Can Sundays pull in the retail ads?

Advertising on a Sunday has traditionally been shunned by retailers, but there are signs that this is about to change.

There has long been a maxim among buyers acting for retailers – don’t advertise on a Sunday, stick to Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The Mail on Sunday is hoping to challenge the perception of retailers and buyers of the Sunday press through research into consumers’ buying habits and response to ads.

Trading on the Sabbath is generally considered to be one of the factors that has contributed to the long-term decline of Sunday newspapers, with shopping and work often replacing a long leisurely read.

But with major retailers and out-of-town shopping centres planning to lobby the government to extend statutory opening hours, Sunday trading also arguably provides an opportunity to increase ad revenue for those newspapers.

Sue Dear, ad director of the Mail on Sunday, who is looking for client partners to help fund the research, says: “If we are to challenge the current market patterns, we need new information.

“We need to know more on the timescale of response to a message, each market has an accepted historic view and it would be good to revisit it. I would like to know more on time of reading, retention times and which products have the greatest influence and why.”

Laura James, media director of New Phd, adds: “The majority of shopping still happens on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Most people make a decision about what they are doing towards the weekend, so we advertise on Thursday, Friday and sometimes Saturday for clients such as Sainsbury’s.”

Dear claims that the most recent NOP survey showed that 46 per cent of adults do their supermarket shopping on a Sunday at least once a month, up from 37 per cent two years ago, and that 14 per cent of all adults shop every Sunday.

She also claims that home shopping represents five per cent of retail sales, and is forecast to grow by the same amount next year, and that online shopping is forecast to account for three per cent of all retail turnover by 2004.

Dear says: “In theory, day of the week is irrelevant when it comes to home shopping, but perhaps there is still more time at the weekends.”

Steve Goodman, director of press at MediaCom TMB, says: “I know that there is a traditional view about when to advertise, but things have changed. I think everything has become short term in the way that people do things. I don’t necessarily believe people plan shopping trips as early as Thursday. The whole buying cycle has probably changed and the Internet has contributed to that.”

Gary Jones, associate director at Booth Lockett Makin, adds: “Media agencies tend to approach things rigidly, largely based on folklore.

“The fact that the Saturday package has changed and people’s lifestyles have changed have been used to knock Sundays. Arguably, there is a stronger case for retailers using Sundays. All the same, by switching from a Saturday to a Sunday you miss out on the key shopping day. The tone of the Sunday papers is less urgent and they are a bit more about relaxation, so there is a question whether the environment is quite right for retailers.”

But Carolyn McCall, managing director of Guardian Newspapers says her team have differentiated between Saturday’s Guardian and The Observer when selling space.

She says: “The Observer does sell on the fact that Sunday is different to Saturday and it’s about doing things you like, such as buying food for cooking and gardening and going to garden centres.”

As a consequence, she claims that the newspaper has seen a year-on-year increase in retail advertising of 50 per cent.

Press, including regional newspapers, accounts for 34.2 per cent of a total multimedia spend by the retail sector of £733m, according to MMS figures for the period June 1999 to May 2000.

According to figures supplied by CIA MediaLab, the Sunday press has seen a 32 per cent year-on-year increase in retail spend for the year ending July, while the Saturday press has seen a decline of seven per cent to £59m.

Dear, who agrees with these figures says: “It’s growing, but we would like it to grow at a faster rate.”

Oliver Rowe, operations manager for CIA MediaLab, says: “This highlights the growing weekend retail opportunity – this increasing spend is being spearheaded by major advertisers such as Currys, Courts, MFI, Dixons and Boots.

“However, total retail ad spend on a Sunday still only represents a quarter of Saturday’s level, so the benefit of less clutter in Sunday titles remains. But most of the growth in retail spend has come as a windfall for the popular Sunday press.”

He adds: “This change in fortunes between Saturday and Sunday titles can also be found with food (down nine per cent for Saturdays and up 79 per cent for Sundays), cosmetics and toiletries, and mail order, much of which could be related to retail opportunities on Sundays.”

Despite buoyant ad revenues, total circulation for Sunday newspapers is declining at a faster rate than for dailies, down 15.3 per cent from 1992 to 1998, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, with dailies down 8.2 per cent over the same period. This is due to a number of factors, including changing lifestyles as a consequence of Sunday trading, improved packages for Saturday newspapers and a decrease in multiple buying.

Apart from The Mail on Sunday and Sunday Business, The Observer is the only other Sunday newspaper which recorded year-on-year rises for the six months ending July in the latest set of ABCs, partly due to its new Sport Monthly supplement.

McCall says: “Product investment and innovation works if done well and promoted well.”

Sunday advertising for some retailers has already become the norm, but others have yet to be convinced of the benefits of advertising on what is traditionally known as a day of rest.

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