Google has garnered a lot of ink for its apparent plans to grow beyond search and into other ad media, including offline channels. The company has tested newspaper ads for some of its AdSense marketers, just concluded a trial print ad auction for magazine placement, and in January bought dMarc broadcasting, a platform for serving up radio spots.
But Google isn’t the only player in the search space that’s looking beyond digital marketing. In February, Agoura Hills CA-based pay-per-call platform Jambo announced a pilot program to place print ads for its online marketers in weekly newspapers. The ads will feature copy for the marketers, most of them small local businesses, together with a Jambo-provided phone number. Print-ad marketers in the Jambo pilot get the same call tracking and logging reports that they receive from their online ads.
Launched as a pay-per-call platform for online ads in May 2005, Jambo’s largest Internet partnership to date is with private-label search and directory provider InfoSpace.
The first flight of the print test took place in the LA Weekly, a community newspaper with a 210,000 circulation. Jambo aggregated 57 different advertisers into a special Valentine’s Day-themed ad section, including florists, restaurants, spas, salons, bed and breakfast inns and even one jeweler.
All the marketers were local to the Los Angeles area, and all of them were businesses that value phone calls over clicks in their online advertising. They all had agreed to use Jambo’s pay-per-call platform to pull in sales leads that were more highly qualified, and thus in most cases more expensive, than online clicks. And like most local users of pay-per-call services, they find it easier and more efficient to market through a voice call, which lets them consult with a customer, set reservations or appointments over the phone, or simply avoid the expense and effort of setting up a very transactional Web site.
By jumping the performance-based online ad model to the offline world, Jambo feels it can bring value both to the advertisers and to local community newspapers, says Richard Rosen, Jambo’s vice president of business development. “These were local merchants who could have been advertisers in the LA Weekly, but they just weren’t,” he says. “Weekly papers’ core categories center on entertainment and adult services, and they don’t often have the sales staff required to go out and sign up these non-core advertisers.”
Rosen’s pitch to the papers is that Jambo can bring them ad revenue and content relevant to their readers by attracting verticals that they normally wouldn’t be able to sell into but that may value their demographic. “A local Volkswagen dealer may want to reach their audience, but the weeklies haven’t really been able to crack that automotive market,” he says. “Why shouldn’t we aggregate those automotive advertisers and bring them to the weekly? Just go to them and prove the print model works for those advertisers by showing them how many prospects call.”
The LA Weekly pilot is open-eneded, but Rosen expects the paper will participate for a few months, at least. “I’ve told them they need to give it some time. We’re generating new verticals of ad content for their readers, and those readers have to be able to say, ‘I remember seeing a column of ads for attorney’s in last week’s issue.’” With their classified listings under threat from Craigslist and other online directories, Rosen thinks local community weeklies will be willing to invest the months it may take for the ads to attract a critical mass of users.
After running the Valentine’s Day section in two issues, Jambo has already fielded a second special ad page in the LA Weekly centered on local health and wellness marketers. Other sections planned include automotive and housing/ home improvement themes, as well as holiday-themed packages.
Expansion plans for the pilot program are still to be determined, but Rosen thinks it feasible to grow the print offering into 100 to 200 major metro areas around the country. The program is labor-intensive for Jambo and involves the company acting as something of an ad service bureau for participating marketers, sizing ads and producing layouts. But Rosen says it’s precisely that investment of resources that may constitute a defensive edge against other search players trying to poach those local advertisers.
“When you work online and the ads are automated, you can work quickly, but those bonds can be easily broken,” he says. “Working with these print ads requires much more resources and more time, but we think that will make the relationships harder to undo.”