They Had a Fun Pandemic. You Can Advertise with Them in Print.

Marketing Brew spoke with two Drunken Canal advertisers who wanted to advertise alongside pandemic party stories. Why? Because in their world, The Drunken Canal is really, really cool.
article cover

The New York Times

· 6 min read

Sean Kinney, a self-described “freelancer for himself,” was walking the streets of downtown NYC last month, talking to a reporter on the phone about an ad he’d created for fashion brand Susan Alexandra, when he ran into Niki Takesh, an “It Girl,” as he described her.

Kinney put the call on hold to tell Takesh that he “just got back from Costa Rica last night,” before continuing the phone call about the ad, which had recently been placed in a buzzy local “newspaper” called The Drunken Canal.

Kinney bounced from call to IRL convo with fluidity, toggling between descriptions of vacation and the experience of creating an ad for an outlet that was recently written about, critically, in The New York Times. That dexterity, to have a serious conversation about the ad business (yes, we can have serious conversations) while simultaneously talking about fleeing to a different country for three weeks in the midst of a pandemic, is exactly what The Drunken Canal’s advertisers are happily paying to be part of.

Claire Banse and Michelle “Gutes” Guterman, two women in their early 20s, started the paper mid-pandemic (The Drunken Canal’s Instagram lists Issue 01 on October 1, 2020). The Drunken Canal’s 28-page print-only newspaper has been described by the New York glitterati as a sign of life returning to NYC’s media scene a year after the pandemic first hit New York. (The Canal has a website, but that’s not where its content is found.)

For those who can’t run down to New York’s “Dimes Square” (a colloquial term for the area between Canal Street and Division Street by the Manhattan Bridge) to pick up a copy, The Drunken Canal has a Patreon with more than 220 subscribers across multiple levels of commitment, currently ranging from $10/month for one paper sent via mail, to $100/month...also for one paper per month + some clout.

And if you don’t have $10 to $100 to contribute per month or a downtown NYC address, some of the stories—such as a conversation between self-described drug addict Cat Marnell and internet “scammer” Caroline Calloway about Marnell’s experience at sex parties, drugs, and more—get retold in the more eclectic corners of the internet.

The NYT described Guterman, Banse, & Co. as a “group of people more interested in having fun, looking cool and promoting their friends than in delineating moral and ethical rules.”

Marketers, historically, shy away from unruly publications. At least blue chip marketers. But for every JPMorgan that might be more conservative in their spend, there are dozens of smaller advertisers who want to attach themselves to a zeitgeisty, tragically hip publication. Whether we look to Vice or an alt-weekly, we can find a coterie of advertisers desperate for said association. Especially if that outlet has a similar ethos to their brand.

We spoke with two Drunken Canal advertisers—Susan Korn, the founder of buzzy, Gigi Hadid-approved accessories label Susan Alexandra, and Chris Black, who hosts the “How Long Gone” podcast and is the founder of Done to Death, an agency that works mostly with fashion clients—who wanted to advertise alongside pandemic party stories. Why? Because in their inverted world, The Drunken Canal is really, really cool.

Oh, and also because it’s really cheap. Black, for example, said he paid less than $400 for How Long Gone’s ad. The New York Times—heck, the New York Daily News—this is not.

Guterman and Banse said that ads are direct buys, and run three full-page ads per issue.

“People reach out to us, we send them the media kit. What we've started doing, because there's been a lot of interest, [is] doing it on a submission basis [and] not confirming. We have a couple of people submit ads and then we decide which one makes the most sense [and which] will look the best with the issue, especially when it's full page,” Banse told Marketing Brew.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

The email newsletter guaranteed to bring you the latest stories shaping the marketing and advertising world, like only the Brew can.

And unlike the blocklists of our modern era, advertisers don’t get to pick the content their ads run next to. “They trust us with it. They know what they're signing up for,” Guterman explained.

Two advertisers might as well have walked into a bar, bucking brand safety for “it” factor

Korn, very satisfied with her Drunken Canal experience, is excited to see the New York media scene (whatever that is) get some new blood—even if that outlet might not be traditionally “brand safe.”

“You know, like [The Drunken Canal] is cool and organic and funny. And it’s like, this scene. Everyone's like, ‘There's no scenes. There's no parties in New York.’ And I'm like, I feel like it's back,” Korn told Marketing Brew.

“I am so happy, would do it again, and I can’t wait to do something else with them,” Korn emphasized.

And she’s not alone—Black sided with Korn on the brand safety issue.

“I think we're so concerned, especially in the social media space, about likes and follows and metrics. Of course that stuff matters, but like, I would rather do something relevant and cool,” Black explained. “I would tell anybody to do it. It’s cheap, and it's like, you're part of something.”

But the question remains—what exactly are you part of?

A sense of perspective

Of course, not everyone would greenlight an ad in The Drunken Canal just because it’s “cool.” Anthony Dario, a senior director of enterprise partnerships at Omnicom Media Group, said that The Drunken Canal definitely wouldn’t be brand safe for most clients.

“The accounts that I'm used to, they would never want to be around that,” Dario responded, adding that he typically works with more traditional, larger clients. “It’s good for buzz; they’re just trying to catch the attention [for] a little bit cheaper. It’s a place that has ‘viral content,’ it’s an easy place to get eyeballs, it’s just not the right content that I think most brands, or I would say 90% of brands, would want to be around,” Dario continued.

A character we haven’t mentioned yet: print

Although Korn and Black didn’t receive any metrics from the publication to indicate how their ads performed, Korn told Marketing Brew the ad was worth the investment because “it got noticed by people who I think are so cool and have such a creative eye. And I got so many compliments on it.”

That’s noteworthy enough in the 21st century, let alone in a year when eMarketer forecasts US print advertising revenue will decline 12.6%, from $9.69 billion to $8.47 billion, with a steady decline for the foreseeable future. But at a time when print has virtually no cachet, there’s an opportunity for brands to be part of a “scene” they find exciting. With so much focus on ROI, there’s something to be said for those who want to attach themselves to the shiny new object, even if that shiny new object is, essentially, an old medium.

“You're not going to see a crazy return, but it puts you in a different cultural space, which is kind of what all brands are trying to do, including How Long Gone,” Black said. “If you do something really great in print, it all goes online anyway. That feels better to me than taking out digital ads.”

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

The email newsletter guaranteed to bring you the latest stories shaping the marketing and advertising world, like only the Brew can.