The essence of advertising

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 12, 2004

We had an inter-office discussion over an &uot;Our Opinion&uot; piece that published earlier in the week that I think bears a little elaboration.

&uot;Our Opinion&uot; is the newspaper’s official position on an issue. But, while it’s the position of the newspaper, it is of course written by people. It’s typically either managing editor Luefras Robinson or I who write &uot;Our Opinion&uot; after we discuss a position. Occasionally other staffers contribute. Not surprisingly, there are times when we don’t agree on every nuance of a particular issue.

And in the rush of deadlines during a day we don’t always have time for a meaningful discussion, but she reads what I write and I read what she writes and if there are egregious differences of opinion we will then discuss any points of contention and ultimately reach a compromise.

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To many politicians these days, I’m sure the concept of compromise seems quaint, but it’s a necessity, particularly when dealing with things about which people are passionate.

One such incident occurred last week after the Industrial Development Authority meeting. The IDA voted down a proposal to get involved in a scheme to provide money to help local businesses develop Web sites.

IDA chairman John Harrell expressed some reservations about the program, citing the fact that there are a gazillion Web sites on the Internet and only a few are actually seen. While I can’t speak for Mr. Harrell, it certainly seemed to me and others, that he was saying it’s basically a waste of money.

Robinson is a good bit younger than I and as such, likely is more attuned to Cyber Space than I. Email is my lifeblood, but I rarely surf the Web. I look at the New York Times site each day and recently discovered that I could listen to West Virginia Mountaineer football over the Internet (which is really cool, by the way), but were it gone tomorrow, I wouldn’t miss it much. I imagine Harrell is much like me.

Robinson was incredulous after reading about Harrell’s comments and could not believe that he could not see the value of investing in this.

My position also stemmed from an advertising standpoint. Advertising revenue is something about which I’m deeply concerned. It’s what keeps our doors open and pays our salaries, making it possible for us to publish our opinions. Ink, paper, labor and distribution cost money. While we charge people to receive the paper, the rates we charge are heavily subsidized by local businesses in Suffolk. Were it not for advertising, we would have to charge easily five to 10 times what we do now for a subscription just to keep the lights on.

The essence of advertising is to create demand – to make people believe they need what it is you are selling. Mouthwash and chewing gum companies spend millions of dollars to scare you to death into thinking your breadth stinks, making you a social outcast. Even though it’s probably not the case, none of us want to risk it,

so we rush out to buy their products.

It’s the same with the election. The Bush campaign is spending millions to scare us to death, even though it may not be entirely the truth. To make us believe that his opponent will not protect us against the evil in the world. It works.

It’s newspapers and broadcast advertising that are by and large capable of doing that. Directory ads and Web sites cannot. Frankly, I cringe when I see some a local law firm plunking down thousands and thousands of dollars for a full page, color ad in the yellow pages. It’s money flowing out of our community that is not doing a heckuvalot for their business.

By and large, when we look up a phone number in the yellow pages, or seek out a company’s Web site on the Internet, we’ve already made the decision to buy. We are just looking for price, ordering information or directions to the store.

If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to look up AT&T’s ad in the yellow pages. If they have an ad at all, it is typically the smallest possible ad that is available. And these are the people who invented the yellow pages. There are few businesses these days more competitive than communications. Don’t you think if AT&T thought there was a lot of value to directory advertising they’d be there in a big way?

AT&T and most other successful retailers, keep a listing in the yellow pages and maintain Web sites (any advertising is beneficial to an extent), but the bulk of their advertising dollars are devoted to newspaper and television because they need to create demand for their products. Small businesses need to do the same with their limited advertising budgets if they hope to compete.

I realize of course, that a century ago buggy manufacturers were saying the same thing about the automobile that I (a newspaper guy) am saying about the Web.

And don’t get me wrong, I think all advertising is good. Nonetheless, I guess I’m on the side of Mr. Harrell on this matter. Spending money to help companies subsidize Web advertising makes no more sense than subsidizing their newspaper advertising (and to me, not as much)…Hey, now there’s an idea the IDA should explore.

And if you don’t believe me, go to any local buggy dealership. They’ll tell you I know what I’m talking about.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611, or at