By: Jeff Fleming
The Newspaper Association of America has tagged “Smart is the new sexy” as its 2011 motto promoting the newspaper industry. A provocative choice of colorful adjectives mixed with a black-and-white noun. Immediately my imagination rocketed from Harvard Yard to planet Venus … Carmen Electra, Stephen Hawking, and The Wichita Eagle entangled in a powerful and intoxicating advertising tango. An odd trio to be sure, and a trinity that could only be cultivated in an imaginative daydream.
Good for the NAA for developing a concept with pop and introducing newspapers to the world they write about, but seldom live in. Let your hair down, Gray Lady. Roll up your skirt, Picayune. We’re going dancing on the big stage; we’re out to show America that newspapers are “sweet” and can mingle with the “sickest peeps.” Well, at least those were my thoughts before my daydream crashed into reality, and I viewed the artwork for the print campaign.
Disappointed? Yes. Heartbroken? Most definitely. After all, I was expecting to get goose bumps the size of Pamela Anderson’s, well, never mind. Think of an online personal ad with text that reads “smart and sexy,” but the photo says “half Chihuahua, half Holstein.” Good intentions coupled with a dynamite theme, only to fizzle when the visual elements are transferred to print. Of course, this is my personal dramatization. The story and “the ad” appear here. Please take a peek before you read any further.
Yes, the model is a cartoon. Yes, she has gecko green hair. Yes, her skin is the color of toothpaste and, yes, she’s reading a newspaper while dreaming of a tablet, a laptop, and a mobile phone. But the good news is she’s wearing glasses, so we know she’s smart (just like Sarah Palin).
I have no idea about the creative struggles during the development of this graphic and am not privy to the challenges faced by the NAA and the advertising agency — as I’m sure there were many. My comments only reflect my interpretation of smart and sexy, and this Wilma Flintstone wannabe isn’t it.
What is confusing to me is why this ad is running and is scheduled to run in print newspapers across America. I’m guessing the average subscriber is already smart and probably let go of sexy with their last hip replacement. And, if by chance, someone younger than 30 happens to see and actually read the ad, I don’t think “Wilma” is going to turn them on to subscribing to a newspaper — especially after reading the 48 words of text that entice readers with how to make a peanut butter icebox pie (from scratch no less).
I haven’t seen the online digital promos, but if they resemble the print, don’t expect your circulation numbers to skyrocket. Newspapers don’t live in a cave, and they certainly don’t deserve the image of a wrinkled-up industry that the Internet continuously hangs on them. Newspapers need to introduce themselves to the under-30 crowd with language and visuals they can relate to — otherwise how are they going to get past the first date? If newspapers want a long-term, meaningful relationship with a 27-year-old, they need to walk the walk and talk the talk. “Feel me?”
With my critique of this campaign, I think it’s only fair to offer other ideas and advertising promos. Above are a few I had during my “daydream.