Monday, May 05, 2008

Matchbook Advertising

We had been chatting about tiny posters – cinderellas – as advertising media (see below). Then (see below below) about Laura Smith, who’s channeling stamp artists from the era of Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin in the service of Mercedes and the Academy Awards.

Now I want you to recall the advertising power and art of the common paper matchbook – politically incorrect today to the nth degree. In fact, I’m doing you a service to remind you that matchbook advertising is “like having the impact of billboard advertising in the palm of your hand.”

I lifted this phrase direct from D D Bean & Sons Company website.

It’s and if you have any idea that you or your company can handle the oh-my-god pressure of matchbook marketing, you could start your journey with Peter Leach, the company’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

This site is not only a display of this matchbook company’s production and distribution capabilities. It will remind you of what was once a very powerful medium: Now dead and buried, along with cigarette smokers.

The challenge of using matchbooks – the real thing, not the ones with toothpicks or little notepads – is that so many people associate them with cigarette-smoking. How many humans think about the evils of cigarettes every time they see a matchbook? Most of them here in the US. Leach, who’s been in the “match business” for 35 years, says that over the past six to seven years, it’s changed dramatically, and for the worse. The advent of the Master Settlement Agreement killed Big Tobacco’s interest in book matches, so matchbook advertising is a dribble compared to a decade ago.

Leach makes an important distinction. In the good old days, the business was “space advertising.” This is classic matchbook advertising where the advertiser (like Prince Albert cigars) buys the space; the manufacturer (like D D Bean & Sons) distributes the matchbooks. The resulting book of matches, likely with a tobacco ad on it, was given to you free when you bought a pack of cigarettes.

Those good days are gone forever. Leach calls everything else “private label.” The matchbooks with customized art are sold to the advertiser (a hotel, a bar or a restaurant), who then distributes them to its customers.

The thousand-legal-cut demise of smoking isn’t the only indignity suffered by matchbook advertisers. Technologically, the disposable lighter really took over the “light business” over the past 15 years. Today, nine out of every 10 “lights” are provided by butane lighters.

That’s a shame, because even after the trials and tribulations of the tobacco industry here in America, matchbooks are still surprisingly available…just not in the places you think you might find them or in the old, space-advertising formats.

Is it possible to find a company with any degree of PC sensitivity to use matchbook advertising? I think you have to determine if your client has a pretty sturdy sense of humor to take on this format.

For private labelers, good designers can help. First, there are still match companies like Bean and The Match Group that provide templates for graphic artists and art directors. Then, you want to refine your brand message both verbally and visually. Perhaps you noted the last couple of posts about outstanding illustrators working in the small spaces defined by, say, the matchbook.

There are also technical designers like Pasquale Chieffalo (here) and David Airey (here) who continue to experiment with the matchbook format. These outside-the-box applications might offer marketers and advertisers additional ways to use a strongly familiar medium in new, even surprising ways.

If your own creativity catches fire, drop me a line and I’ll pass it on to Leach, who’s looking for a few good ideas. Remember to close cover before striking.

Thanks and a tip of the Signalwriter cap to Peter Leach. The private-label 30-strike “Republic” sample courtesy of The Match Group, LLC. All rights reserved.


David Airey said...

Hello Richard,

Many thanks for the kind mention. You spelt my name wrong, but you're certainly not the first to do so.

All the very best.

Richard Laurence Baron said...

You're welcome, David. No one should have to suffer from my misspelt youth and so, through the miracle of modern blogging, I have corrected it. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I am the largest confection and match distributor in the the Northeast ,specializing in NYC,we have a program that actually guarantees exposure and distribution to millions of people any interest ?

Craig Currie

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Craig - thanks for the note. Share your contact information since there may be an opportunity for "something interesting" in the matchbook line. Best for October: RLB.

Craig Currie said...

Sorry Richard That would of been a good idea! Our company name is Advertising On Match Sales & Distribution,Bronx NY,
Craig Currie