Friday, March 20, 2009

And ye shall know them by their small ads

Whereas the colour spreads of advertising at the front of the book express the aspirations of a magazine's readers, it's the small ads tucked away at the back that tell you what they're really like. Small advertisers, usually selling products you can only buy mail order, only advertise in places where they definitely get response. One of Smash Hits' biggest advertisers in the early 80s was Danilo, who would sell you a bum-flap or a pair of two tone shoes. This was in the days when such things were not available in the average high street. They wouldn't have been paying the rate if they weren't making enough profit to make it worthwhile.

Post-internet the small ad is a threatened species but in certain places it hangs on. The back pages of the New Yorker are full of products aimed apparently at the Niles Cranes of the Eastern Seaboard; highly-educated, Anglophile and apparently yearning for a more genteel life. There's Precision Hangers - "the dimple-free hanger solution", Upton - "purveyor of the world's finest teas", Mark Mormar, a biographer "who will tell your story when you're gone", John Christian, who will research and then produce your own family crest for $709 and, most poignantly, the Pavillion at McLean Hospital which promises "unparalleled psychiatric evaluation and treatment". All ads speak to the readership. But only with the small ads can you be certain somebody's responding.


  1. I think we used to have The Observer's Book of Niles Cranes of the Eastern Seaboard.

  2. I used to work at The Atlantic Monthly designing the back of book pages (book reviews etc.) where all the small ads were dumped and you would see the same ones month after month. The one that sticks in my mind was one for a beret which had a picture of a very jaunty looking chap with a beret and moustache looking like the cliche of the French artiste type. I'd often wonder who bought these things but I live in a State where an alarming number of men wear bow ties so they're out there.

  3. They have that beret ad in the New Yorker as well. It says so much about the readership. They're the one person in their town who wears a beret. Probably puts it on in order to go and buy cheese. It makes me think of Christopher Guest.

  4. I love the New Yorker - the most recent issue I read had six pages (count 'em) on the Vampire myth in Western culture.

    But the thing that makes their articles work sometimes kills their web offering. Last week I listened to one of their podcasts, where an actor read one of the mag's comment essays. after the fourth sub clause on the thired 35 second sentence, I switched off. Literally. How come such obviously smart people just don't get it?

  5. I agree about their comment podcasts but the stuff they do under the "Out Loud" title, in which their writers are interviewed about their stories, is terrific.