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harleyA friend of mine was recently hired as the ad director for a mid-market newspaper, owned by the Tribune Company. After he was there about a month I asked him, "so how do you plan on selling ads for a dying media?"

"For starters," he said, "I do something absolutely no one in that office does. Every morning I read the newspaper. Cover-to-cover."

Okay, I said, game on. Yesterday, instead of brushing through The Sunday New York Times in print, and checking the digital version throughout the day, I read the paper. I read it cover-to-cover with the exception of the automotive section, travel, and real estate. I'm not going to wax on about my re-conversion for the print format, because that's not the case. But I will tell you that right smack dab in the center of the business section I found a reason for newspaper advertising to live. Right there in the center spread I saw the future of newspapers and it is named Harley-Davidson.

I'm adding the drama for effect, but the spread ad, which you rarely see anymore in print, was dramatic. It is an anarchic image of an American flag, full of type. "You can file our obituary where the sun don't shine," read the area of the stars. And the stripes were full of a declaration of American ingenuity, fighting through hard times, and turning up whatever collar you own and getting on your Harley. Tagline: "Screw it. Let's ride."

I don't own a Harley. Never have; never will. But I never wanted to ride one so much in my life. I never wanted a company to sell its product so badly since..... well since I saw Marisa Miller draped over a Harley on its most recent web campaign. But that's a different engagement strategy altogether.

The campaign has a sharp social media component. Type in the website suggested and you get a Facebook page to become a fan of Harley and you can see the print ad I'm talking about. It is a brilliant execution of cross-channel customer engagement, but it left me frustrated on two fronts. First: Why would you put this ad in the middle of the business section on a Sunday. I know the customers are high-income, but this ad is a statement that newspapers can still deliver the goods. It's a statement ad for a business that is dying almost as fast as Facebook is growing. I would have put it in a more prominent spot. The spread impact was that powerful.

The second point of frustration was digital. The OPA published innovative new standards two weeks ago and I applaud that. But digitally newspapers need to go even further to find the kind of visual impact that its best advertisers want to deliver online. Newspapers need to live in both worlds. Advertisers need to engage in both worlds.

Advertisers have not completely given up on newspapers. I'm telling you. If you don't believe me, read one.


Published 30 March, 2009 by John Gaffney

John Gaffney is US Editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter

70 more posts from this author

Comments (2)


Christine Sierra

Nice piece. I believe I am the minority, but I love reading the paper.  It gets me away from the computer for a break from the digital chaos. 

Every night it is delivered and at dinner time we sit at the table with the kids where we look at pictures and read stories about our town together.  Can't spread out the computer monitor across the kitchen table and engage in that way. 

over 7 years ago



I applaud you for reading the 'paper' cover to cover. We still receive the Chicago Tribune and read a majority of it everyday. We don't even live in the city, but the writing of our suburban newspaper is elementary and lacks guts. I am another person who will never give up reading an actual paper, but for me it is more about the tactile facet of paper itself.

I also agree with others that indicate it is a part of a lifestyle. One cannot oogle easily over the small space of a computer screen ad like that of a newspaper. My children, ages 19,17 & 13, fight over who gets to 'read' the advertising first. Each has his or her own favorite advertiser. For those of us endeavoring to live a bit outside of our own small world, the newspaper is essence.

over 7 years ago

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