Iconic clip from Young Frankenstein becomes opening line of campaign

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Sean Ireland

One day earlier this year, Publisher Buff Leavy was driving into work at The Brunswick (Ga.) News, and he was thinking about all the things in that morning's edition of the daily paper.

There was a story about the school system that would be of particular interest to local moms and dads. There were birth announcements and engagement pictures. The classified section of the daily paper had a robust catalog of items for sale. There was an editorial about a thorny community issue.

In short, it was a typical edition of The News, one with a large menu of items that would appeal to a variety of Brunswick residents, but it was this particular issue that sparked Leavy's imagination. "My mind was racing because it was a realization that there is nothing else out there that does what we do every single day of the week," he said. "It just came to me: It's alive."

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That was the inspiration behind a three-month promotional campaign for The News featuring billboards, radio spots and testimonials, all emphasizing that the newspaper is a living entity thrumming with the pulse of the community.

It's a stark contrast to the image of "dying newspapers" that other forms of media seem so eager to cast upon the industry. It's also a good demonstration of what many newspaper leaders say has long been needed: better promotional efforts by newspapers.

In Brunswick, the "It's Alive" campaign, which just ended, has become a good example of what individual newspapers can do. It takes head-on the myth of an industry that is dying.

Leavy said that as he was struck by the idea in the car that day, the words of Gene Wilder in the 1974 movie, "Young Frankenstein," echoed in his head. Wilder, playing Dr. Frederic Frankenstein, witnesses his monster stir to life and screams, "Alive! It's alive! It's alive!" That iconic clip of Wilder became the opening line for the four different radio spots used in the campaign.

Artwork on area billboards and in testimonial ads had lightning bolts flashing around the words of the doctor, who used electricity to animate his creature. The billboards and ads featured Warren Buffett and his heavy investments in newspapers over the past two years as well as testimonials from local readers of The News about what makes the newspaper alive to them.

"One of the best was one gentleman who said if he didn't read the newspaper, he'd feel like he was living on a deserted island," Leavy said.

Leavy said he worried at first that the idea was too off the wall, but he was encouraged to move forward with it by staffers at The News. It's turned out to be a great invitation for all of them to tell people about the newspaper.

"It's really resonated with people out there," he said. "I have gotten a lot of feedback about it. One guy asked me, 'What does it mean?' That's great because it gets us the opportunity to tell people about what we do and what we offer."

And when many of them hear about it, they want in. The News had a representative wearing "It's Alive" t-shirts selling subscriptions door to door during the campaign and came away with 75 to 100 new starts each month. Whether that would have happened without the campaign is hard to tell, but "It's Alive" has – at the very least – been a conversation starter.

The campaign has been the first for the family-owned newspaper since the 1970s, Leavy estimated. As with most newspapers, it was long overdue.

"We need to be a leader out there promoting ourselves," he said, "We preach to everybody about the importance of advertising. Yet I don't think newspapers have done it well enough outside of our own pages. We have a loyal customer base, but we've got to reach outside it to grow it and invite other people into the newspaper."

For more information, contact Buff Leavy at (912) 265-8320.

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