The Dearth of Advertising

Posted by on May 24th, 2010 at 9:39 PM

It has long been one of my fond convictions that since comic strips are among the top two or three most-read aspects of a daily newspaper, the newspaper ought to capitalize upon this assured fact and use it to sell advertising. Advertisers, I reasoned, would jump, even leap-frog, to put ads on pages that were better read than any other pages in the newspaper.

I even envisioned a page layout that would accommodate both advertising and comic strips at a decent, readable size. Each page of the comics would be divided into two “columns.” On one page, one of the columns would be wide enough to display at a larger size than we now encounter them comic strips with complex art; on the other page, the comic strips of minimalist art could be printed smaller (at today’s size, say), so the column for them would be narrower. That gives good artwork decent display. The second column on both pages would be filled with advertising from firms eager to cash in on the popularity of the comics section. The advertising income would justify giving some comic strips greater display space.

Imagine my delight, then, when my hometown paper, the Denver Post, started touting its comics section as a good place to advertise. It published amid the comic strips ads like these:

Nice, spacious ads with reams of clean white space, using comic strip characters to sell advertising. “Get More for Your Advertising Dollar,” says one, illustrated with a picture of Dagwood holding one of his monstrous sandwiches. Sometimes, these ads feature an annoying kid, Denny Post, a made-up none-entity, who appears in his own “comic strip.”

Pretty feeble comic strip, admittedly, but I was thrilled. Now, at long last, my thesis would be proven, and comic strips would be saved because they secured income-producing ads for revenue-starved newspapers. Well, the Denver Post anyhow; but the Post could be the bell wether for all other newspapers. Saved by the comics!

Alas, it didn’t seem to be working out. The campaign is now four, maybe five, months old. And the ads running in the comics section are mostly those ads urging businesses to place ads in the comics section. A few merchants have placed ads. One with a lottery puzzle. Another selling window treatments; and another, roof repair. One was recruiting for males, age 50 or older, to participate in clinical research on enlarged prostate. Another, the only one to repeat (it runs about once a week), is selling hearing aids.

Hearing aids. Enlarged prostate. The advertisers are apparently canny enough to know that the average age of newspaper readers skews older.

Then, suddenly, on Sunday (which comics, the ads tell us, get read by 1.1 million readers, not just a paltry 753,000), appeared a full-color superhero comic strip.

The comic strip ads for superhero Denver Chiropractor are surprisingly well-drawn. Maybe the Sunday funnies are the future for advertising in the comics. Back pain, shoulder pain—not just old folks ailments. Maybe we’re on the cusp of a new future after all.

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