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Giving Newspaper Ads Some Bite

FREE! New! Sale! Attach these adjectives to a picture of a sports car, a laptop computer or a piece of jewelry, throw in some fill-in text and bam, you've created a typical newspaper advertisement.

But will those ingredients be enough to entice consumers to read it? Or will they just flip the page?

Some advertising executives are offering their best tips on how to write and create newspaper ads in a new campaign for the Newspaper Association of America. The effort is intended to invigorate the value of newspapers and to inspire other ad executives to produce copy that attracts readers.

"Sometimes, newspapers are not considered too cool," said John F. Sturm, president and chief executive of the association in Vienna, Va. The trade group, which represents more than 2,000 newspapers in the United States and Canada, is up against much sexier advertising options, like television commercials.

"How to Write a Newspaper Ad" is the first work created for the association by the Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., part of the Partnership division of the Interpublic Group of Companies. The idea stemmed from a lunch between Mike Hughes, president and creative director of Martin, and Mort Goldstrom, the newspaper association's vice president for display advertising.

Mr. Hughes said he started talking about various ad executives and wanted to know what they thought about making newspaper ads.

Those executives, who are featured in the first series of ads are: Lee Clow, chairman and worldwide creative officer for TBWA Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group who is based in Playa del Rey, Calif.; Neil French, worldwide creative director at the Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide unit of the WPP Group, who is in Singapore; Luke Sullivan, chief creative officer at West Wayne in Atlanta. The fourth is Mr. Hughes, who said he participated because the agency was pressed for time and Mr. Goldstrom "really pushed me into it."

The four full-page ads feature bold illustrations and hand-lettered text written by the creative directors. In his ad, Mr. Clow, who is an art director, describes why he feels that designing for a newspaper is a special opportunity since the medium is "urgent, not yesterday or tomorrow but today so the message has to demand attention."

There are two kinds of newspaper ads that will work, Mr. Clow said. One is " `a picture is worth a 1,000 words' approach," which he humorously describes as being "virtually a poster," by displaying a huge image of a product accompanied by a headline that says "Ta-Da!"

The other winning formula, he says is the " `8 or 900 words can be worth 1,000 words' concept."

"This is the `we have a story to tell you' approach," he explains, adding that if it is "well written" and "interesting," it can "seduce a reader into spending four or five minutes with you (a lot more than a 30-second TV commercial)."

The first piece of advice Mr. Hughes offers is "Start with a large glass of Diet Coke on ice," which is not a plug for his agency, but for a sibling, Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide. Mr. Hughes, who describes himself as a Diet Coke junkie, says for inspiration, "open up a newspaper and remind yourself how big a newspaper is."

"It's huge, and it's just inches from your nose," Mr. Hughes said. "Too many ads become bloodless when writers become slaves to sophisticated marketing processes. Creative briefs are starting points, not finish lines."

He sums his advice up by saying: "Only after you've rewritten an ad 10 times are you free to say that the first version was the one to go with. Usually, incidentally, it isn't."

Mr. Sullivan's ad features a characterization of him with an anvil on his chest with a blurb saying, "The creeping horror." After writing 100 ideas, "A special sort of chest-splitting panic" creeps in as his deadline nears. To deal with this "horror," Mr. Sullivan writes, "mature writers pour another cup of coffee and buckle in."

Mr. Sullivan says he sneaks off and goes to a movie. After returning to the thought process, the ideas start flowing and, "I discover idea 101 clicks like a Lego into idea 131." And the anvil "that has been on my chest since I started writing, slides off."

The new ads come at a time when newspapers, along with all advertising mediums, have been hit hard by the economic slowdown. For the first nine months of 2001, total advertising spending in newspapers was $32 billion, down 7.8 percent from the corresponding period a year earlier.

The campaign was unveiled yesterday at the association's annual marketing conference in San Diego. Martin was given a small-undisclosed fee and the ads began running on a pro bono basis yesterday in daily papers. They are expected to run in trade publications like Advertising Age and Adweek. They can also be viewed at the association's Web site www.naa.org/adcampaign.

The campaign is expected to run regularly for the next two years with several other executives already committed, including Jeff Goodby, partner and co-creative director at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, a unit of Omnicom.

"The work is different, and we're going to see what the reaction is," Mr. Sturm said. "When you are doing an ad campaign featuring creatives, directed to other creatives, you'd better be creative."


COURTNEY KANE, 2002 The New York Times Company

Copyright © The New New York Times January 22, 2002. All rights reserved.