Star turns to lads mags for new look

The relaunched Daily Star is expected to hit the newsstands later this summer. It will face stiff competition not only from traditional tabloid rivals but from the ever burgeoning men’s magazine sector with which it would now, in terms of target market, like to be bracketed.

Industry sources say the newspaper is heading upmarket, opting for the glamour of FHM (MW May 28) with better-known models, as well as shorter, sharper editorial.

Daily Star management remains tight-lipped about its new look, but those inside the industry are agreed that radical surgery is needed in order to reverse its decline in circulation.

Express Newspapers unveiled a 3m investment programme for the Daily Star designed to improve quality and build circulation a year ago. At the time the newspaper said there would be no repositioning.

However, when Paul Wool-fenden took over as marketing director of Express Newspapers earlier this year he made it clear the Daily Star needed to be “redefined” and that the paper had to make “more noise”.

One of his first jobs was to move the creative account for The Express from Lowe Howard-Spink into the agency that was handling the Daily Star – Leo Burnett.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ figures for the period November 1997 to April 1998, the Star achieved an average net circulation of 584,697, compared with 660,033 for the same period last year, which represents an 11 per cent year-on-year decline.

The Star’s average net daily circulation in April of 576,955 looks pale beside The Sun’s 3,699,301 and The Mirror’s 2,312,421 for the same month.

Editor Phil Walker says: “Our decision to modernise the design and layout of the Daily Star is purely an editorial one. It was based on our own instinct that it was time for a fresher feel and on research.”

But a redesign may not be enough to boost circulation in the face of stiff competition from The Sun and The Mirror which are both focusing more heavily on the quality of their news content.

One thing is clear – the Daily Star is not going to move away from its core readership of young males.

Walker adds: “Our readers love the warmth of the paper and its sense of fun and that is why we have decided to go in our distinctive direction and concentrate on what we are good at. The result will be a paper which is younger, brighter and more modern.”

Laura James, head of press at New PHD, says: “If they are going to consolidate their position then I think they have to offer something quite different to attract new readers.”

However, the youth newspaper market is a declining one. According to NRS figures, the percentage of 15 to 24-year-olds reading a national morning newspaper was 59 per cent for the year 1993, dropping to 51 per cent in 1997.

Damian Blackden, press director at Zenith, says: “The Daily Star is already the youngest national newspaper by some margin, so it should be cautious about aiming even younger, especially as the 15 to 34-year-old age group is the least inclined to read a newspaper. Also, this sector is forecast to decline in numbers by 1.5 million in the next few years as the make-up of the population changes.”

The very readership the Daily Star is targeting may also be turning to other sources, such as the lads’ magazines FHM and Loaded, to get its news and gossip.

The Daily Star certainly has this lads market in mind. When launching the newspaper’s Website last year its editor was hoping that it would appeal to readers of FHM and Loaded, as well as Daily Star loyalists.

The newspaper has also lent its name to the Toys for the Boys 98 young men’s fashion and lifestyle event, due to take place at Wembley in September.

Blackden adds: “The Daily Star will have its work cut out if its intention is to make an impact on the men’s lifestyle sector. While Loaded and FHM appear to be aimed at full-on lads they are actually substantially more upmarket, with a 65 per cent ABC1 readership compared with the Daily Star at 29 per cent.”

These days, circulation figures for the Daily Star are, interestingly, at the same level as the likes of FHM (ABC for December 1997 was 644,110) and Loaded (441,567). However, both magazines have enjoyed a substantial period of growth with year-on-year increases respectively of 76.3 per cent and 36.7 per cent.

As far as advertisers are concerned the lads magazines are in a different league – glossy and designer-led. As far as the red tops are concerned, the Daily Star’s circulation figures often make it an optional extra for media buyers.

Whatever the new Daily Star has to offer, it must get its formula right before it even considers a branding campaign of the sort The Sun has done with its Dedicated to the People of Britain ads (MW February 26). Funds are tight and the Daily Star’s budget – 1.1m according to Register-MEAL – is only sufficient to support tactical advertising.

“New lad” culture will certainly run rife during and immediately after the World Cup, which will provide a platform for the Daily Star’s new look.

But between the underlying decline in circulation of the red tops and the strength of men’s magazines, the paper has little room to manoeuvre. It will need both luck and judgement if the revamp is to have a meaningful effect on sales.

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