Newspaper Advertising – How to use Print media

I’m running late to get home and I’ve forgotten the car’s getting serviced. Yuck, I have to slum it with the public. I race down to the tram stop, read the Adshel poster in about 10 seconds and wait. Check out the drivers pulling up at the lights in the hope that someone I know might come along and give me a lift, or I could be really lucky and get picked up by a bored M.I.L.F. in a four wheel drive, heading my way. Sure.

Ten minutes later I’m still waiting. Finally the Tram trundles over the rise near the office and slides it’s way down the steel tracks. It stops opposite me and the 5 other people who have also been waiting for quarter of an hour or more now. It’s packed. We squeeze in. I dodge under arms, between stomachs and skirts. I push my $3.20 into the machine and collect my ticket. Over the course of the trip I’m the only one who buys a ticket. I make a mental note to inform someone important about that. I spend much of the rest of the trip wondering who would care enough to do anything about it.

I stand near the door, but where I can grab a rail, so I don’t fall over when it jerks alive and takes off.

Slowly the tram empties as the little insects who work in the city go back to their concrete cocoons in the suburbs to rest until tomorrow when they can come out all pretty again for another day of busily working making honey for the hive.

I finally get near a seat. I look around, yes, I’m the oldest and ugliest, so they, by leaving it empty near me, indicate it’s mine, if I want it. You have to let the elderly or a pregnant woman sit first. At first glance I’m a fitting combination of both. It’s got a crumpled paper on it. As I sit down I open the newspaper and read. The articles are in bigger type than a standard paper. They are shorter, with more pictures. There’s not as much in car ads or sport, the business bits are more, less mining/agriculture, it’s less family, more young-adult based celebrity-gossip.

This is MX, grabbed for free, read, then discarded. Picked up again by the next person, ditto. Their readership stats say a conservative 2.5 readers. I’d estimate it at more like 4, but it’s been at least a decade since I did any work for Roy Morgans, or for that matter, Newscorp, so what do I care?

MX breaks all the rules

It’s not aiming at middle Australia, it’s aiming at the younger up and comings. It’s free. Given they wouldn’t pay for it if it wasn’t, it’s an attempt by Rupert’s boys to grow the habit of reading a newspaper amongst a class of reader who they believe, rightly, is more inclined to go digital than paper. It’s an interesting business model for Newscorp.

But it does give you, the advertiser, one good argument you can use in negotiations – when they say ‘paid for’ gets better readership, than say free local papers, ask them about MX.

MX is one of the 70 daily newspaper publications in OZ. The biggies, as you’d already know, are the Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne’s Herald Sun, The Age, Brisbane Courier Mail, Financial Review, The Australian etc. but there’s also about 35 regional city papers.

Most newspapers have features that vary by day of the week, and occasional Magazines they toss in as an incentive to buy. The normal key sections of Lifestyle, Travel, Automotive, Entertainment, Business, Classifieds, Sport etc. are overshadowed by Early General News, which is anything from 16 pages to 52 pages long, depending upon the publication, the day of the week and the time of the year. EGN is charged at a higher rate, and there are ‘loadings’ for anything they can think of you might want to do, like run on a right hand page, buy consecutive pages, a back or front or wrap-around or etc. All of these extra rates are highly negotiable and all are available, depending upon what’s been prior sold and when you want to do it.

All of the major publications have web sites and other on-line versions, all work with other publications on various promotions and all are owned by large organizations who could care less about you as an advertiser.

They are interested in bottom-line and use their considerable political power to make or break governments according to what that party is prepared to do, to further their financial ends. Hence the reason we have just had our media ownership laws changed. You tell me what benefit there was for the Australian people in allowing media groups to sell off shore, to consolidate and to own more than one channel in a market? I can’t see one for the public. But I can see plenty of advantage for the media barons in lessening competition. Personally, I’d like to only have one or two ad agencies in the country to compete with, but then again, I don’t have any sway in keeping little Johnny in power, so how could I hope for such a result?

The sad truth about falling circulations

The circulations are falling as we go more digital. This affects your long term use of them – some may not survive the next 10 years, but in the short term it makes stuff all difference. A tool is a tool, even if it is getting rusty. I don’t blame the journalists for this slow decline. They are given instructions, their articles are accepted or not.

I do blame editorial policy, which runs scared in most main-stream media today and avoids any subject or treatment of a subject they assume the Packers or Murdoch’s would not sanction, more’s the pity. But who I really blame for falling circulations is the advertising agencies of the vehicles themselves. The papers don’t deserve the slide they get when they get their advertising wrong. But shit it proves advertising works (or doesn’t sometimes). Every year some agency gets the ‘lucky break’ to do ads for one of the big paper groups. Every second year they do a comic – Icpotta, Herald Hound Dog, this year’s worst is ‘General Knowledge’, which I’ll come back to cause it deserves a true basting (a cooking term for pouring searing fat over a lamb roast).

Every other year they do a pretentious black and white arty series of up themselves ads like The Age’s series last year. ‘Oh, we have a history of printing in black and white. Isn’t it pretty?’ I’m waiting on next year’s sepia version, resplendent with horses or vintage cars or may-be bi-planes, for some light relief. And don’t I hate the Herald Sun’s General Knowledge ads? Like it’s funny to do a guy in an army outfit, cause hey, that means ‘general’, get it ha ha? The General Knowledge ads are plain horrible – is it voice-overed by the same guy who does that lame TV show David Tench? Why do they think a deep-voiced try-hard is funny still? It might have been in 1973 or 83, but we’ve had 20 or 30 years of this joke. Get new material. Think about changing our perceptions of the printed word or we’ll keep going away from it.

Full of themselves

Papers have this quaint belief that they are still a really powerful media. They have some power. But it’s a tenth of what they had ten or twenty years ago. One hundredth of what they had before TV. But they still account for at least $1,680 million in advertising (2002 figures). And in those days represented some 28% of national media spend.

As a media we can take them or leave them like we choose Singapore Noodles or Suchi for lunch. We, like all agencies, couldn’t care less. Would we miss the Herald Sun? The Age? Often up to ten centimetres thick of mashed, bleached pine-tree filled with discounted ads. You are daily wasting valuable paper resources. You are daily putting tonnes of poisonous ink into the ecological stream. Daily polluting our precious air delivering your product via dirty diesel trucks. You are a dinosaur which hardly justifies it’s existence in this hyper-sensitive world. Be relevant. Be exciting. Or be gone. If I was running the editorial policy of newspapers, I’d keep that in mind.

Still, papers exist, they are good for advertisers to get their message to readers, how to buy and what works best?

Why Buy?

Sheer punch. The greatest advantage of newspapers is their ability to deliver to you millions of eye balls literally, tomorrow. There is no other media, save blanket TV at a cost of millions, (and can you knock up an ad for TV in an arvo?) that can get your story to that many people, that fast.

Choose Wisely

Negotiate heavily. A full page, EGN Saturday in a major newspaper can cost you over $40,000. 40K? Remember your ad lasts a day then ends up wiping some homeless man’s bum. If it’s not that urgent, you might as well shoot a low budget TVC, airing it for a couple of months. You’d get more longevity, frequency and probably have more people see your ad.


Obviously full pages get the punters attention, but yes, you pay for it. They do allow you to do a more emotional sell. However, using elegant strip ads and especially horizontal spreads, say over two pages, can have a lot of impact.

Buy Half Pages

A recent highly scientific, credible study (from 160,000 observations) in Sweden proved you get 95% of the readership for a half page, as for a full – at half the cost?

Use small space

Small, well located ads, with a lot of white space in them, work very well in newspapers. Especially little pointers that send the punter to your main ad on page 39 or wherever.

If they’re older, go smaller. Younger, bigger

The older your customer, the more they’ll spend time reading a paper. Younger people read a paper for 18-20 minutes, the over 65 may spend 37-38 minutes on the same publication. And the older people respond just as well to smaller ads – they read the whole paper, not just flick through it – they have time.

Advertise in relevant pages

Travel Packages in the travel section, hopefully not near the page where the latest terrorist attack is being discussed. Breaking this rule also works too – if you go in EGN instead of the Real Estate section, for example. And keep in mind EGN is not what it’s cracked up to be. The same Swedish study I mentioned earlier also proved ads on page 65 were almost as read as ads on page 5, for often much less cost?

Buy Distressed

Most of our clients have a variety of ad shapes that can be slotted in when deals fall out of the sky, as they often do. If they know you’re good for an occasional quick and dirty one, they’ll call you when they need space filled. That reminds me of someone I knew years ago when I was single and much thinner and had hair….

Buy regular space on a particular day

Pick one, say a Friday or a Tuesday? Nice if the location/day is relevant to your product or service. Doing anything regularly builds your brand’s reputation in a subtle, powerful way.

Buy 3 days in a row

If you’re in a hurry to get a message out or a sale sold out, buy over a few days – many people read only one day a week. A few loyalists will buy almost every day. You’ll often get both with a concentrated campaign.

Strong Ads work

Large blocks of colour always help in getting attention as the rest of the page will invariably be a sea of black and white, or designer soft colours, so using bold vivid colours is definitely an advantage. On cheap newsprint will lose their sharpness, but are still better then using tints of colours, or light pastel shades.

In addition to using contrasting colours, use large clear fonts, as papers can bleed and appear washed out and the reverse side of the page, which could be someone else’s bold ad, will often show through.

Be topical

One of the key creative differences many agencies don’t quite get with newspapers, is that they are intensely now. Using current events and incorporating them into creative is extremely effective. If you can knock up a clever ad that makes a point about an event that’s current, like a war, resignation, Court finding or whatever, the public love it. They know how hard it is to get something done in a day and appreciate it. It says you’ve got your act together. Next time you insist on the marketing department running absolutely everything past the board or the US management, think about that.

Book the ad next to a story

There’s a constant tit for tat war going on between Media Watch and various newspapers regarding this. Was Schumacher’s ad for a Swiss watch booked before the article was written about him etc? Who cares? It’s relatively easy to get news stories written if you book enough space often enough. Ask Telstra.


Have your branding consistent in all press ads. Especially the way your ads are laid out, unless you’re being very creative. Which is not a bad thing. We often use different colours or when sub branding, as it helps to differentiate each brand.

Get feedback

Measure responses by running separate phone numbers, web addresses. Or add a coupon to ads to get the reader to interact at the same time.

Go classic

Write a catchy headline and contrast it with an image so they are intrigued enough to read the body copy for an explanation.

Go Colour

Colour ads outsell B&W or spot colour every time.

Clear concise information

Keep your story simple. Even if you use long copy, don’t let the reader get bored or they will just flick the page. It’s even easier than hitting the remote on a TV.

Always cross-promote

With radio or outdoor or TV or leaflets. One media on it’s own rarely works well and a two/three media campaign works best. And work in with the on-line operation – so many ads run in the paper but not on the web site. Dumb.


Make sure the phone number and website is big. Even with a branding ad, that’s not meant to be ‘retail’, don’t fail to give them the means to act now, should they wish to.

Positive Trends

They are getting more open to broken space, interesting layouts (see De-graves ad) illustrations and developing some personality in some sections. You could say it’s about fucking time.

As a conclusion, if you are interested in more intelligent, better-educated customers, newspapers are a good option and they won’t die any time soon, regardless of what the on-line wankers keep saying.

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