Traditional print advertising is nothing more than white noise

May 6  
I engaged in my daily mental exercise of flipping through the pages of
The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, it occurred to
me that I never, ever stop to read the print ads. In fact, I ignore them
completely. They're physical versions of white noise.

the average full-page ad in each paper runs about $100k per and that each
contains 40 or so full-page ads, I realized that marketers are probably burning
upwards of $4 million a day on this shotgun approach.

the exception of affinity publications (mine would include climbing, fitness,
running and outdoor trade press), I never read ads. And, I know I'm not alone.

ads are increasingly irrelevant because we live in a society suffering from
what Richard Edelman calls 'trust deficit' (See Richard's interview with new
PR Week Editor-in-chief Steve Barrett at Edelman's 100 percent
correct. Thanks to the shoddy behavior of such brands as BP, Tylenol (the
once-fabled gold standard), Toyota, Tiger, Goldman, the Catholic Church and
countless others, we simply don't trust what organizations tell us.

that's why PR is so beautifully positioned to fill the trust gap. We're all
about engaging in conversations with trusted sources
such as reporters and
influential bloggers who vet our messages first before putting them in motion

back to the utter irrelevance of mainstream print advertising. To test my
theory, I scanned the ponderous, premiere issue of
Bloomberg Business Week (now, there's a catchy name) and selected
three print ads at random. I wanted to see if they caught my attention,
communicated a clear and credible message and, critically, contained a call to
action. Here are the results:

May 6 - fish  
Headline: 'Is your business in shape to compete'? Visual: a school of fish
aligned in what appears to be the outline of a shark. The advertiser? Accenture.
My reaction? Ugh. Talk about bad timing. Who wants to see a school of fish when
we know millions are dying in the Gulf of Mexico as we speak? Plus, the message
is mundane, trite and overused. I'd grade it F.

Headline: 'NEC gives the Peninsula Shanghai what it needs – seamless service.'
The visual depicts a smiling Peninsula Hotel IT manager with some
happy-go-lucky bellhop in the background talking into his cell phone. My
reaction: I want a clean room, good service and palatable food from my hotel of
choice. But, since I'm not a hotel IT manager, I'm not interested in NEC's
I'd grade this one a C+.

'In my world, not connected means not in business.' This one's from Panasonic
and depicts a pretty angry-looking
businessman who, it would seem, can't get
his wireless connection. I sure hope he's not using Pa
nasonic's new Toughbook
computer. The problem with this ad is its total lack of credibility. I should
buy this Toughbook because Panasonic says so? Sorry. Not happening. I'd give
this print ad a

sure the marketing powers-that-be justify shotgun advertising in an age of
one-to-one marketing by arguing that it only takes one or two sales to offset
the wasted spend. I disagree. And, I think you'll see less and less print
advertising as social media, mobile, digital and other means with which to put
one's messages in motion become more mainstream.

for me? I'm buying that new pair of Sauconys I just saw advertised in
Men's Fitness

6 thoughts on “Traditional print advertising is nothing more than white noise

  1. You’re only right to the degree that most Americans, and every medical supply executive I know, don’t understand the fundamental ways in which PR has changed in the past 24 months. Sure, the average American would say he/she distrusts PR types because they think of PR people solely as party planners such as Kelly Cutrone. What you and most Americans don’t realize is what ‘real’ PR pros do. We’re now engaging in dialogue with influencers in every aspect of communications who, as I said, vet our content before putting our messages in motion. No other marketing discipline has mastered messages in motion as well as PR. In fact, I bet medical supply executives understand how to engage in dialogue and convey credible messaging better than the average traditional advertising executive.

  2. rep-
    u always seem to knock the ad space and while i agree that most ads are worthless, i dont agree that pr is “so beautifully positioned to fill the trust gap”. i would bet every penny i just paid the IRS that more than 75% of Americans dont trust PR either and think of pr as pure spin.
    i happen to watch a chris matthews interview last night with a director of homeland security and the director was being asked about how the “no fly” rule didnt seem to work when faisal got on board the emirates flight this week. the director responded to each question something along the lines of “lets give kudos to the nypd and fbi for getting this guy in 53 hours” and at the end of the interview chris matthews says “so lets sum this up- it took 53 hours to get this guys, right” and then said “at least he can stay on message from his pr guy”.
    point is that if u ask most Americans, i dont think pr ranks any higher on the white noise chart than advertising does. the only medium i think that truly moves the trust needle is word of mouth and social media and when the day comes when pr or advertising start to control word of mouth is the day that no one trusts that anymore.

  3. Interesting point, Art. You may be right. I do know Detroit automakers are once again pouring millions of dollars into print advertising, believing it’s still one of the best ways to reach consumers.

  4. A challenge to WSJ readers on May 6, 2010, name an ad, any ad from today’s paper. I couldn’t name one if my life depended on it, Steve.

  5. I think you highlight something interesting, too, Rep–whether or not print advertising works better as B2B or B2C. The ads you called out from Bloomberg Business Week are B2B. But the Sauconys you’re buying are the result of B2C advertising. I agree, most B2B print ads are crap, and utterly ineffective–and I think that goes back throughout my 20 year career. But I think B2C print ads can still be relevant.