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A Blank Ad in the New York Times
By: Amanda Markell
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If you read the New York Times Wednesday you would have come across two entirely blank pages with the exception of a small type URL at the bottom of the second page. This was not an error but an advertisement. It may seem odd to write about a newspaper ad in a digital blog, but bear with me. The spot was purchased by 20th Century Fox and the url, wordsarelife.com, brings you directly to a trailer for their new movie "The Book Thief." Here is an example of the most traditional medium advertisement and all content is focused exclusively on driving to the web. The transition was seamless, not to mention it went socially viral. 
 
When you arrive at wordsarelife.com you learn a bit more about the meaning behind the blank ad spot from the introductory video. Leading actress Sophie Nelisse discusses the movie's theme, saying, "Just for a moment imagine what the world would be like without words. Without words life is nothing but a blank page. Words tell our stories, they define our histories. They have shaped who we are and who we will become. Words convey love, kindness, compassion." This is a message that really hits home with the New York Times reader who values literature and language. On the website, viewers can also share a digital movie poster, access a discussion guide, and more. It is a highly interactive digital experience that started with a traditional spot.
 
We are in a very interesting place in the history of marketing, where traditional print ads can trigger a direct digital and social buzz. We may not always have the luxury of the unique power of a print ad. This marketing strategy story was covered by the Huffington Post, AdWeek, Fast Company, numerous blogs, and tweets.
 
So could this type of impression ever be achieved in an online ad? If you made a web ad blank would it go socially viral and gain the attention of prospects? The concept has been tested by a group comprising "an astrophysicist at online-analytics firm Moat, an ad-platform wizard from buying and optimization company Accordant Media, and a measurement maven from the Advertising Research Foundation," as Ted McConnell puts it. And the results of their test of half a million blank web ads was a click-through rate of 0.08%. Compare this to a strong brand campaign rate of 0.02% to 0.04%. Even when adjusting for unintentional (mistake) clicks on the blank ads, the minimum click-through rate would be 0.04%, at the very least comparable to a strong brand campaign. An impressive result, but it does not hold up to the appeal of the blank New York Times ad.
 
The lesson from these two situations: some times to break through all the noise you need silence.


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About the Author
Amanda Markell is a marketer in the Greater Boston Area with a passion for branding, new media, and customer insights. 
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