Commentary

'Help, I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up'

If you happened to be in Beijing a few weeks ago, you could have heard Gavin O'Reilly, first vice president of the World Association of Newspapers, proclaim that newspapers are "still the ad medium of choice" for advertisers.

Some may argue that he made that claim because he was standing in front of the International Advertising Association's 39th World Congress. I think he made his remarks in China because most there didn't speak English--and instead of howling with incredulous laughter, most of the audience sat silently text messaging each other in Mandarin "Who IS this idiot?"

As a counterpoint to his ludicrous claim, O'Reilly did a Letterman-like, top-10 list to show how hip the dead tree industry can be. Here it is, with appropriate commentary.

Top 10 Reasons Why Newspapers Are Still the Best Advertising Medium:

1. The medium works: Studies show that when newspapers are added to TV-only advertising, both brand awareness and the propensity of consumers to buy the product increases dramatically.

Geez, just a few minutes into this remark, O'Reilly was dissing TV left and right, saying: "the broadcast media is fragmenting and consumers are overwhelmed by advertising messages... advertisers... do not want to pay a premium for a dwindling, haphazard audience." Sounds like O'Reilly, like any earnest trade association guy, uses studies selectively--and only those that support his selling proposition du jour.

2. Newspapers deliver reach and influence: A study in Japan found consumers believed that newspapers were more accurate, more intellectual, and had broader and more credible content as well as more useful information for daily life.

"More accurate, more intellectual, and had broader and more credible content..." than what? Karaoke machines seen through the alcoholic blur of all-nighters with the boss? These results also from a culture that gives high marks to "Hello Kitty" and Yu-Gi-Oh cards.

3. Newspapers target and deliver wealthier customers: Consumption of newspapers increases as prosperity increases. The opposite, however, is true for television.

Yes, when about 70 percent of your audience is 55 years or older, they have indeed accumulated most of the wealth they will achieve in their lifetimes (provided they didn't buy AOL at $75 or Priceline at $55 or say a newspaper company stock at any price). The current wisdom is that folks in this age range are less inclined to try new products or are simply too old to do the Dew. There must be SOME reason everyone targets 18- to-35-year-olds...

4. Newspapers generate response for advertisers.

Most retailers these days are dealing with shoppers walking through the door waving Internet page printouts, not newspapers. Maybe by response he means those car ads that blast one price in 72-point type, then provide the real price in agate type at the bottom of the page. The usual response to those ads is to slam the showroom door so hard the glass shatters into the plastic palm fronds.

5. Newspapers offer flexibility in terms of budgets and formats.

Not to mention circulation statements.

6. Newspapers offer real outlets for creativity and delivering advertising effectiveness.

You can be reasonably assured that hell froze over the night before when a kid fresh out of Pratt shows up for an interview at a creative agency and says, "I want to do some snappy newspaper ads."

7. Newspapers offer constant innovation in their quest to attract new readers, and offer enhanced advertising platforms.

I guess the delivery guy has to be innovative to think up different places to toss my paper, and to give the guy credit, he could find a mud puddle in the Sahara desert.

8. Newspapers continue to grow circulation and readership on a global basis, thanks to innovation and proactive marketing.

The New York Times: THE MEDIA BUSINESS: May 4, 2004 "Newspaper Circulation Continues Overall Decline"

While a majority of the nation's 10 largest newspapers reported circulation gains for the six months ended in March, most others lost readers during that period, continuing the industry's overall long-term decline, according to an analysis of reports released yesterday...." Thank God for India and China and other upscale consumer markets, huh?

9. Newspapers work very well in partnership with other media.

Well, good luck trashing them one day and suggesting a marriage the next. Have you tried Abilify? (editor's note: medication for schizophrenia) Might help.

10. The newspaper is still the 'ultimate browser.'

Except that they aren't interactive, their information is hours if not days old, they rub off on your fingers, and reproduction quality is marginal at best. But, to be fair, it is easier to get a newspaper in the bottom of a birdcage than a flat panel monitor.

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