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New Print Campaign Is Fatally Flawed -- McIlroy

April 2002

I have no quarrel with the stated aim of this promotional campaign, a "long-term national campaign to properly position print media in the minds of all Americans." That's a great idea—one that we've struggled with for a long time.

I do agree with Roper when he says that the campaign "can't be done like the milk producers have done with the 'got milk' campaign; or the egg producers have done with the 'incredible edible egg' campaign."

But my agreement falters as to why.

In his remarks, Roper pointed out: "Why can't it be done this way? Because these campaigns are funded by marketing orders authorized by the federal government, which add a percent or two to the cost of these products, usually at the wholesale level."

Sure, that's why we can't expect to embark on campaigns of the same scale and expense as the milk and egg marketing campaigns. But, far more importantly, the reason to avoid emulating these campaigns is that we can't appeal to consumers in the same way. It's preposterous to think that we can reach out to the public and create more consumer demand for printing as an abstract commodity.

Does anyone think that a popup banner on the New York Times Website with the slogan "Print: The Original Information Technology" is going to encourage people to put down their mice and head out to the newsstand?

But this isn't the key issue to reject this promotional program. Here's the problem: ". . . the objective of this campaign is . . . the positioning of print as part of the information technology or IT-sector of the U.S. economy."

Print as information technology? Wrong. Print is not an information technology. That's not print's key strength. Print is presentation. Print is portability. Print is convenience. Print is tactile. Print is beautiful. Print is not an information technology. It's a centuries-old craft that presents ideas and images in a manner designed to aid the reader to absorb the artifacts of our culture.

The Internet is information technology. Everyone knows that if you want to get the most up-to-the-moment in-depth information, go online, not to the newsstand.

I'm not sure that I need to quote an authoritative source here but, just in case, I went to the Website of the Information Technology Association of America.

Here's its explanation of IT: "Information Technology is one of America's fastest growing industries, encompassing computers, software, telecommunications products and services, Internet and online services, systems integration and professional services companies." No mention of print. I wasn't surprised.

Do we really think that if we repeat "Print: The Original Information Technology" often enough, the public will see it as equivalent to the Web?

I don't believe it for a minute.

But that doesn't mean printing isn't sexy. There are so many wonderful things about print, so many things we can remind the public of, without trying to be IT-cool.

Roper acknowledges print's strengths in his remarks: "Ink on paper has consistently proven to be the most reliable medium to convey images and ideas." Exactly! Print shines in so many areas. A newspaper on a lazy Sunday morning. A page-turner on a sunny beach. A colorful magazine on a long flight. An art book. A beautifully printed poster.

Let's remind people in a positive way of the many things that print does better than any other medium. IT just isn't one of them.

—Thad McIlroy

About the Author

Thad McIlroy is an electronic publishing consultant and analyst, based at Arcadia House in San Francisco. He welcomes your comments at


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