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Brand World

La revanche du print ?

01/12/2016 - par Mark Tungate

I remember the first time I saw the Monsieur Moustache poster. I was hurrying through Villiers métro station, late as usual for an appointment and far more keen to jump on a train than to linger over outdoor advertising. The poster stopped me in my tracks. It was graphic and direct, but it also had a pleasantly retro feel about it, whisking me back to a smoky post-war Paris of women in Dior dresses and men in overcoats and hats. I was wearing a hat myself, so the poster seemed to be giving me an ironic nod of recognition. Doubly ironic, in fact, since it was an ad for a shoe store.

I discovered only later that the ad was created by Altmann+Pacreau. I’ve interviewed Olivier Altmann many times and have always enjoyed his work. So I was hardly surprised when the poster made the shortlist of the Epica Awards –where I’m editorial director, although I can’t vote for any of the entries– and went on to win a Gold. When I got back from the Epica ceremony in Amsterdam, I heard that Monsieur Moustache had also won a Grand Prix de la Communication Extérieure (also in Amsterdam, as it happened; the city must provoke serious Fear of Missing Out). Not bad for a poster that could hardly be more classic.

One thing I noticed at Epica was that, although press and poster entries were seriously down, those that made it through tended to punch above their weight. A case in point was the splendidly timely press ad for Norwegian Airlines that read: «Brad Is Single. Los Angeles one way from £169.» The ad ran in only a couple of newspapers, but readers snapped it and shared it and soon it had rocketed around the world. Journalists at newspapers and digital outlets wrote about it, turning paid media into earned media.

Print ads don’t always shout so loud. Only this morning, my eye was snagged by a great ad for Euronews in the international edition of The New York Times. Two identical pictures of Hillary and Trump, with two different headlines: «PRAISED» and «DESPAIR». The end line read: «All views matter.» A witty anagram is just what you need with your coffee and croissant.

So what if print advertising isn’t dead after all? What if, when used properly, it is more powerful than ever?

Simplicity 1, complexity 0

Let’s ask Olivier Altmann, who presumably knows a thing or two about the subject. He responds: «Print is alive and kicking. In an era when people pay less and less attention to advertising, there are a limited number of ways of attracting their attention: either by drawing them into an entertaining story, immersing them in a brand experience, or by the still super-efficient means of a print ad like “Brad is single” – just three words that made one of the most memorable ads of the year.» He points out that some of the most memorable ads in history have been print ads, from the Volkswagen Beetle ad headlined “Lemon” in 1960 to Michael Jordan’s gravity-defying basketball leap for Nike Air in 1993: “Michael Jordan 1, Isaac Newton 0”.

Another print expert of my acquaintance is Michael Weinzettl, publisher and editor-in-chief of Lürzer’s Archive –a bible of creativity if ever there was one. He believes there will always be room for «amazing images in advertising», even if print media become obsolete. «There are still lots of print campaigns around that are actually pretty good, sometimes quite brilliant. A lot of the best press and poster advertising comes from South America nowadays. In almost every other issue of Archive, Brazil is the highest ranking country in terms of print work featured. This is largely due to the limited ad budgets: print is cheaper to produce than film or technically complicated digital work.»

Not that big US brands automatically reach for the viral video when they want to ignite a conversation. Olivier Altmann points out that last year’s famous McWhopper campaign started with a simple print ad. Burger King ran a full page in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune inviting McDonald’s to collaborate on a burger for Peace Day. Then the shares and tweets begun. Altmann observes that «nothing is more complicated for us than doing something simple». He adds: «The problem with many posters today is that they’re giant promotional tracts that people don’t even have time to read as they pass by. We should always remember the power of simplicity.”

In a wider sense, Altmann says that no one form of advertising is “better” than another. “There are many different instruments available to us when we’re composing our little tunes. Print should be the drum roll that makes us sit up and pay attention.” 

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