Feature

Why brands need mags (like this one)

Press advertising may have fallen out of favour, but the communication benefits of crafted copy cannot be beaten, writes Tony Brignull.

Why brands need mags (like this one)

Which company has an advertisement on the back page of this magazine?

You should know, because the same company always has an ad on the back page: the design agency Jones Knowles Ritchie.

It is, in fact, the 63rd consecutive ad it has run in almost six years. A new ad every month.

This makes it, I think, the longest-running continuous press campaign in advertising history. Certainly in the trade press.

Why is JKR committed to press advertising when so many others are neglecting it? As I've been privileged to write the ads with my partner, the art director Stu Baker, let me list what we have found.

- You can say something in press ads in a way that's impossible in any other medium. You can fuse words and pictures into a message that may be considered at length, revisited and remembered. I still recall headlines used in famous press ads from 40 years ago.

- You can build readership. By being persistent, modest and interesting, your audience will grow.

- You can own a space. After a time it becomes yours; you become part of the magazine or newspaper. (In the 1960s, Polaroid took the centre spread of Scientific American in every edition for some three years. Each time it showed a different use for instant snaps in scientific work.

In the 1980s, Sainsbury's produced 10 new double-page spreads four years running. Initially David Abbott, who wrote them, was allowed to choose the items in store that reflected best on his client. That campaign is one of the glories of British advertising.

- You can create a voice which is yours and no one else's. It becomes familiar and, over time, trustworthy. You become a friend.

Clients come into JKR and say: "I saw your ad, I liked what you had to say and how you said it." They feel they know the agency already. They don't start as strangers.

- In press ads, you can show your work and explain why you made it like it is. This is important. If JKR simply displayed a new pack design on its own, for example, readers could say: so what? We can tell them why it is so.

Press space doesn't come cheap, of course, but have you considered that there's a price to pay for not using it - for keeping schtum?

Say nothing to your customers and it looks as though you have nothing to say. Or, that what you have to say is identical to your competitors. You begin to lose definition, to become a commodity.

Take cars, for example. Have you noticed? It seems like none of them uses the press these days for anything other than deals. Can it be true that Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, BMW or Volkswagen have nothing original to interest us, to whet our appetites?

Aren't they proud of what they build any more?

I don't know about you, but I'm getting suspicious that all cars nowadays are identical because they are made by identical robots in identical factories.

SAY NOTHING TO YOUR CUSTOMERS AND IT LOOKS AS IF YOU HAVE NOTHING TO SAY 

Or take wrist candy. How shock-proof is shock-proof? And what on earth does water-resistant mean?

Or Champagne. Why does it cost so much more than other wines? Is there a good reason, or a cartel to keep prices artificially high?

I don't know the answer to any of these questions. The manufacturers haven't bothered to tell me. But I think it would pay them to do so.

I believe that behind every great brand there are great stories, which can never be taken as read. They need refreshing for old customers and retelling for new ones.

I also believe that behind every television campaign there should be press ads to underpin the emotion engendered by TV with facts - not adjectives, facts.

Of course, the facts have to be well-told, amusing, self-deprecating, intelligent and moving.

Yet when I went, some years ago, to a college to see the work of the students in advertising, none of them had written copy. Why? Because no one reads it any more, they told me.

It didn't seem to have occurred to them that the problem might lie with the writers, not the readers.

People read novels, magazines and biographies. Why not advertising copy, if it says something meaningful, helpful and relevant, witty and wise? If five minutes spent reading it will be time well spent?

I was lucky with JKR. Andy Knowles (co-founder and chairman) gave me all these things. In return, I was able to address an intelligent, savvy audience (you) 63 times, and counting.

He listened when I suggested we look at his company's work from the other side of the table (yours), because many clients find assessing creative work both difficult and stressful.

One ad we did showed a marketing director sitting next to an aghast brand manager at a presentation. The director says: "Before I pass judgement on the new pack design I invite our junior brand manger to comment."

The copy begins "Welcome to your very own OMG moment", and asks: will it help if we tell you how we judge a pack design ourselves?

It enabled me to demonstrate the internal workings, discrimination and approval systems of the agency in a way helpful to young marketers, something I could never do on TV or online.

Is the campaign working? It's hard to say.

All we know is, the more ads we run, the more clients come to JKR. So we must be doing something right. M

Tony Brignull is the UK's most-awarded copywriter, as judged by D&AD.