Media Forum: Are newspaper ads creative?

Can newspapers offer a creative medium to advertisers?

Full marks to the Annas. Obviously, the Newspaper Marketing Agency would be failing in its duty if it didn't have something like the Awards for National Newspaper Advertising up its sleeve. It has to show willing - and it does its duty pretty successfully with an evening ceremony that has, since its launch in 2004, established itself as something of a fixture.

But you'd have to suspect that, in the long run, talking up the compelling nature of newspapers as a creative advertising medium is going to prove a bit of an uphill struggle.

After all, the NMA's constituent members aren't exactly focused on the virtues of old fashioned ink-on-paper advertising these days. A majority of them spent most of last year, for instance, telling the advertising industry what a good environment their websites were for banner and video ad formats.

They say they have ink in their veins, yet they're attempting to join the television business. So what price print creativity? That's not to say there wasn't some decent stuff on show at last week's awards. The Annas winner of winners was road safety work for the Department for Transport, created by Leo Burnett. A creative team comprised of Daniel Fisher and Richard Brim walked off with a cheque for £25,000.

But should we be encouraged by the creative standards in the medium these days? Not entirely, Malcolm Duffy, the executive creative director of Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, argues. He says: "There are lots of decent one-off ads, but no big campaign ideas. With a good campaign, there's a sense of anticipation about what the next execution is going to look like. It was an approach that produced a lot of classic newspaper advertising in the past. Perhaps these days, the cake is being cut in so many ways across TV, print, radio and online that it's just not possible for clients to concentrate their efforts in a medium such as newspapers."

Understandably, that sort of talk is not exactly music to the ears of Dave King, the executive director of Telegraph Media Group. He says the creative outlook is promising from both a brand advertising and tactical advertising point of view: "The situation is helped by the newspapers providing more colour and working with editorial to be more creative. Tactical and event-based creative is hot at the moment. At the same time, larger sizes, more colour and multimedia solutions have helped to improve brand advertising."

Mark Gallagher, an executive director at Manning Gottlieb OMD, isn't sure about that. He reckons the publishers are becoming too obsessed with selling colour, rather than the virtues of the medium as a whole. But he adds: "There are encouraging things you can point to. Both thelondonpaper and London Lite have been doing creative things by integrating advertising in new ways, and that shows there's always going to be scope for innovation. Maybe other newspapers can look to do more of that."

But Tim Delaney, the chairman of Leagas Delaney and the chairman of the Annas' judges, fears that something far more worrying is happening. He concludes: "In recent times, newspaper advertising has been dominated by companies - whether it's telephone companies or airlines or the financial services sector - telling people what rates they charge. That's perfectly valid, but it now seems there's little room for a more creative approach.

"The big issue is the fact that media agencies are given a budget and they go ahead and create a media plan based on reach and frequency, and their goal is to make that as efficient as they can. This leads them to envisage an information-rich campaign in smaller spaces. When media departments were in-house, there were greater debates about this. These days, the plan is decided before it reaches us, and you're not allowed to go into a media specialist and tell them they've got it all wrong. Newspaper publishers should be worried about that. It's also an issue that's starting to concern people at the very top of client companies."

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MAYBE - Malcolm Duffy, executive creative director, Miles Calcraft, Briginshaw Duffy

"The winning work (at the Annas) stood out, but the feeling I had was that there should be more good stuff. In particular, what we're missing these days is great campaigns."

YES - Dave King, executive director, Telegraph Media Group

"The situation is better from a brand and a tactical advertising viewpoint. There's no doubt the creative community has become more engaged with newspaper advertising over the past year."

MAYBE - Mark Gallagher, executive director, Manning Gottlieb OMD

"The London freesheets have pushed the idea that not every ad has to be in a box. But I know that some paid-for titles worry ideas like this might disrupt the reading experience."

NO - Tim Delaney, chairman, Leagas Delaney

"I believe what you could call traditional advertising works. But the issue is if we as an industry are capable of using a medium such as newspapers properly. I'm afraid we've become constrained by an incredibly utilitarian approach. It's something the publishers should worry about."