Las Vegas Sun

November 23, 2014

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THE B.S.:

Bruce Spotleson: Advertising industry is bouncing back

In my world, we have our own ways of measuring a recovery.

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Bruce Spotleson

VEGAS INC coverage

We’re all so easily distracted when Spring arrives in our desert, but also thankful that our local commerce rarely stops for nice weather. We wouldn’t want anything to interrupt our recovery, or to interfere with the trace of a pulse in our economy.

Nope, we’re not back yet. But transactions are happening again, and for the first time in ages, some economic indicators have been actually positive in back-to-back reporting periods. Modestly so, but positive.

Along with most of the industries we report on, the media have limped along through this recession, watching as advertising budgets that pay for news coverage were often slashed or even cut altogether.

Wondering where their customers went and questioning previously successful formulas for attracting them, many of their longtime advertisers began experimenting with marketing strategies, hoping to encounter some new tactic that might drive sales. But buyers remained cautious, and such discoveries were pretty rare.

Now, in another sign of the recovery, things are slowly picking up for the media, too. It’s apparent in the way luxury-brand advertising is growing, and in the increasing promotion of retail items.

It’s obvious, too, in the “business-to-business” advertising that is once again showing up in publications like this magazine, as well as in other business weeklies across the nation.

As a matter of background, VEGAS INC is the Southern Nevada affiliate of the City Business Journals Network, a confederation of business weeklies representing most major American cities. Although business magazines like this one generally carry a broad range of ad messages, they rely heavily upon what is known as institutional advertising.

That’s the term used to describe advertising whose purpose is to promote the image of a corporation or cause, rather than the actual sale of a product or service. It is also used to create public awareness of a corporation or to improve its reputation in the marketplace.

Institutional advertising, as the name sort of implies, is used frequently by large businesses with well-known names, but also occasionally by smaller companies trying to emulate them.

It is distinguished by the fact that it really has no call to action, and doesn’t tell the reader what to do or why to do it. Also sometimes called image advertising, it’s used to build the trust and esteem of a company in the eyes of the reader.

Magazines like this one—as with the business weeklies in Phoenix, Atlanta, San Diego or Seattle—strive to create a setting in which this type of advertising will flourish. Readers trust us to report business news with pinpoint accuracy, and of course such content subtly enhances the trust in the advertising that surrounds it.

Because their audience often includes the more influential folks in their communities, business media are often also used as a soapbox, or to make a public statement or message.

For example, half a dozen years ago, when Donald Trump was planning to open his hotel here, he placed a full-page ad on our back cover for months on end. It was an ad campaign designed every bit as much to make a statement as to sell units.

Of course, readers of business weeklies like ours also are consumers, and some marketers occasionally use response advertising to reach them.

As an example, in our last issue, we carried an ad from McDonald’s, a company with a proven ability to drive results. The McDonald’s campaign is a good example of targeted messaging, since people who read a publication like this one are probably driving to work most mornings and in need of a little boost to help get them there.

This ad ran as what we unglamorously call a “belly-band”—a partial page that wraps the outside of the entire issue. It’s sort of hard to miss, one reason editors aren’t usually in love with it. They feel it obscures the front-page designs they’ve labored over, which is somewhat true.

Still, the marketing geniuses behind McDonald’s have a new iced coffee to promote, and that ad was among their chosen tactics for luring a customer who may be more cost-sensitive in today’s economy, or who may have seen a previous coffee stop close down as a result of it.

Research has always told us that about half the readers of any publication look at the ads first. So in a way, the latest McDonald’s ad contributes to the mix of things to read in VEGAS INC. As do all the institutional and other advertisements that support our news content, and which are their own sign of economic health.

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