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Advertising Age (or Ad Age) is a printed and online news publication for the advertising, marketing, and media industries. It is the flagship publication of The Ad Age Group, Inc. Ad Age has considerable influence on the industry; it is recognized as the leading news source for marketing and media and is sometimes referred to as the industry handbook or industry bible. Launched in 1930 as a weekly newspaper by the publishing company Crain Communications, Ad Age’s content is now also distributed on multiple electronic platforms, including a Web site (www.adage.com), e-mail newsletters, blogs, and podcasts. Besides covering industry events, trends, and professionals of medium-sized and large companies, Ad Age also publishes various rankings. These include not only yearly rankings, such as the Agency A-List, the 100 Leading National Advertisers, and the Annual Agency Report, but also historical rankings, such as the Top 20th century in advertising.
In 2014, Ad Age had a total circulation of more than 65,000 for its magazine, while its Web site received on average 1.2 million unique visitors monthly. Its audience profile includes the top 100 leading national advertisers and the leading 100 national advertising agencies. Its readers rated Ad Age as more credible, trustworthy, and influential than Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and other similar publications. Through the pages of Ad Age, industry professionals become familiar with one another and their various companies and organizations.
Like other magazines of its type, Ad Age makes money by selling space to other advertisers. Alongside its editorial content, readers will see advertisements from other companies, including other publications, trying to reach industry professionals. Placing an advertisement in Ad Age typically costs tens of thousands of dollars; the 2015 rate for one full-page color print advertisement in Ad Age was just over $35,000.
History And Competition
In 1916, G. D. Crain Jr. (1885–1973) founded Crain Communications with two publications and three people on the staff. The company launched Advertising Age as its third publication in January 1930. The magazine initially struggled to survive through the early days of the Great Depression but continually gained strength as it received positive reviews from readers and advertisers alike.
Rance Crain, G. D. Crain’s eldest son, began his own career as a reporter for Ad Age. Rance was named a senior editor of the publication in 1965, editorial director of Crain Communications in 1971, and company president the year his father passed away in 1973. To date, he leads Ad Age as editor in chief, writing a biweekly column for the publication.
As Ad Age grew, it displaced Printer’s Ink as the industry bible. Printer’s Ink launched in 1888 as the first national trade magazine for advertising, but as its name suggests it focused on print media. When advertising expanded into radio, Ad Age covered the change with balanced reporting while Printer’s Ink fought with self-interest against the expansion of broadcast media. In 1972, Printer’s Ink had to close because of lack of advertising.
The Ad Age Group, Inc., which operates as a subsidiary of Crain Communications, also publishes Creativity. This sister publication features the editors’ selections of new and exciting ideas and creative work across the advertising and design industries. It is more popular specifically among advertising creatives who use it for inspiration. Creativity opened as a monthly print magazine in 1986 but has continued solely online (www.creativity-online.com) after its last printed issue in 2009. Editors’ picks typically include credits for the showcased work, which gives creative recruiters and industry headhunters opportunities to identify the individuals who worked to produce otherwise anonymous advertisements.
Today, Ad Age’s primary competitor is Adweek, which launched in 1978. The two publications and their various digital offerings cover similar topics, although Adweek typically gives more attention to the media industry, popular culture, and creative work (which Ad Age leaves to its sister publication Creativity). Adweek also uses a more casual and irreverent tone compared with Ad Age. The rivalry between the two publications is not only for relevance but also for advertising dollars.
Many print publications have had to adapt to digital media, and Ad Age is no exception. In 2012, the magazine underwent a significant redesign as part of the publication’s efforts to orient itself toward online readers. Rance and his senior executives acknowledged that the publication’s primary focus was shifting toward AdAge.com, but they assured reporters that the print format was here to stay. The change took place 1 year after the rival publication Adweek also redesigned its print offering.
Because of its clout, Ad Age is a primary source for many advertisers seeking to evaluate worthy agencies. For instance, the marketing consultant William Weilbacher recommends that marketers looking for an advertising agency refine their search to only those recognized in Ad Age’s annual lists.
Ad Age began publishing annual estimates of the total billings for advertising agencies in 1945. Whereas billings had previously been confidential, their publication gave advertising practitioners a method to rank themselves against one another. Some industry leaders, including the famous adman Stanley Resor of the J. Walter Thompson agency, criticized these annual rankings, arguing that gross billings did not capture the value of the services agencies could provide for their clients. Regardless, it remained a method used to rank agencies, with prestige granted to whichever are the “biggest” in terms of billings.
Besides billings, Ad Age also offers an annual Agency A-List, a prestigious award for agencies. Ad Age’s panels select A-List agencies based on three criteria: (1) the creativity of their advertising work, (2) success in winning business pitches, and (3) the effectiveness of their campaigns—that is, whether they had measurable results. Advertising textbooks often present agencies recognized on the A-List as prime case studies for students.
Furthermore, Ad Age’s critical reviews and editorial rankings can greatly hurt or help advertising agencies and their relationships with their clients. Bob Garfield, as author of Ad Age’s AdReview from 1985 to 2010, was blamed for ending the agency N. W. Ayer’s $200 million relationship with the fast-food chain Burger King after his scathing front-page review of the agency’s latest work for their client. The former advertising columnist Randall Rothenberg also suggests that Garfield’s reviews of Wieden+Kennedy’s advertisements for Subaru—along with Ad Age’s proclamation of Wieden+Kennedy as Agency of the Year in 1991— temporarily rescued an otherwise rocky relationship.
Ad Age serves as a medium of self-policing for the industry, with what the sociologist Michael Schudson describes as a “generally liberal, ‘good government’ tone.” In the 1960s and later, articles and letters to the editor decried the sexist portrayal of women in advertising. In 1992, Ad Age ran an article reporting the severe underrepresentation of African Americans in the industry. Another article explained the importance of cause-oriented marketing by arguing that “companies do well by doing good.” Editorials in the late 1960s also called out the tobacco industry as morally bereft, particularly after it recognized the Federal Trade Commission’s rulings on tobacco advertising as a legal disaster for the entire advertising industry. The magazine’s distrust of tobacco remained evident into the 2000s, when it criticized the tobacco company Philip Morris’s practices of distributing branded textbook covers in schools.
Ad Age influences not only marketing professionals but also advertising scholars. Because of its extensive archives dating back to its founding in 1930 and the various reports and rankings it produces, the publication is often cited in academic accounts about the advertising industry. Drawing on its own archives, The Ad Age Group, Inc. itself published The Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising in 2003. In the introduction to the three-volume set, the editors note that the archives of Advertising Age offer one of the best records on the advertising industry.
- Fox, Stephen. The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising and Its Creators. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
- McDonough, John and Karen Egolf, eds. The Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003.
- Moriarty, Sandra, Nancy Mitchell, and William D. Wells. Advertising & IMC: Principles and Practice, 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2012.
- Rothenberg, Randall. Where the Suckers Moon: The Life and Death of an Advertising Campaign. New York: Vintage, 1995.
- Schudon, Michael. Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American New York: Basic Books, 1984.
- Tungate, Adland: A Global History of Advertising. Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page, 2007.
- Weilbacher, William M. Choosing and Working With Your Advertising Agency. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC Business Books, 1991.