Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk: No More Crappy Ads

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk: No More Crappy Ads

Article excerpt

Given the alarming deterioration of advertising revenue that Jennifer Saba and I document in this issue's special report -- a phenomenon that threatens to prove permanent where it once was simply periodic -- this may not strike you, Mr. or Ms. Publisher, as precisely the moment to launch the crusade I'm about to suggest. But on the contrary, I believe it's never been more important than now, at this most confounding crossroads in the industry's modern history, that newspapers pledge a solemn vow: no more crappy ads.

No more junky, congested ads choking on words. No more ads illustrated with crude line drawings. No more ads with testimonials from "Mike T., Molina" and "J.W., Springfield." In fact, no more ads with "every" other "word" in "quotes."

And if you're the publisher of a Spanish-language paper, !por el amor de Dios!, say "no mas" to ads for bogus Indio magic men wearing cheesy Halloween headdresses they probably picked up at a CVS in Elizabeth, N.J., who promise to exorcise everything from diabetes and alcoholism to unemployment and the evil eye of a love rival.

Crappy-looking ads are, of course, a great newspaper tradition, and a tribute, in a perverse way, to its power as the people's medium. Every mom-and-pop business can be its own Leo Burnett agency.

But during the course of the last quarter-century, the industry transformed the look and quality of its advertising as papers improved their reproduction and steadily added color pages. Much of the thanks goes to USA Today, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in September. From its start in 1982 -- another grim year for newspapers, incidentally -- it bravely insisted on ads suitable for slick magazines, even as critics sniped that Al Neuharth had birthed a comic book version of a daily, a McPaper.

Newspapers still insist on quality for such high-profile positions as the increasingly common section front and front-page banner ads. Inside, though, standards are slipping as newspapers, desperate for revenue, offer their real estate to anything that's accompanied by a check.

They're sneaking in everywhere. It happens even in The New York Times, for crying out loud, home to ads for such high-end merchandise as Gucci Aviatrix black leather purses that go for $2,390 a pop. Every once in a while, my Times edition in Chicago includes an ad for a workplace injury clinic that features a line drawing of a man, complete with lightning bolts firing from his aching back, that looks as if it were done by the most talented artist in Miss Moran's fourth-grade class. …

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