The Smart and Sexy Story of Newspapers

By: Gretchen A. Peck

The Smart and Sexy Story of Newspapers

Aristotle pondered the modes of persuasion and determined there were three ways to present an argument. The first, “Ethos,” appeals to the audience with authority and credibility. “Pathos” is an argument that appeals to the audience’s emotions, while “Logos” is the attempt to persuade with logic. With its new marketing campaign designed to promote the newspaper industry at large, the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) managed to leverage all three rhetorical strategies.


“The NAA board developed a set of strategies last year,” Mark Contreras, former NAA board chairman, said. “We sent out a survey to all the members of the NAA and asked, ‘What are the two or three issues that newspapers should work on, collectively?’”


The responses were painstakingly boiled down to four key industry initiatives, according to Contreras: To better protect intellectual property and better monetize content; to agree upon mobile advertising standards; to provide an industry-wide digital shopping experience, particularly for national advertisers; and to better communicate and promote the full value of the audiences newspapers deliver across all media platforms.


However, creating a self-promotional ad campaign for the industry wasn’t as simple as it would seem. In the past, the organization had moderate success with campaigns based on logic — facts and figures. But numbers, though logical, are dry. A more visceral message was needed to remind advertisers and consumers about the core competencies of newspapers, about why they should be — and are — trusted, valued, and revered.


Telling the Story

“We want to remind people that newspapers are still the greatest source of news in the country, and to equate the reading of newspapers with staying informed and being smart,” Contreras said.


Donna Barrett, president and CEO of Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. in Birmingham, Ala. and NAA board member, led the campaign’s development. “I had been thinking all along that we needed to do a better job of telling our story, but in a more fun, fresh way,” she said.


Barrett said she drew inspiration from a campaign the magazine industry produced to promote its strengths and health.


“We’re letting others control the message; we’re letting others control the tone and the perception of newspapers,” Barrett said. “We fuss about it being inaccurate, but we haven’t really stood up and said, ‘Well, that’s not who we are. This is who we are.’ We have not done a great job of doing that in the past.”


“More than ever before, there is a real perception-reality issue, in terms of newspaper readership and how newspapers are received in the marketplace,” said Jason Klein, president and CEO of Newspaper National Network LP in New York. “It’s getting reinvigorated by new digital, mobile, and tablet platforms. It’s getting an injection of young readers.”


“The real story is that the medium is still relevant and robust, particularly print,” Contreras said “It’s gotten an unfairly bad rap over the past five to six years.”


Not Dead

The newspaper industry has been plagued by the “death of print” hyperbole that’s shrouded publishing for decades. But recent studies show that the doom-and-gloom prognosis is not entirely accurate. This spring alone brought the publication of two industry studies that revealed compelling analyses. The first — “How America Shops and Spends 2011,” based on data compiled by Frank N. Magid Associates — concluded that four-in-five adults confided that they had “taken action” as a result of newspaper advertising in the preceding month. More than half of the 2,000 respondents identified newspapers as the medium they use to help plan and inform their purchasing decisions.


Within weeks of that publication, the NAA also revealed the results of a study performed by comScore, which showed great promise for online audiences and advertisers. “Newspaper publishers drove tremendous traffic to their websites in this year’s first quarter, attracting an average monthly audience of 108.3 million unique visitors — nearly two-thirds (63.9 percent) of all adult Internet users. The analysis … also indicates that newspaper websites continue to attract key demographics and affluent consumers, reaching 60.4 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds and 74.4 percent of adults in households earning more than $100,000 a year on average,” the NAA reported.


These are powerful figures that represent the influential relationship that newspapers — regardless of platform — share with their readers. And it is stories such as these that are not being told outside industry circles.


A Campaign Is Born

The NAA enlisted the services of The Martin Agency, based in Richmond, Va. A creative partner in previous NAA campaigns, the agency has also promoted renowned brands such as Comcast, GEICO,, and Walmart. Based on the association’s objectives, a new industry motto was born: “Smart is the new sexy.”


“Literally, everyone at the agency, everyone on our committee, and then everyone on the board had a 100-percent positive reaction to that headline,” Barrett said. “It sets a fun new tone for [the industry]. Who doesn’t want to be perceived as both smart and sexy? And if you can tie the two together? All the better!”


“We got unanimous agreement for every company represented on the board to run this campaign,” Contreras said.


According to Barrett and Contreras, the campaign is a departure from previous campaigns that largely relied on statistics to tell the story. The creative approach to this campaign continues to show compelling data for advertisers, all the while appealing to the readership on an emotional level.


“It is smart to be reading newspapers,” Klein said. “It’s smart to be advertising in newspapers. It’s something that people should be proud of.”


Klein has been leading an eight-market test phase for the campaign. It has already appeared in Gannett’s Journal News and Arizona Republic; the Minnesota Star Tribune; Advance Publications’ The Patriot-News; Cox’s Austin American-Statesman; Hearst’s Times Union; Gatehouse’s Rockford Register Star; and Times Publishing’s Erie Times-News.


“We wanted to have a mix of publications and market sizes,” Klein said.


At press time, NNN and the NAA were in the process of gathering test-market feedback and planned to tweak the creative before the ads formally roll out in late August 2011. The campaign, which Barrett described as “complete and comprehensive,” will comprise print and electronic ads, and likely leverage social media.


“When we do the rollout, we’re expecting it to appear in every daily newspaper — and weeklies, as well — in the country, because the NAA board, which has representation from almost every newspaper, agreed to the scope and endorsed the campaign,” she concluded.


For more than 15 years, Gretchen A. Peck has written about the business of publishing, printing and graphic communications. She formerly served as editor-in-chief and editorial director for Book Business and Publishing Executive magazines. Her byline has appeared in more than 50 international magazines, newspapers, and online publications. Peck holds a master’s degree in writing.

Follow by Email
Visit Us

6 thoughts on “The Smart and Sexy Story of Newspapers

  • July 21, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Campaign sounds like a great idea. Of course we newspaper types in Canada have always been smart and sexy! lol

  • July 22, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Great idea! However, I would suggest she should be holding the paper – as if she’s reading it – to show the “origin” of her smarts. Also, newspapers should print a regular “side bar” listing facts, positive points about why the newspapers is a community asset, etc. We must frequently promote our newspapers’ value to our subscribers and readers so the benefits newspapers offer are imprinted on the mind of each person so they become natural advocates of newspapers.

  • July 25, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    The first group that needs convincing are newspaper publishers. For years now, they have gutted newsrooms, skinnied the size and number of pages, and thrown what little resources they committed to newspaper survival to their web rather than print products. Then, they have looked at the resulting decline in circulation and advertising numbers as proof that the print newspaper has no future. If the publishers really want to impress the public with a “smart and sexy” message, let it be the message sent by their commitment to their readers to do the best job possible to entertain and inform them.

  • July 29, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    and wow, what a thorough screw up from the Art Director. Why would anyone want to repeat that gross industrial-chemical-slime green? One big patch of it is bad enough. You want two? The orange against the blue is another piece of grossness. This reeks of newbie art school graduate from Crapville Local Arts Center who learned that Complementary Colors Go Together. And so he/she slaps colors on the page regardless of shade and tone and whether they actually, you know, look GOOD together. Whoever chose that bland, office supply shade of blue should be fired. Ugh. You can practically feel the fluorescent lights bounce off it. The person who visually composed this ad probably had an art teacher who drilled it into their head that repetition in a visual work equals unity and coherence. That’s why you have foolish little corny touches like the red and the orange showing up in the thought bubble and the Tina Fey-esque woman’s shirt and the vase and the table and the copy boxes and the main copy.It looks like something a nice small town suburban housewife, either Southern or Midwestern, would look at with her five year old son and gush over : “Look Bobby, there’s orange here and here and here and here. And see, honey, there’s two greens! And there’s red in these three places! Isn’t that pretty, sweetie? Okay now lets count the yellows!” And the splitting of the main copy headline into two lines. Really? Was that necessary? Oh I get it, you want the word ‘SEXY’ to be the main focus of the ad. Right because when people masturbate, they orgasm as soon as they contemplate the raw pulsating energy of the WaPo and NYT coming at them from their mobile phones. And of course, the visual cliche of glasses = smart makes another appearance. Wow, Art Director, good to know that your imagination has not evolved much since middle school. This ad is really infuriating. The visual design, the concept and the layout are so thoroughly stupid. I’m not surprised it came from Virginia. The South is not a great place for effective and stylish design. P.S: Oh look Donna Barrett is from the South too. Yup, no wonder. Another nice Southern lady who cannot recognize ugly and ineffective design. What a waste of money. Oh well, it’s not mine. It’s the NAA’s.

  • November 8, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    This is a stupid ad. Have you tried reading the story above. I can’t even get beyond the first paragraph. Also, why do we run these ads in the dang paper. People who read inside A pages aren’t the ones that need convincing.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *