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Raymond Snoddy 

The power of newspaper ads

Raymond Snoddy

From an angry systems analyst paying out of his own pocket to place a full-page ad in the Guardian, to corporate apologies and M&C Saatchi Thatcher tributes - newspapers are still one of the strongest advertising mediums for sheer impact in a digital age. Why? By Raymond Snoddy.

You may have missed the full page advertisement in the Guardian last month in the form of an open letter to readers under the headline: "Why it has all gone wrong within our public services."

The text was dense but still made a compelling case to try to refute what the author sees as three mistaken government assumptions about public services. They are: that you can measure "complex" systems of public service as if they were "simple" profit and loss systems, that all public servants are naturally lazy unless motivated by threat or reward, and that private business is more efficient than public service.

"As a direct result of the way government have managed our public services they have killed many people through the proliferation of hospital superbugs, criminalised a generation of young men by giving them convictions for crimes they have not committed, driven over a million children out of education without any qualifications, almost caused our doctors to go private like the dentists did, make the court fine system a joke and allowed the criminal seizure of your motor vehicle when all you have done is overstayed in a parking space for a few minutes," the writer argues.

The list of targets chosen by Mike Ledwidge, a systems analyst with more than 29 years' experience is both tendentious and idiosyncratic.

The key thing is that he was angry enough to spend £11,400 of his own money to get his views across and he did it with a newspaper ad.

It was a heart-felt statement which could have been posted on the internet for nothing. Mike clearly believed that he needed a newspaper ad to have the necessary impact.

His was an extreme and personal case, but anecdotal evidence backed up informally by a number of newspaper ad directors, suggest that ads that make a corporate statement, a telling point or abject corporate apologies in the papers are on the rise.

M&C Saatchi is as sophisticated an advertising group as any when it comes to the power of new media and social networks. But what did they do to mark the death of their favourite politician?

A full page ad appeared in the Sunday Times with a large black-trimmed, black and white photograph of Margaret Thatcher in her prime with the simple legend: "The best client we ever had."

It is a wonderful example - a relatively tasteful tribute stirred up with the commercial word "client" - reminding everyone who it was who masterminded the advertising campaigns that helped to create Thatcherism.

It had impact.

The Daily Telegraph shares, of course, one great advantage with the Sunday Times - the broadsheet platform. It gives those papers a visual advantage, even if they are difficult to read on the tube, compared with the diminished world of the tabloids and Berliners.

Another powerful example of corporate campaigning came earlier this month from the international tobacco company JTI, which is obviously opposed to government plans to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products.

Full-page ads were devoted to a letter, obtained under Freedom of Information legislation, from the Department of Health to the Australian Department of Health and Ageing.

In it the UK department admits that no-one has done this before and therefore "there isn't any hard evidence to show that it works."

The copy line simply says: "We Couldn't Have Put It Better Ourselves."

Then there are the reputational luxury goods ads such as one this month from watchmaker Patek Philippe with lots of small subtle sub-messages: "begin your own tradition."

The main theme exudes the history and quality of the master watchmaker and comes in a letter from Thierry Stern, the company president.

"As a family-owned watch company, we are committed to restoring and maintaining all our watches. Including those made in 1839," says Thierry.

Sky controller Rupert Murdoch also appreciates the importance of a full page colour ad in the Daily Telegraph to ram home the wholly commercial and completely unsubtle message: "Sky WiFi is 7 X faster on average that BT Wi-fi."

Perhaps Liverpool FC should take out a full-colour ad apologising for the behaviour of "bite-shame Luis Suarez."

In addition there are Waitrose's sumptuous Heston Blumenthal ads that look so good you almost want to eat the page.

And how to fit in all the wonderful holidays advertised every day in the papers - this seems to be the season for advertising cruises from the Daily Mail's Grand Voyage To Dubai Aboard MSC Lirica to Island hopping in the Caribbean in the Times.

On the assumption that commercial players are behaving rationally then there must be an argument that newspaper ads, many of which seem to be getting sharper, better and more colourful, must be having an impact. It must also be a bigger impact than the much cheaper internet otherwise the advertisers would not waste their money by coming back for more.

It all feeds into the arguments advanced by researchers at last week's Shift conference, hosted by Newsworks, that newspapers, despite falling paper circulations, still have considerable "cultural clout."

According to Work Research and academic partners at Bournemouth University, brands are about more than their rational and emotional instinctive character. They are also cultural objects and that purchasing decisions are to varying degrees driven by culture in the widest sense.

Indeed the researchers found a higher correlation between media context and advertising effectiveness for newsbrands - or newspapers as some of us diehards still insist on calling them - than other media.

This could be related to higher levels of engagement that consumers have with "newsbrand" content, both editorial and advertising.

Try and find time to read a copy of Mike Ledwidge's rant. He concludes with a cheery note that even banks are not simple profit and loss systems because they could not ultimately be allowed to go bust.

"So, because banks are 'complex systems' and not just about making a profit, being given 'targets' and 'bonuses' for sales of mortgages has bankrupted the western world for a generation," he argues.

And remember we wouldn't have heard of him if he hadn't decided to spend his money on a full page advertisement in the Guardian, the correct cultural context for such a diatribe.


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