Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Another Advertising Tail

The San Jose Mercury News with an estimated circulation of 225,000 has lost abundant amounts of classified advertising revenue as well as most large retail advertisers except for Western Appliance and Macy’s. The downturn in the economy fostered the increase in two-page, full-color advertisements from motel-based companies like Treasure Hunters Roadshow who try to “help” financially beleaguered citizens by offering to acquire their “gold and silver coins, jewelry, wrist & pocket watches, toys, trains, dolls, military items & swords, and advertising items.” Perhaps they’ll make an offer on this advertising article.

It’s a Small World

Newspaper advertising seems to have grown in one small, seemingly innocuous category; that which requests vehicle donation for a charitable organization. Each advertisement is black and white, 3-inches wide and two to three inches deep.

The eclectic list of organizations lead with a bold headline asking readers to either “Donate Your Car” or “Donate Your Vehicle.” This is usually followed by a description of what vehicles are acceptable and the list includes cars, trucks, vans, rv’s, boats, motorcycles, trailers, “and more.” It might be a blessing if they would also accept two-wheeled, motorized Segway scooters, the terror of the sidewalks. Many walkers and other non-users would be grateful if the charitable organizations first accepted and then scrapped them.

Not a Cliff Hanger

In a bit of irony, in September 2010, the millionaire owner of the Segway company was found dead in a river near his UK estate, having plunged over an 80-foot cliff while riding his Segway. The scooter was found near the body. Now let us segue back to the charitable organizations.

These organizations running solo advertisements include Make A Wish Foundation, the Polly Klass Foundation, the City Team Ministries, and The California Council of the Blind. There is one advertisement which is a triple-header seeking vehicles for the Diabetes Society, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and South Bay Purebred Rescue.

They all offer free pickup, have a web site to let you easily donate online, let you know that your donation is tax deductible, and have a phone number and “Live Operators 7 days!,” which is better than dead operators.

Seeking a Local Locale

When I called them, I received a busy signal at one organization, a recorded message from another, and a woman answered on her cell phone and our conversation kept being cut off. I was able to get through and talk to someone at Make A Wish who said that she could take down my information and have a towing company pick up my car. I said it was running and I could deliver it and she asked for my area code and then offered me several Northern California locations to take it to, the closest of which was about fifty miles away. I would get a minimum $500 write off, and if the car was sold at a higher price, I would receive a Form 1095C acknowledging that price as my donation.

When I asked her where she was located, she replied “Minnesota,” but quickly explained that while Make A Wish was a national organization, all proceeds from the sale of my car would go to my state.

After thinking it over, I will either keep my 1987 Honda CRX, give it to my daughter, or drive it off a cliff with Thelma by my side.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Truth in Advertising and Other Lies

Our two local weekly publications are aimed at a 25-to-35-year-old audience, and occasionally offer readable and usable writing. They are primarily published to siphon local advertising dollars away from the town’s only daily newspaper. Both of the weeklies’ use a standard gimmick of publishing a “Best Of” issue where employees, relatives and friends vote as many times as possible for their favorites, and the top three in each category are officially listed. Occasionally, customers also vote if egged on enough by the establishment. In turn, all of the first, second and third-place “winners” are convinced to run full-color advertisements bragging about their pseudo status.

Categorically Denied

The cornucopia of categories cover every entity from dog parks to dentists, and in the latter category, two dentists proudly placed a headline in their ads thanking voters for making them “The Best Dentist.” One did earn that dubious honor however the other finished in second place. When I called the second-place “winner,” the receptionist said, “People just cast their vote. It’s not democratic. We just get called by the newspaper’s advertising people who asked us to run an ad. We never usually advertise at all.” She was reluctant to discuss why the second-place winner was advertised as “Best.”

Not Really My Type

There are two main types of advertising in print media. There’s classified where the advertisements are placed according to classifications such as “Help Wanted,” Used Cars” and the like, and display where larger advertisements are run throughout the publication. This is something any neophyte should be taught their first day on the job.

When I called the weekly, a sophomoric intern answered the phone and I asked if she could connect me to display advertising.  In a squeaky voice she incredulously asked, “Display?” After I explained what the term meant, she transferred me to a more mature twenty-something saleswoman. I innocently asked how two dentists could be “The Best,” especially in light of the fact that her publication listed one of them as being in second place.

The Last Shall be First

She answered firmly, “He is a winner in second place, so he is ‘The Best Dentist.” I tried to convince her that he was “The Second Best Dentist,” probably because he didn’t have as many employees, relatives and friends voting for him as the first-place winner. She adamantly defended her point by saying, “There are thousands of dentists in the area. (Only190 are listed in the Yellow Pages). The voters voted for the top three and that makes him a winner in ‘The Best Dentist’ category.” I tried once again to convince her otherwise, but she was probably too busy planning for the next “Best Of” issue and figuring out how to hustle advertisements from all of the future first, second and third place winners, as well as those who finished last.

Some of those latter establishments probably didn’t have enough employees, relatives and friends voting to finish in the top three, so they created their own advertising headlines declaring, “Thanks for making us winners.”

I wonder which of my neighbors’ noisy dogs had the inclination to vote for the “Best Dog Park?”