In our recent contest for best idea for reinventing classifieds, student edition, winner Will Sommer suggested that the dullness of newspaper classifieds is part of the problem. Make them fun, he suggested, and newspapers might have a chance of fighting back against Craigslist and the other forces lined up against them.
The other day I ran across what I think is a terrifically creative online ad campaign produced by a company wanting to rent out some office space. Using the named “Summit Chair” they used YouTube to post a funny video ad, and photo-sharing service Flickr to post a bunch of pictures of the space and the neighborhood amenities, and a presence on Facebook.
Here’s the video, starring a “talking” chair left behind by the previous tenants:
Keeping with the animated chair humor theme, photos of the office and nearby neighborhood amenities are posted on Flickr, again with the empty chair giving you the photo tour. And you can become a “friend” of “Summit Chair” on Facebook.
What these folks did to lease some office space, of course, was use a video camera, a still camera, several social networks, and some creativity. Here are a few ideas that this brings to mind for a newspaper classifieds operation struggling to survive:
- Classifieds can be fun (as Sommers suggested in his winning contest entry). Encourage your customers to compete for best ad and give away a prize to the winner. (The prize could be a featured spot on the homepage and/or a promotion in the print edition pointing people to the online ad.) Make ads into “content” that people want to see; the funniest-ad entries can be marketed in the way you’d promote a great editorial piece.
- Utilize video and support your advertisers in producing inexpensive video to sell a car, rent an apartment, etc. Newspaper classifieds websites should of course accommodate video, and the simplest thing for most people will be to post it to YouTube and pick up the “embed code” to include it on the newspaper site. These are classified ads, so don’t worry about quality. Some folks will shoot a video to sell their car using a cell phone. That’s fine. (Do check YouTube’s advertising policies to be sure you’re operating within its terms of service.
- Hire a videographer/producer exclusively for a video ad production department. A small business like the company renting the office space above may not have enough creativity on staff to produce the video ad above, so they can come to the newspaper ad department if they’re willing to put some money into it.
- Help these types of advertisers utilize social networks. Many small businesses don’t have the savvy to know that posting their video on YouTube is a good idea, or that they can post a gallery of photos on Flickr for free, etc. The newspaper classifieds department can offer not only to feature the video ad on its website, but also establish systems to spread them on appropriate social networks in appropriate ways as a value-added (paid) service. Of course, the ad staff must bone up on social marketing etiquette and understand rules put down by external social networks.
Not as many people come to newspaper classifieds any more, as you well know. They go to Craigslist often, and often Craigslist is entertaining. The point of the be-funny strategy is to get more people coming to the newspaper classifieds site for the entertainment value. People will come with a strict search goal in mind, of course, but thinking creatively also gets more people visiting who don’t know that they want to buy something — but they’re exposed to it and sometimes sales are made. Classifieds from a newspaper become relevant again.
What have you got to lose? The current way of classifieds as practiced by much of the newspaper industry doesn’t seem to be working so well. Get creative.