Diminishing print advertising revenues impact heavily on media owners, at home and abroad. TIME magazine recently caused an international uproar when it published a tiny ad on its front cover, next to the title’s barcode. Another of Time Inc’s titles, Sports Illustrated, soon followed.
Ad Age reported that small as the ads might be, their arrival put a “big crack in the longstanding tradition that kept ads off magazine covers”. In South Africa, newcomer The New Age broke the ‘rules’ in its drive to attract ad spend by positioning an ad for Game above its masthead, and followed up with another for Cell C that had a word cloud streaming through editorial copy.
This weekend, the Sunday Times in South Africa carried a strap ad for Browns directly beneath the newspaper’s masthead. It linked to a solus on the front page.
“The newspaper media sector is in managed decline. Looking for opportunities to sell what was previously considered sacrosanct prime real estate is a slam-dunk. Readers quickly wise up to what constitutes advertising and what editorial. Of interest to me is how effective these Sunday Times ads are. And of course whether any decline in circulation can be blamed directly on this practice,” says Sandra Gordon, publisher of The Media Online and The Media magazine.
“I know the ‘old’ newspaper traditionalists are probably turning in their graves, but we have had to enter this new world of advertising boldly, and as Einstein eloquently put it, if we continue down the same old paths and don’t change, we should not expect to create a different outcome,” says Trevor Ormerod, general manager of group sales at Times Media Group.
“I also believe that new readers view newspapers differently, especially with news being so readily available online, they are more selective and as a result advertisers have to find ways to stand out from the clutter when using print,” he says.
Ormerod says innovations such as the Browns strap and solus are “always discussed with our editors and although we push the boundaries, we always try and keep the key areas of the newspaper sacrosanct such as the masthead and the position above the fold, for example”.
Lwandile Qokweni, managing director of Carat SA in Johannesburg, says the rules are changing, of necessity.
The business of print is in its core commercial and as long as the ethical integrity of the title is not challenged, changed or trampled on then there is no reason for not commercialising it. The line to me needs to be drawn when advertisers dictate what or how a title reports. Obviously there needs to be custodianship from the editor and production team that ensures that they do not lose traction for their publication by becoming too commercialised to the point where they give in to things that their readers find unforgivable,” he says.
Qokweni says the boundaries differ in each publication. “For more creative titles it is easier to be flexible as their readers expect them to push the boundaries whereas for more financial titles the wriggle room would be limited either way it is important for both to explore the boundaries and be willing to experiment a bit to succeed in this competitive environment.”
John Beale, managing director of MEC NotaBene in Cape Town says print media needs to do “everything in their power to make money while they still can”.
“In an effort to secure ad spend print publishers are becoming more and more lenient to ads impacting editorial, much to the disgust of editors,” says Beale. “But as commercial teams continue to have more say for paper viability than the editorial team (shown by the lack of great editorial and firing of key journalists from many papers), it will continue the prevalence of this type of thing happening.”
The MediaShop’s Chris Botha says days of the prime time content of newspapers and magazines not being for sale are gone. “If the most eyeballs are on the front page, advertising should be allowed to form part of it. The rules are definitely changing,” he says.
Ormerod says the Sunday Times’ front page, page two and page three ads are premium loadings. “We are under huge pressure as print media owners to innovate, fortunately through the innovations TMG have brought to the market we have been able to grow market share at the expense of our competitors, albeit out of a diminishing pot of print revenue,” Ormerod says.
He also says the group’s ad offerings have also “helped us take market share away from the electronic media, so even though the print revenue market share is diminishing, we are accessing new money out of the electronic media revenue pots”.
Botha believes there are no “holy cows” in media anymore. “Imagine if a TV station didn’t allow advertising on their best performing programme? It would be foolish. I don’t think the ads in this case take anything away from the newspaper, its look, or its content,” he says.
Beales doesn’t think the Sunday Times moves are a big deal. “The Sunday Times has allowed this type of advertising for quite some time. It’s been commercialised for quite some time, and is hardly innovation,” he says.
Qokweni says readers have to remain top of mind, and that there is a fine line between commercial interests and editorial integrity that can’t be ignored. Print titles, he says, cannot just cater to “advertisers’ whims”.
“For a lot of titles it probably is desperation for media spend and budgets. The key difference is how much time the title spends checking with their reader how they would react to certain changes and truly knowing their reader and being willing to still walk away from something that their readers would frown upon vs. agreeing to any suggestion or demand from advertisers,” he says.
Ormerod says TMG does regular research amongst the readers for their input. To date we have had minimal complaints raised,” he says.
“Some of the innovations that have paid dividends for us are the wraps, page two and three, front page masthead strip linked to solus. We also have a few more innovations that we will bring to market shortly.”
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