‘Chicago Trib’: Our New Ad Campaign Is A Hit

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

To some ears, the theme music for the Chicago Tribune’s “What’s In It For You?” branding commercials — a bouncy little tune that might be described as Philip Glass’s minimalist opus “Einstein On The Beach” meets the Mr. Softee ice cream truck ditty — is a little grating, especially after nine months of the ad campaign.

But that’s distinctly a minority opinion among Chicago consumers, says John Birmingham, the Tribune’s vice president/marketing.

“The music was one of the top, if not the top, answers when [research respondents] were asked to identify the most appealing part of the commercials,” he said in a recent interview. “It was an open-ended, unaided question, and it came up as one of the top things that registered with people.”

In fact, the Tribune believes it has a hit on its hands with the campaign, which was created by the ad agency DDB Chicago. The print, radio, and television spots revolve around figures that look like rounder versions of the figure drawings used to denote Olympic sports. The figures were designed by the animator and illustrator J.J. Sedelmaier, who is probably best known for the “Saturday TV Funhouse” spots on the Saturday Night Live television show.

This summer, Hall & Partners, a New York City-based brand and communications research agency, polled 800 Chicago-area adults to measure the campaign’s visibility and its identification with the Tribune.

The results, the Tribune said, were “an incredible success.”

Unprompted, more than 67% of respondents tied the spots to the Tribune. Hall & Partners says 29% is its average unaided recognition rate across all brands it has studied.

Some 73% identified unbranded TV spots with the Tribune, significantly higher than the research agency’s 43% average. More than three-quarters, 78%, of respondents said they watched the spots because they were appealing, compared to the average response of 51%. And 88% of those polled believed the TV spots stand out among the ad clutter. On average, 59% of respondents say that about a television commercial, according to the agency.

“The study confirmed…anecdotal feedback we’d been getting, and that is that it is resonating in the marketplace in terms of awareness,” Birmingham said. “It is also a positive signal of how tightly [the campaign] is linked to the Chicago Tribune. In these cluttered days, you need to get all the messaging you can.”

Birmingham added that the research also show the campaign appeals to both younger and old demographics. The non-descript figures allow viewers to “inject themselves into the story,” he said.

What isn’t clear is whether the campaign can prove effective in boosting circulation. Tribune officials say they don’t want to speculate on what their numbers will show when the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ six-month reporting period closes on Sept. 30. That would be the first full reporting period for the campaign.

Two weeks ago, Tribune launched the latest spots in the campaign, which focus on the “Perspective” editorial and Op-Ed sections. In the spot, a round-headed figure meets a square-headed reader in a coffee shop. After reading through the Tribune, they exchange heads.

“The ad illustrates how the Chicago Tribune provides an array of perspectives and information, encouraging readers to engage with both the content and the world around them,” Julia Vander Ploeg, the Tribune’s director/brand marketing, said in a statement at the time of the launch.

The new spots include the bouncy theme music. “It’s a distinctive audible cue,” Birmingham said. The music is especially valuable for alerting listeners to radio spots that draw attention to particular news or features in that day’s paper, he said, adding: “We did not strive to be in any way controversial or polarizing.”

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