Let's Do Something about Retail Advertising before It's Too Late

Article excerpt

THIS SCENARIO WAS expressed to Newspaper Advertising Bureau management in late 1985.

. . . to Newspaper Association of America management in 1991.

. . . to publishers and newspaper and advertising executives alike, including a former Ad Bureau chairman of the board.

Not a single individual disagreed, with the position as stated. Nevertheless, as retail revenue continues to be suspect, the newspaper industry has chosen to remain status quo on the subject.

The NAB/NAA knowingly chose to ignore the situation as though the problem did not exist and has all but retreated into other avenues of business.

One seriously must inquire, "Has the newspaper industry given up the fight for retail advertising dollars and consciously surrendered revenue to the competition?"

Because retail advertising linage is so critical to every newspaper, it is hard to understand the lack of newspaper industry effort and support to maintain and reclaim lost revenue.

It is this writer's sincere belief that the majority of newspaper management decision makers do not completely comprehend the seriousness of the situation and the negative effects on future revenue.

Nor do I believe that they fully understand the elements that have placed them in their current dilemma. And that is what this article is all about.

It's first necessary to journey back about 32 years to begin to understand today's "newspaper advertising illiteracy" position and how the past relates to this current dilemma.

In 1961, at the 50th anniversary of the National Retail Merchants Association, Dr. Charles Edwards Jr., dean of the School of Retailing, New York University, delivered a speech in which he asked, "What changes have occurred in retail advertising during the eventful twenty-year period between 1941 and 1961?"

His answer," Regrettably, I find little evidence of improvement in the character or the quality of the advertising of most retail stores. With but a few notable exceptions, the advertising published by the majority of stores is still so poorly written that it could never succeed except for one life-saving circumstances. Retail advertising deals with articles that people regularly and urgently need and want."

This indictment of advertising professionals came during the newspaper's heyday, when the newspaper was the undisputed king of advertising, when nearly 100% of advertisers' efforts focused on print media.

It also is necessary to mention that clearly, numerous notable newspapers and retailers currently perform up to their potential. Unfortunately, they are exceptions.

Now, to the contributing elements during the past 15 to 20 years. During this period, advertisers became more and more sophisticated in their demands for quality reproduction, better paper stock, increased usage of color, targeted distribution and reasonable rates. Requests began at a time when most newspapers chose to remain immobile to change. Retailers were forced to investigate other methods of improving advertising standards. Preprinted colorful tabloids on quality stock were just the beginning.

Retailers learned that they could curtail and/or eliminate run-of-press advertising, the cost of which was ever escalating, and substitute colorful preprinted advertising pieces because of the affordability of large run quantities.

Preprint newspaper insert rates were considered high, and alternative distribution methods such as "marriage mail" became very attractive along with new targeted marketing priorities.

To accommodate this new, way of doing business, new retail advertising management positions were established to handle printing, production and distribution. Broadcast and marketing manager posts also were created.

This oversimplified view leads us to our current position with advertisers. Today, most newspapers are attempting to fulfill advertisers' needs. …