Recently, a friend of mine asked me if he shouldn’t buy a full-page ad in a Czech national daily. He wanted to bring more attention to a topic that he feels doesn’t get proper media coverage otherwise.
My friend, who is a top Czech lawyer, is currently representing a handful of the most challenging ongoing cases of commercial and criminal law.
“I observe that some borders are being constantly overstepped by the Czech state representatives, and I am not happy about it. Of course, I would be happier if I could convince a journalist to write a large article or an interview about it. Yet I know this would be hard. The current public opinion in the Czech Republic favors the actions of the state representatives even when these actions are abusive. It’s very hard to stand against such a stance,” he said.
H&M on crisis: It looks like an ad, it feels like an ad, but it’s not an ad
My friend is not the only one carefully considering the risks and benefits of buying media space to make his voice heard in the community.
In April 2014 a full-page ad did catch my attention.
At first, I noticed nothing unusual: skimming through the pages of Mladá fronta Dnes I noticed that the international fashion retailer H&M was running an ad of something that looked like another sales promotion.
Then I saw the same ad in Lidové noviny and my eyes lingered on its text a bit longer.
The announcement, which looked visually like an ad, was in fact a warning on the withdrawal of a piece of children's clothing.
“At the end of January 2014 we were informed about a case when the metal components of the belt of a line of children's trousers would decompose into small pieces. This could be dangerous for children up to 3 years because it could be swallowed or inhaled. Even though we haven’t been informed about any cases of injury so far, we decided to withdraw these items from the market,” Kateřina Papežová, a spokeswoman with H&M in the Czech Republic, told me in an email.
She added that the product withdrawal was conducted worldwide. The whole campaign was run globally from the H&M headquarters in Stockholm.
Information about the product withdrawal was also published on the company website and on its social media.
Even though the problematic belts were only attached to measures from 92 to 98, Papežová said that unhappy clients could return any size of the given trousers and be fully reimbursed.
“The safety of our customers comes first. That’s why we didn’t hesitate one bit when it came to taking the right steps that would prevent possible injuries of our clients,” she said.
When does it make sense for you to consider buying a full-page ad?
As noticed above, traditional advertising can be an integral part of strategic crisis communication management. When timed properly, it can also be a part of crisis prevention. So, when does it make sense for you to consider running full-page ads in the media?
- Product communication: When you want to boost the impact of a complex promotion campaign
- Strategic media communication: When you want to gain more media coverage with a certain publishing house
- Public interest: When you want to or must inform on a matter of public interest, for example see the public interest ads of governmental institutions
- Crisis communication: When you want to prevent or mitigate crisis
- Agenda-setting: When you want to draw the public attention upon issues that wouldn’t get media coverage otherwise.
Full-page ads can easily backfire – just ask Schwarzenberg
However, to get back to my client’s question, this last mentioned usage of media advertising is the trickiest one. We all remember the media attacks against presidential candidate Karel Schwarzenberg just a few days before the vote. Full-page ads can indeed be used to draw attention upon issues that are not on the regular media agenda.
However, they can also powerfully backfire because:
- People may start to wonder why you are choosing this timing for your actions
- People may start to wonder why, if you are right, you cannot receive regular / neutral media coverage.
Before you decide on buying some traditional advertising, do think carefully. What is its role in your overall strategic communications strategy? What are your expectations from its impact? And, above all, will the ad bring you the results you desire or will it rather backfire and bring you to the hot chair that you tried to avoid in the first place?