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A house ad is an advertisement placed in some sort of media that is run by the company who owns the media outlet. The house ad is a common device for using up unsold advertising inventory, as a way of promoting the company’s own interests. A house ad may be for the advertising space itself, for the company who owns the outlet, or for one of their other projects.
In the early-19th century, media companies began to include paid advertising space in their pages, starting with the French newspaper La Presse. Soon, nearly all periodicals, from newspapers to magazines to trade journals, began to include advertising for products or services. Advertising revenue eventually supplanted subscription fees for many magazines and newspapers, allowing consumer costs to drop drastically.
Unfortunately, filling a certain amount of column inches with ads in the tight time frame available to a newspaper or magazine is not always possible. Especially when the economy falters, and many companies cut back their advertising budgets, magazines and newspapers used to filling a certain amount of pages with ads find themselves completely unable to make their quotas. If the situation is dire enough, a magazine will often cut back their total pages, including ad pages, as a way of cutting costs. Because of economies of scale in printing, however, this is not always economically viable.
In this case, running a house ad, or a number of house ads, becomes an alternative. Pages that would normally be devoted to paid advertisements, but which don’t have a buyer, are instead used by the magazine itself to promote something in its own interests. Often this will take the form of an advertisement for the promotional space itself, saying something like, “Your Ad Here,” with contact information for the company’s ad department. In this way, wasted space is turned into a place to attract new customers to fill the space in the future.
A company may also run a house ad as a way of promoting the media itself. For example, a magazine which finds itself with extra ad space might run an ad promoting a two-for-one holiday discount on subscriptions, or simply as a reminder to customers to renew. A company might also use the space to promote some sort of competition or sweepstakes, as a way of getting a more loyal reader base, or attracting new customers to an opt-in system like a newsletter.
Larger corporations may choose to use excess ad space in their media outlets as a way of promoting other branches of the company. Although arguably not a house ad, one company within a corporate umbrella may offer heavily discounted rates on space which otherwise would be unused to other companies within the same corporation. This can help a corporation give its various companies a competitive edge over other companies, by giving them extremely cheap, or even free, advertising.
With the advent of banner advertising, house ads are also seen widely in online venues. Web sites which make use of advertising will often run house ads in rotation with other ads, to promote the sale of advertising space on the site. Since these banners run in rotation, a website can easily ensure there is always a house ad running at any given time, no matter how many paid advertisers there may be.