I want to like this video. I really do. It’s a pitch-perfect parody of the new integrated social media campaign. A fictitious ad agency launches a fictitious car, the Zebra, with a cockamamie campaign that includes: opening an actual zoo; crowdsourcing its inhabitants; inviting consumers to engage via Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other social networks; launching an online TV network called Zoo TV; and spreading viral memes in numerous physical environments before realizing the absurdity of the whole thing and deciding instead to run a print campaign. In newspapers.
If it weren’t so pathetic it would be hysterical. Here once again is another example of the newspaper industry — in this case the Swedish newspaper Dagens Industri — reminding us that it has failed miserably to convey the virtues of its medium to readers and advertisers. So in hopes of delaying its inevitable demise, and having nothing persuasive to proffer readers regarding its merits, it settles for a less than convincing swipe at the very media that are bringing newspapers to their knees.
What’s interesting, for those of us who’ve been around a while, is that it’s also a bit derivative of the famous Neil French XO Beer campaign. In 1993, as an April Fools’ joke, and to prove the efficacy of newspaper advertising at the time, The Straits Times engaged French, who skillfully conceived a phony campaign for a beer that supposedly got you “pissed quicker than any other.” The purpose of the fake campaign was simply to demonstrate that newspaper ads worked. And in 1993 they worked pretty well. Ads like the one above, showing a guy in the men’s room passed out from drinking XO, generated so much interest in the beer that liquor stores had to fend off eager customers. When the campaign was revealed to be a hoax, it came with the claim that only newspaper advertising could create so much demand so quickly.
Unfortunately, the Zebra video, a modern version of the fake initiative, pales in comparison. Sour grapes don’t work quite as well as high alcohol content hops.
If the rate at which newspapers continue to shut down is any indication, recent campaigns — whether they criticize the competition (even with tongue in cheek) like the video above, or make declarations that are so far from believable they appear futile (like the ad to the left) — are completely and totally ineffective.
Meanwhile, the industry’s last remaining crutch, the Sunday circular, which generates significant revenue, isn’t long for this world either. As soon as retailers crack the digital code for how to replace this anachronistic marketing medium — and they’re all working on it, given that their customers spend more time online than in the pages of a newspaper — there will be even fewer reasons to advertise in newspapers.
Newspapers would be better off figuring out how to take what they do have to offer – quality content, reportage, celebrity reporters, objectivity, and a commitment to truth – and finding a way to make those qualities relevant.
Hey, here’s an idea. Perhaps the newspaper industry needs to embrace social media. Maybe it needs a campaign just like the one it made fun of in the Zebra video. Certainly wouldn’t be worse than what they’ve been doing, which from what I can tell is basically nothing more than praying.