sports coverage, people still turn to newspapers for analysis, investigation and colour from the best sports writers.
Building on that, the website lists major events that will be getting full newspaper coverage in the coming year for advertisers to tie into. They include sports events like the Rugby World Cup (for which the papers are offering a joint advertising package) as well as the Notting Hill Carnival, the Turner Prize and the Oscars. Perhaps it should also link to the newspapers’ editorial sites (as well as their advertising ones), so advertisers and agencies can catch up on columnists or articles they may have missed.
But good as it is, there’s a limit to what a website can do in terms of forcing newspapers back into the front of advertisers’ minds. The NMA is also planning to hold events for advertisers and creatives. It could do worse than trying to persuade the British Library to put on an exhibition of great newsp
aper pages from its huge newspaper library, or encourage the newspapers to open their own doors.
The Guardian and Observer have already demonstrated the power of their past pages in their permanent exhibition and archive centre in Farringdon Road. Schoolchildren can create their own newspapers there, using the latest technology. Why not let advertisers in for an evening to create their own papers?
Torin Douglas is media correspondent for BBC News