‘Washington Post’: Love Me Tender

By: Wayne Robins

It’s cuter than the CareBears, more tender than the Teletubbies, and almost as much fun as watching Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., swallow campaign finance reform.

It’s … The Washington Post?

Actually, it’s a new Washington Post advertising campaign that began, not coincidentally, on Valentine’s Day. Behind the slogan “If it’s important to you, it’s important to us,” the hallowed hallmark of hardball journalism wants to get cuddly with current, former, and prospective readers.

No more nattering nabobs of negativism in the Post‘s neighborhood — at least in its ads.

“We want to be more inviting, especially to people who think we’re a monolithic institution,” said Steve Hills, vice president, sales and marketing at the Post. “We wanted to be more approachable to all kinds of people who aren’t necessarily real news junkies; we’re saying, don’t be intimidated by the Post.”

The campaign — which will run in the Post and on D.C.-area TV, radio, and billboards — uses wit, whimsy, and a kind of self-deprecation that was not abundant in the Ben Bradlee era. The ads aim to appeal to emotion as much as intellect, reminding readers that the Post is more than investigative journalism’s crown jewel.

“Many people who live here are not directly involved in traditional Washington,” said Bruce Gifford, creative director of Arnold Worldwide/Washington, the McLean, Va.-based ad agency that created the campaign. And it’s not just the fast-growing Maryland and Virginia suburbs and exurbs, full of young families and retirees with no historical connection to the Post or D.C., that the campaign targets. “There are people who live in [the neighborhood around] Capitol Hill who feel as disconnected from [legislative] Capitol Hill as a family living in McLean that never goes to downtown D.C.,” Gifford said.

Arnold Worldwide knows this through its trademarked Brand Essence research methodology. “You find out who your core user is, in this case, the reader,” Gifford explained. “And you try to find out what is the actual thing that makes people interested in it, or want it, or if they knew about it, would make them want it.” What the ad agency found was that local people — meaning anyone in the sprawling greater D.C. metro area — are interested, perhaps more interested, in the other sections of the paper beyond the vaunted national and international news in section A.

The first ad was a double-truck spanning Thursday’s A16-A17, with a big color photo of a fish on a hook and a list of eight arguably fish-related items that had run in the Post in the last year or so. The list includes trademark Post stories such as “Canada Disputes Fishing Rights” but also “Making Sushi,” “Mouthwash Coupon” (think fish-breath), “Getting Smoother Skin” (think scaly), and “Marriage Announcements” (getting hooked — get it?).

“The fish is one of many visuals, meant to show that the Post goes in so many directions, covers so many different topics,” Gifford said. “So we started taking objects, like a fish, [and asking ourselves] how many ways can we talk about a fish? It can be a bit of a puzzle, an intellectual exercise that makes the advertising ‘interactive,’ engaging the reader. It’s not a logical thing. It says: the paper is a friendly, approachable entity, not dry, stuffy, or outdated.”

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