Broadsheet war flares up again

After the price war, hostilities have taken a new turn – with a sales promotion slugfest.

Agencies that took part in the Times Newspapers and Daily Telegraph media pitches maintain they were quite different in their emphasis, but ultimately similar in their outcome.

At Times Newspapers’ review in October it was clear it wanted someone to bring down its airtime prices. It appointed TMD Carat to do just that. The Telegraph pitches two weeks ago covered more areas, but by appointing The Media Factor, the Telegraph showed it plans to follow the same sales promotion strategy that The Media Factor and its creative agency Arc used to carry out for News International.

Indeed it was the Telegraph’s managing director, Stephen Grabiner, who said the newspaper price war had now been replaced by a sales promotions war.

The appeal of sales promotions is easy to see. Sales figures come in daily, allowing papers to judge easily how well the promotion is working.

And the lesson of The Times’ successful price cut seems to be that loyalty in the broadsheet market is much weaker than previously thought. If price cuts can attract free-floating readers, then so too can sales promotions, runs the logic.

“Consumers are far more eclectic in all their media choices, from channel hopping to newspapers, so there has to be a regular reason for them to buy,” says David Beadle, media development director at The Media Factor. “Changing commuting habits and the decline of home delivery means you have to remind readers to buy every day.”

Sales promotions have been a mainstay of the mass-market press since the invention of newspaper bingo. Tabloid sales promotions are more sophisticated now. Interactive TV sponsorships, such as The Sun’s deal with Coronation Street, come with an element of brand association.

The appeal for the Telegraph in sales promotion is that it can leverage the difference between the paper’s 1.2 million Saturday sales and its weekday issues, which sell approximately 200,000 less. Indeed there are those who believe the point of promotions is not about generating trial, but simply about increasing the frequency of purchase.

The irony is that the Telegraph’s Saturday issue sells more than the weekday one only because of the effort the Telegraph has put into creating an improved Saturday product. So the promotions succeed because of product development.

Yet promotions can be used to show off product development. “People have prejudices about other newspapers,” says Beadle. “You have to do radical things to get them to try a title and discover how it’s changed.”

The advantage Times Newspapers has over the Telegraph is that its pockets are deeper and sales promotions are only one part of its strategy. The Times also has its price advantage, product development and some brand-based advertising support as part of its marketing mix.

However, the Telegraph feels it has little choice. The Times’ price advantage has the effect of cutting off the Telegraph’s supply of new readers – the young and those trading up from the middle market – who are less loyal and are attracted on price alone.

The Telegraph is still trying to graft an element of branding onto its a-promotion-a-week strategy by carrying a consistent tag line in its advertising – “Life. If you want to take part, take The Daily Telegraph”.

“You need to establish a brand image within essentially promotional advertising,” says Beadle.

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