Finding the Balance in Newspaper Advertising during Festivals

30 Oct,2019


By Sanjeev Kotnala


On Monday, October 28, my newspaper was drastically underweight. It was not the usual cubby overweight I was getting accustomed to. It was slim, light with sporadic advertising. It felt like what my newspaper used to be, before the festival. Somehow I missed the thick festival sale and discount catalogue sheets masquerading as newspapers.

Like every festival, this time also on a few days, I navigated through more than 48 pages. There were days when one literally had to search for news between the advertisements. Sale and discount written all over it, it was a catalogue of images seeking your attention. The best of the newspapers too turned a blind eye to reader discomfort and skewed edit-advertisement ratio.


Festival Advertisement in Newspapers.

Only advertisements on prime position or the one that is huge get traction. Majority of the messages are lost in the Kumbh Mela of advertisements inside the super-fattened editions. Taking an ad in such a cluttered environment makes no sense. It is beyond logic.

How agencies and clients justify such newspaper advertising? What is the agency or the client expecting? What is their model of newspaper-reader interaction? All this when the time spent on newspaper is going down.

Media-owners rightly aim to maximise the revenue during festival time. The Top 5 festivals account for 60% of advertising revenue. Festival defines annual newspaper realisation.

I am more surprised that media-owners show no sign of attempts to enhance newspaper advertisement efficiency. They ruthlessly create blocks in the reader’s interaction with the medium with skewered edit-advertisement ratio. It seems that media-owners are no longer interested in reader involvement and engagement.


What Could Be The Reason?

There is no logic or rationale for this wasteful advertising in the highly cluttered newspaper editions during festivals. It would be safe to presume that clients are doing it as a shagun (auspicious act). May be it is just a habit they are finding tough to break. Or it is a must at a local level for the relationship with the newspaper. Or they fear some kind of retaliation unless they advertise. And hence, no one is interested in knowing if the ad is seen or is missed.

It could be the smart spaceseller who has sold a fairy tale to the client and media agencies. Just like the Hakim (doctor) from the Pushtani Davakhana (hereditary clinic) selling miracle drugs to the die-hard optimist.

No one wants to miss the chance. No one knows which is the effective medium. The fear to miss out at times on the local level is one of the biggest triggers for advertising in the cluttered newspapers. Salespersons uses this to their advantage.

May be the client and agencies know a secret. Perhaps it is not illogical to believe that ‘During festival time if the readers pick the newspaper, it is for the sale and discounts advertisements and not the news. The innovative catalogue type advertisements are disruptive enough to engage the audience who is in the market searching for the next discount, cashback or exchange scheme’.

Media planning and buying were never logical or rational. They can not be. Yet, this excessive wastage is beyond explanation. Or are there some other unstated understanding that must not be questioned?


Are We Missing Something?

Something is definitely wrong. It will be interesting to know the thinnest of theories, the bizarre rationale, the disruptive logic, or anything explaining the phenomenon of clients taking ads in the cluttered newspapers during festivals at peak rates.

Are the agency and client not interested? Are they not asking the simple questions? How many pages will the newspaper be publishing? Where will my advertisement be placed? What will be the edit-advertisement ratio of the newspaper and pages near my ad?

Come to think of it: the media owners, media agencies and the client are doing a disservice to the newspaper industry by overloading newspapers? Such things are not going to give them the ROI they expect?


Newspapers Always Had An Unfair Advantage.

Unlike most other media like television and radio, newspapers are not constrained for advertising space. The newspapers can always add another page if they find enough interested clients to fill the space.

This seems unjustified. It is not a level playing field. Moreover, when the business reach or the newspaper subscription is supported by the predatory prices. It has done no good for the newspaper Industry. They have used it to build imagery inflated numbers.


What About the Environment?

There is an environmental angle to the whole subject. Proper recycling of newsprint can help conserve natural resources, saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Some reports suggest that the entire paper and printing sector contributes less than 1% of the global greenhouse gas inventory.

So, when you look at the carbon footprint of the newspaper, it is not alarming at an individual level. However, we are one of the few countries where newspaper circulation is still on the rise. Now when you know that just the Top 10 newspapers have a collective circulation of more than 2.40 crore copies a day, the picture changes.


Cap The Number Of Pages In A Newspaper.

What about some disruptions? Making life tough for the editorial. Forcing newspapers to really understand what the readers are interested in? They have to select news of interest to create traction for the clients, enhance reader interest and interaction.

Cap the number of pages in a newspaper. Any additional pages must be taxed disproportionally to discourage adding pages. May be it will make the life of the editorial team a lot tougher. Perhaps it will force the newspapers to once again invest in understanding their readers and their interests. May be it will lead to judicious use of space for more relevant and better-curated news and help advertisements to stand out.

It will put pressure on the advertisement rates. Some brands may go out of the client net the newspapers have. However, it may end up enhancing the efficiency and impact of the newspaper advertisement, something that is always questioned in every media meeting. Maybe it is the oxygen that the print industry needs.


Enforce Minimum Cover Price For Newspapers.

This is a dream subject. Don’t think it will ever happen. But what the hell, think the newspaper industry can do with a minimum cover price based on the number of pages and circulation. Call me mad. It/s silly to even think of this.

It is okay if this is even an unofficially understanding among top newspaper groups. It will benefit the industry in the long run. Newspapers anyway will be forced to do a subscription and cover price correction soon, why not use the opportunity for something positive.

Yes, newspapers may lose readers. However, every simulation will show the industry and the newspaper titles will benefit.

We know how fragmented the newspaper industry is. It does not believe in collective action. So, we all know, there will never be capping on pages or the cover price is corelated to the pages and circulation.


Sanjeev Kotnala is a senior marketing strategist and trainer. He spent 17 years in advertising after graduating from IIM Ahmedabad (1987). He then spent nearly a decade at the Dainik Bhaskar group before going independent. Other than some consulting stints, he is an Adjunct Faculty and Senior Advisor at MICA coaches senior to junior executives and. He writes weekly on MxMIndia. His views here are personal


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