Advertisements prove print can still pack a punch

What was the last newspaper advertisement that stopped you in your tracks? You might not have a ready answer on stand-by, but I’m pretty sure some of the examples below will be ads that halted your page-turning and commanded your attention.

Every morning I sit down and go through all of the newspapers (well, all of Newsworks’ stakeholder titles), so I see my fair share of newspaper ads. While many are funny or beautiful or intriguing, every so often one comes along that underlines to me the power print has to make readers stop, think, and influence their actions.

Last year an ad titled, “I wish my son had cancer” ran, free of charge, in the Evening Standard and The Independent. The content of the ad, for a charity called Harrison’s Fund, consisted of a paragraph written by the father of Harrison Smith, who suffers from an incurable and fatal disease, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Below the text was a picture of Alex Smith holding his son.  

Undoubtedly, the headline was shocking, to the point that it sparked questions as to whether it was appropriate copy for an ad. Yet it’s the frank honesty of the statement that hits the reader and brings home the unbearable situation Harrison and his family are in.

Arguably the piece wouldn’t have gained so much publicity – with newspapers covering the story as far away as Brasil and Web site visits to increasing by 17,000% – and the fund wouldn’t have received the same support, with donations up by more than 200%, without the bold text and simple creative execution.

Speaking after publication, Geoff Gover, London creative partner at AIS, the creative agency involved, said: “The challenge now is to keep the momentum going. And it’s really exciting, because what we’ve achieved so far is the biggest response we’ve ever had from a piece of advertising so small.”

With a newspaper ad, the reader has the time to absorb and react to the gravitas of the printed words and the stark, black-and-white image.

Additionally, readers often feel a strong emotional relationship with the newspaper they read, according to Newsworks’ Truly Madly Deeply study, which reinforces to me the appropriateness of the format in conveying the ad’s highly personal message; it is essentially a one-on-one environment between the newspaper and the reader.

More recent examples of newspaper adverts that have caught my eye with their potential to engender reader response include “Seriously, how’s your father?” by Prostate Cancer UK and RSPB’s “If there’s no home for nature…

As with the Harrison’s Fund advert, these ads have a strong headline and image, while allowing the reader the time to linger on the more detailed content of the text – which, in the case of the prostate cancer ad, addresses them directly.

A very different example of print advertising packing a punch was demonstrated by Tesco’s employment of the medium following the horsemeat crisis.

If you live in the UK, you could not have missed miss the furor that followed “the horsemeat in our burgers” revelations or the handling of the fallout by the brands involved, including Tesco.

The supermarket took out a series of full-page spreads in many of the national newspapers over a six-week period, starting with an ad entitled, “We apologise.”

Rather than masking the incident, the long-copy ads took an upfront and honest approach, offering a sincere apology and assuring readers that “we will work harder than ever with all our suppliers to make sure this never happens again.”

The newspaper ads, which won “Best newspaper campaign” at Newsworks’ 2013 Planning Awards, struck me as being as close as possible to Tesco having delivered a letter of explanation to every member of the population – that’s how I felt when I opened the morning newspaper to it.

It might be over a year since they were published, but the ads still remain a prime example of the strengths of print in influencing readers. Tesco weathered the storm with customers describing their reactive ads as “credible” and effective in addressing concerns.

I think the ability to strip back an issue and deliver a clear and articulate message is an increasingly valuable and effective strength for newspaper advertising in a media landscape busy with formats and platforms.

Later this year, Expedia, in collaboration with the Philippines Tourist Board, will run a campaign across news brands – with print as a central component – to encourage the regeneration of tourism to the Philippines post-Typhoon Haiyan.

The one-day campaign, is the result of PHD’s Emma Callaghan winning Newsworks’ Day of influence competition, which offered a prize of up to £300,000 worth of advertising across news-brand platforms on a single day, to reach and influence an audience of more than 20 million.

In Callaghan’s pitch, she outlined the eye-catching photography and strong positive messages the print ads will convey and described the opportunity as a “fantastic case study to prove the power, reach, and influence of newsbrands.”

Keep a lookout for the ads when you’re perusing your newspaper – chances are they’ll draw your attention.  

About Jessie Sampson

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