‘AJC’ Ad Campaign Urges Breaking Away from Digital

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By: Brian Morrissey, Adweek

At a time when newspapers are in a fight for survival in the Internet era, one is fighting back with an ad campaign that positions the paper as a chance to escape the tyranny of digital devices in everyday life.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has rolled out a new “Unplug. It’s Sunday” campaign to promote the old-school Sunday newspaper as a refuge from the constant buzzing and beeping of smart phones, instant messages and e-mail that marks the modern workweek. The campaign, which runs until the end of the year, coincides with a recent redesign of the paper.

The Cox Enterprises paper is ironically turning to a digital agency to make the case for print.

The campaign, which costs over $1 million, is designed, in part, to reach readers of the AJC who don’t get the paper on the Sunday, said Amy Chown, vp of marketing. It isn’t meant to replace their Web use with the paper, she added.

“This is not an anti-Internet campaign,” Chown said. “It?s not that we don?t want them to read us online. We wanted to balance the use of AJC.com during the week with the paper on Sunday.”

“It’s about how to reposition the newspaper,” said Tony Quin, CEO of IQ Interactive, the independent Atlanta digital shop that created the campaign. “We came up with the idea as a counterpoint to the digital cacophony that exists in everyone’s lives. Sunday is the day to relax and do something different than you do the rest of the week.”

Two TV spots show the hectic whirl of the digital workweek, complete with ringing cell phones, instant messenger notifications, conference calls and TV screens filled with digital crawls. The ads then show a couple relaxing on their sofa and reading the paper. A voiceover says, “Unplug. It’s Sunday. Discover the new, totally redesigned AJC Sunday.”

The TV campaign began last Friday and runs through June. It is slated to begin again in August.

The campaign comes at a critical time for the newspaper. Like the entire industry, the paper is buffeted by the shift of readers and advertisers away from print papers and an economy in deep recession. The paper’s weekday and Saturday print circulation has dropped nearly 20 percent in the past year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The Sunday edition did better, falling about 7 percent to 462,000. Six weeks ago, the papeer cut 30 percent of its news staff.

The effort reflects the conundrum newspapers face. All signs show a shift in reading patterns to digital sources, yet the company makes far less from readers on its Web site compared to the print edition.

The AJC claims that while its print readership shrinks, it is still adding readers. Yet the ad campaign focuses squarely on the print version.

In addition to the TV spots, the campaign includes print, radio, direct mail, outdoor and banner ads. The ads all point to a campaign microsite where visitors can explore the living room and kitchen of the couple featured in the TV spots. Users can get a free subscription by hunting down hidden interactive features in the room.

The campaign is notable as another instance of a digital shop taking the lead for a client. IQ Interactive, a digital shop in Atlanta, created the entire campaign, including the TV spots. It beat out a half-dozen shops with more traditional pedigrees, arguing the effort needed digital at its core to drive its message about the continued value of the print edition, Quin said.

“Increasingly that’s what we’re being asked to do,” he said. “The accounts we’re focused on are the ones where we can run the show.”

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