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Does Newsprint Even Exist Anymore?

I used to read the Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper cover-to-cover every night of the week. It was a daily paper that was delivered in the afternoon and made perfect bedtime reading. It was also delivered right to my door. It was a sad day when they switched to a morning paper and I no longer had full stories on the late night games in sports (my favorite section). It was an even sadder day when they switched to three delivered papers a week. At least we still had a paper unlike many communities that had gone strictly online.

I don’t remember when I stopped reading the print version of the paper. My parents still get the daily Detroit paper and the Sunday New York Times. I might thumb through a section or two when I’m at their house.

I miss the print paper. I liked it so much better than the online news. I liked it for the very same reason why it was such a difficult place for advertisers. I could skim through every headline and picture quickly to decide what content I wanted to read and just skip the rest. Some nights I would be done with a four-section paper in mere minutes. Some nights the paper would have stories I was setting aside to read again.

It was part of my bedtime routine.

A Toy House newsprint ad from the 1950’s

Here is the scary part for advertisers. I could read the paper cover-to-cover every day and not remember one single advertiser in that paper.

That became incredibly clear to me the day we decided to buy a couch. That night I saw four large ads for couches in the newspaper including one from a store I didn’t even know existed. I quickly grabbed the previous day’s paper from the stack by my bed. Sure enough, all four ads were in that issue, too. In fact, at least three of the four companies were in the paper every single day! Yet I never saw one of them until I was in the market for a couch.


Unlike television and radio, newsprint and magazine ads are passive ads. You only see them if they are relevant to your current situation. You only see them if you are actively in the market for what they are selling. When I took over the advertising for Toy House in the mid-90’s the Jackson CitPat (there’s a name for you) had a circulation of over 30,000. If you bought an ad, you were paying for 30,000 people to see your ad.

The truth is that not all 30,000 read the paper beyond the front page. Only a fraction of the 30,000 looked at the page your ad was on. And only a fraction of those people were in the market for what you sell. And even then, only a fraction of those people noticed your ad because you likely built it wrong. Taking it even further, only a fraction of the fraction who saw your ad were moved to take action.

You paid for 30,000 people to see your ad. Only three took action.

If your community still has a print newspaper, is it worth advertising in that paper? Believe it or not, it still might be. Ask yourself these four questions …

  • Do the people who share my Core Values read the print newspaper?
  • Are there a lot of people in the market on a daily basis who buy what I sell?
  • Can I get their attention with a great picture and headline?
  • Can I craft a call-to-action that gets them to do business with me?

If you’re going to advertise in print, those last two bullet points are the kicker. You need to craft your ad to fit the way people read the paper. We are skimmers. We first look at pictures. Then we look at headlines. Then we read the first paragraph of the story. Then, and only then, do we commit to the full article.

Therefore, your print ad has to start with a killer, attention-grabbing, jaw-dropping picture of the product or service you sell. Better yet, your picture shows a customer using the product or service you sell. It has to be intriguing and attractive. It has to grab the mind of everyone actively in the market for what you offer. Then you need an emotional, mind-blowing headline to engage the reader to want to know more. Yeah, think click-bait here. Finally it has to deliver the goods. Tell the people what they expect to hear and give them a call to action.

Since newsprint¬†only reaches the people already actively in the market for what you offer, it isn’t the best medium for branding, but it is a great way to reach your Transactional Customers or announce an event or sale. Make sure your ad tells them what you want them to do next.

If you’re going to do newsprint, here are a few other tips:

  • Never be on a page where less than 50% of the page is content (never buy anything larger than a half-page, either). People skim. You need to be on a page where they stop for a moment or two. If it is all ads, they go right on by.
  • Yes, the right-hand page is more visible (think about how we open a newspaper and where our eyes go first).
  • Inserts work if you’re strictly going after the bargain hunters. That is their domain. The largest circulation day for most newspapers is Thanksgiving as everyone wants to see the Black Friday circulars.
  • Use white space.
  • Pay for color.
  • Bury your logo and information in fine print. If the ad gets their attention and makes them want to act, they’ll find your info. Your info by itself doesn’t make people want to act.

Newsprint isn’t the best for building a long-term branding campaign and going after Relational Customers, but it can be effective when you craft your ad to match the way people read the paper.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This is one post in a series of posts about different advertising media and how they work or don’t work. Follow these links to read about Television, Radio, and Billboards.

PPS I miss reading a daily local paper. I pick one up from newsstands every now and then. I like it better than reading the news on my tablet.