Metro advertising initiative does the industry a service

With the inevitability with which the seasons change, the onset of an advertising recession is always greeted with the same time-honoured ritual, writes Dominic Mills.

First, the dust is blown off weighty academic studies proving the desirability of advertising through a recession, which are then flourished with all the significance of Moses and his tablets of stone. Second, leading agency and media owner figures, especially the ones who have hitherto never given the economic rationale of advertising a moment's thought, grab every platform they can to tell us why clients should spend, spend, spend like it's going out of style (which, pedantically speaking, it is, otherwise they wouldn't be up in arms and running round like headless chickens).

If you think I'm being cynical, put aside your concerns. I don't quibble with any of this. Adland is absolutely right to do this. There is a clear and sensible case to be made to advertisers for the desirability of maintaining budgets. It's just that, when it comes to their own advertising and marketing budgets, agencies and media owners rarely put their money where their mouths are. Of course, they have a list of excuses ("inefficient targeting", "better ways of reaching finance directors and chief executives", "really should be an industry initiative", blah blah blah), but unless they back their words with actions, special pleading of this kind is hardly likely to cut the mustard with the people who sign the cheques at the client end.

So it's a great pleasure to hail this week's initiative by Metro, Associated's new kid on the block. Metro, for those who haven't seen them, has taken a series of ads, created by Banc, in other papers, making the case for advertising. Generously (although with half an eye on their revenue), most other papers have accepted them. "Out of sight, out of mind," reads the headline on one double-page spread, followed by 150 words, the gist of which is that staying visible while rivals cut back puts advertisers in a better position when recovery comes.

Of course, this is not an entirely philanthropic gesture by Metro. As the newest national(ish) paper, it is hardly likely to be front of mind. As a marginal advertising buy (relatively speaking), it has most to lose. While others can compensate for the fall in advertising with cover price revenue, Metro is a freesheet. Third, since Metro is available only on public transport, a form of travel unfamiliar to client cheque-signers, it lacks visibility.

But the most significant point is that, by grabbing the high ground, it makes the paper look bigger than it is and dispels any lingering anti-freesheet prejudices.

Cynics will say that when you're the smallest kid in the playground you've got to do something dramatic. True, but Metro is also doing the rest of the industry a service and we should all be grateful for that.

If you have an opinion on this or any other issue raised on Brand Republic, join the debate in the Forum here.