Press Box

Advertisements for Themselves

Take a gander at the pathetic ad campaigns magazines and newspapers are running to promote their industries.

An ad for “magazines”

The newspaper industry is likely to hit a 25-year low in advertising sales this year. * If so, it will end up billing about half of what it billed in its record year of 2005.

But the newspaper industry aims to win back those advertisers, of course. Its trade association, the Newspaper Association of America, placed a full-page ad in the business section of today’s New York Times that features a testimonial to the power of newspapers by Rishad Tobaccowala, the chief strategy and innovation officer at Vivaki, which is part of the Publicis Groupe advertising firm.

The ad isn’t really designed for you or me but for advertisers, intended to excite them about buying ads in newspapers. But if you were an advertiser, would you be persuaded by Tobaccowala’s rambling testimonial, drawn from an Adweekpiece he wrote earlier this month? Tobaccowala couldn’t be fuzzier about the usefulness of newspapers if he tried.

The ad, which also features a portrait of Tobaccowala, the NAA slogan “Newspaper: The Multi-Medium,” and a pointer to the NAA’s promotional Web site, is so bad I can imagine advertisers interpreting it as the newspaper industry’s no-confidence vote in itself. * Nobody would blame advertisers if they looked at the NAA ad and used it as an excuse to pull their buys from the Times and other papers.

But, wait—there is more incompetence from the NAA! The home page for is supposed to play a promotional video for its “Newspaper: The Multi-Medium” campaign. But the video failed to load on all but a handful of computers in our New York and Washington offices, no matter which browser—IE 7, Firefox, or Chrome—was running. What part of multimedia doesn’t the NAA understand?

The newspaper industry isn’t the only old media running ads touting itself. Back in April, the Magazine Publishers of America started its “Magazines, the Power of Print” campaign, and various magazines donated $90 million in ad space to it. The MPA, echoing the hopes of the NAA, designed its pitch to convince the advertising industry that magazines remain relevant in the digital age because 1) readers still delight in print and 2) magazines have a digital component, too!

As one who subscribes to four daily newspapers and plows through 30 or more magazines a month, I should be a soft target for the newspaper and magazine industries’ messages. Instead of criticizing the campaigns, I should be ripping these ads out of my publications, taping them to lengths of dowel rod, and running them up and down the street like battle flags. Instead, these ads sadden me. Their insufferable pleading and self-promotion make me think of the old guy in the office who can’t stop telling his younger co-workers—and his younger boss—that he’s still a player and that he could prove it if only they’d just give him a chance. Just one more chance.

If anybody understands how to make a print advertisement that really, really works, it should be newspaper and magazine people. But these two campaigns are so bumbling, so unpersuasive, so dull, that you’ve got to wonder whether any advertising intelligence went into making them. Maybe the goal was to sell the newspaper and magazine businesses as outposts of the desperate and pitiful worthy of advertiser charity. If so, Clios all around.


For clear-eyed analysis of the print industry, please consult Alan D. Mutter’s blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur. I dare the NAA to put him in a promotional ad. Feeling desperate, pleading, and pathetic? Please don’t send mail to or follow my Twitter feed. (E-mail may be quoted by name in “The Fray,” Slate’s readers’ forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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Correction, Sept. 29, 2010: The original version of this article mistakenly referred to a “25 percent low” in advertising sales. It should have read a “25-year low.” ( Return to the corrected sentence.) It also gave the incorrect name for the NAA advertising campaign. (Return to the corrected sentence.) Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.