By Carl Howe
Some people watch football on Thanksgiving Day. Because of my prior lives as a marketing consultant and analyst, I do something different: I count newspaper ad insert pages.
Ad circular inserts on Black Friday provide us with interesting information. For one thing, they provide some insight into the advertising budgets of retailers. But more important than that, they provide a good view into the overall economy going into the biggest retail season of the year. If the economy is really bad, retailers don’t advertise much; on the other hand, if the economy is improving, retailers will spend more money on advertising resulting in more pages of advertising. In past years, the results from the Black Friday ad count have been fairly well correlated with actual holiday shopping results.
The ground rules for my counting are that I count only the circulars in the West edition of the Boston Globe newspaper, since those are most representative of the advertising for Black Friday. I convert all ads into 8.5×11 inch, single-sided equivalents. That means that if a retailer puts in an oversized 11×17 inch, double sided ad, that counts as 4 pages (An 11×17 page contains the area of two 8.5×11 pages, and the double sided printing doubles that).
As you can see in the graph that begins this post, this years count provided encouraging news about the New England economy, namely that:
- The Globe had 700 ad pages, the highest number since I started counting in 2005. Previous counts I have done were 412 in 2005, 636 in 2006, and 512 in 2007.
- Ads are up 17% over 2008, but more in some areas. Department stores had the most pages this year as every year, weighing in with a whopping 478 pages compared with 392 last year. Hardware stores boasted the largest percentage increase over 2008, with 42% more pages than the 28 they had in 2008. Surprisingly, electronics and furniture had slightly lower counts than 2008, although both categories have very small absolute counts.
There’s not much further insight here; clearly this is a single indirect measurement in a single retail market. But at the very least, we can certainly say this: the Globe actually delivered more ads (and presumably more ad revenue) this year than last. If a newspaper—a media category that most analysts claim is dying from Anywhere digital competition—can gain advertising this year over last, perhaps in the words of Monty Python, they aren’t dead yet. And by inference, we can claim that the economy really is starting to recover.
Happy Black Friday!