With Silicon Valley start-ups driving up advertising costs in print and broadcast, some businesses have found a clever way to save money. Their trick: advertise widely in newspapers using small, cheap classified ads that contain only a URL. But they may be too clever for their own good.
Many newspapers charge national rates for such ads, which can be as much as 10 times higher than local rates. If the companies that have no local presence, but simply point customers to a public Web site, they qualify as national advertisers, according to Kevin McCourt, a newspaper advertising expert with the Newspaper Association of America.
McCourt insists this is a fair arrangement. "This is nothing new," he says. " Traditionally, the favorable rates have been charged to local advertisers, especially small businesses, that advertise locally available products. If you want to advertise a good or service from some other place, you will be charged what a national advertiser would pay."
Many papers require even local advertisers to pay for a minimum number of lines, and many limit how much space a URL can take up. The San Francisco Examiner, for instance, requires that advertisers pay for four lines of text even if they use only one line to list a Web address. Some newspapers have ruled that Web addresses can take up no more than a quarter of the ad space on display ads.
One thing a newspaper should never do, McCourt says, is charge extra to local advertisers to include a Web address. "If a local company is advertising locally available products, local rates should apply," he says. "Dot-com advertising has been very good for newspapers. I don't see them doing anything to dissuade these kinds of ads."