How Journalistic Practices Are Used in Advertising

A little over a year ago, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in journalism, and shortly after I landed a job in advertising. I wondered, how the heck am I going to utilize my journalism degree in the advertising industry? My understanding at the time was that journalism and advertising were two entirely different fields – which they are, however, they have many overlapping qualities. Over the past year, I’ve used many of my journalism skills in the field of advertising, which sure makes that expensive piece of paper framed on my wall at home feel worth it. So if you’re like me, wondering how to utilize your journalism degree in a field that you never thought you’d enter, keep reading. 

Seven Elements of Journalism

In journalism school, they teach you that there are seven elements that make a story “newsworthy” – impact, timeliness, proximity, human interest, conflict, the bizarre, and celebrity. I’ve learned that this can be directly tied to advertising – you need all of these elements to not only make good ads, but to market them the right way. 

1. Impact

The main question asked here is “How will this story affect people?” For example, a news story about flooding on a main road could affect how I drive to work, or could affect local businesses in that area. 

In advertising, you need to figure out what impact you would like to have on your audience. Typically, we aim for our audience to buy a product or service. However, sometimes we want to create brand awareness for our audience. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of advertisements that seem to appeal to people’s emotions rather than their urge to buy a product. These companies want us to know that they’re a good brand that cares about their customers throughout unprecedented times. The impact that they want to have on people is to gain consumers trust and build a relationship with them. For example, Coca Cola released an ad with their logo spaced out and the phrase “Staying apart is the best way to stay united.” This ad, placed in Times Square in New York City, doesn’t tell you to buy Coca Cola, but it plants a seed in your mind – “Hey, maybe I should pick up some Coke next time I’m at the store.” 

2. Timeliness

Timeliness refers to new information. When you watch or read the news, you are looking for new information – whether it’s a completely new story or an ongoing news story that is frequently updated. 

In advertising, you want to make sure that you are advertising relevant information about your product or service. For example, we no longer see Netflix do advertisements about their mail-in DVD service because they don’t do that anymore. That service is no longer timely to Netflix because it isn’t relevant anymore. Nowadays, Netflix advertises its current catalogue of shows and movies, as well as their own original content because it is much more relevant and timely. Not to mention, they also use advertisements to show that their membership means watching shows ad-free.

3. Proximity

Proximity is how geographically close you are to something. In journalism, you want to make sure you’re telling stories that are relevant to the location that your audience is reading or watching from. For example, news about the Bacon Bacon food truck in San Francisco isn’t relevant to people living in downtown Chicago because it’s not in close proximity to them. 

This directly relates to advertising because you need to nail down your target audience and know where they are located. You don’t want to promote a product or service to a group of people where they can’t get a hold of that product. For instance, there is not a Portillo’s restaurant in my hometown in Iowa (as much as I wish there was one), so it wouldn’t make sense for Portillo’s to advertise in that neighborhood. 

4. Human Interest

News stories that are defined as “human interest” usually show something about the human condition. These stories are typically known as “fluff” stories. For example, a story about a boy using money earned from a lemonade stand to give to charity would be a “fluff” story added to a slow news day. It’s a cute story that shows the little boy has a good heart and is doing a good deed, but isn’t super newsworthy. 

Advertising uses a lot of human interest stories to sell their products. For example, Apple did a video advertisement with Tyler Mitchell, the first black photographer to shoot US Vogue’s cover. The ad follows around Mitchell, who is shooting and editing his latest portrait series right from his bedroom in Brooklyn. Mitchell uses his MacBook Pro® to edit the photos. This is a human interest story because we’re following around a person and watching them use the product that the company is trying to sell – however, Mitchell never says “buy a MacBook” or “I accomplished this because I have a MacBook”. Apple is hoping that just by seeing Mitchell utilize their product, and not be overly aggressive in their advertising efforts, that consumers will want to purchase the MacBook. 

5. Conflict/Controversy

Where there is conflict, there is news. A classic example of conflict in news is elections. Elections are newsworthy because they show conflict between two opposing political parties and their fight to win the position they are running for. Conflicts don’t always have to be elections – for example, many school boards are pushing to not reopen schools for in-person learning due to the current coronavirus pandemic, which causes a conflict to the norm. 

When I think of conflict in advertising, I think about opposing brands: Walmart vs. Target, Pampers vs. Huggies, McDonalds vs. Wendy’s. While some brands and companies do dominate the market, they have to keep up with their advertising efforts to stay at the top. In the case of McDonald’s vs. Wendy’s, both brands create ads that poke fun at each other. A specific example is Wendy’s creating their “fresh, never frozen meat” slogan, which is a nod at McDonald’s because McDonald’s flash-freezes their meat. In an advertisement shown at Super Bowl LII in 2018, Wendy’s showed consumers that on, McDonald’s claims to have “flash frozen meat to seal in flavor” and since then Wendy’s has emphasized this new slogan to win over consumers that would typically eat at McDonald’s over Wendy’s. 

6. The Bizarre/Unusual

This category speaks for itself. Think octo-mom, or girl-that-couldn’t-stop-hiccuping – these are events that happened that were just beyond unusual and piqued our interest as readers. 

Using bizarre or unusual ads can be risky for advertisers, but the key is really knowing who your audience is – will they find the ad funny? Stupid? Confusing? For instance, Burger King put out a “Christmas in July” ad recently, claiming that because 2020 is so messed up because of coronavirus that they can just do whatever they want – and they declare that it’s Christmas, so come get a $5 mix n’ match. 

7. Celebrity/Prominence

And finally, we have prominence. Well-known people make the news because we all know who they are. This includes celebrities, well-known members of the community, politicians, social media influencers, etc. If somebody burglarized my home, the news would say “Woman’s house burglarized overnight” instead of “Jen Moulton’s house burglarized overnight” because I’m not a well-known, prominent person in Chicago. Most readers would read that headline and say “Who is Jen Moulton, and why is it important that her house was burglarized?” However, if Lori Lightfoot were burglarized, the news would say “Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s house burglarized overnight” because Lightfoot, being the mayor of Chicago, is a prominent figure in the city, making that a newsworthy story. 

Using celebrities in ads is nothing new. Advertisers want to use celebrities for their ads because they believe they will bring in a lot of revenue from that celebrities audience. It’s a good strategy. A recent example of this in automotive advertising is the use of Brie Larson in Nissan commercials. Time magazine named her one of the top 100 influential people in 2019, which makes Larson a good pick for this Nissan ad – because her career is at a high point at the moment. 

So there you have it! As it turns out, journalism and advertising aren’t so different after all. Both fields use the same information or methods in different ways. Are you interested in finding a career in the advertising industry? Contact us today at Aronson Advertising to learn more about our available positions!

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