While your standard newspaper ad exudes all the life of flattened road kill, other media are investing research and development dollars in inventive attempts to reach people. A few examples: magazines stitch talking and singing ads to their pages; television runs "fake" commercials for products; ad agencies place big-budget commercials exclusively on YouTube, ignoring regular television; and Budweiser creates an entire online entertainment network for its ads.
Newspaper companies do experiment with ads, but mostly in their online ventures, which sends the message to advertisers and readers—the boomers-and-older generation still habituated to newspapers—that they've given print up for dead.
None of this is to suggest that the tired newspaper ad template can't sell goods and services. Of course it can. Indeed, one of the main reasons people read newspapers is to consume classified, real estate, and entertainment ads. But ask anybody who has ever tried to place a stimulating advertisement in a newspaper and you'll hear all about antiquated rules about ad location, size, configuration, and taste that are designed to prevent imaginative ads from running. Newspapers are as complacent in today's competitive ad market as they were when they held a near-monopoly over advertising.
Instead of treating the arrival of front-page ads as some sort of last straw for a distressed industry, newspapers would be smarter to treat it as the first step in their modernization. If they don't tell anybody that that their revolutionarily idea is a retread from 1800s, neither will I.
I have the vague recollection that European and South American newspaper advertisements are more creative, compelling, and offensive. Am I right? Send word to email@example.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)
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