Short-term sales vs brand building

Promotions may be the main ingredient in newspaper sales, but there is a need to ensure brand values are not eroded.

In the cut-throat world of newspapers where circulation figures are scrutinised daily, promotional and tactical campaigns are a marketer’s bread and butter.

Budgetary constraints and demands by management for quick results mean branding campaigns to change perceptions in the minds of potential readers are rare.

One which continues to stick in the minds of industry observers is The Guardian’s “points of view” campaign which features a skinhead saving a businessman from being crushed under a falling pile of bricks.

Impressed with the ad, Guardian Newspapers’ marketing director Marc Sands reappointed the agency responsible, BMP DDB, to create new work for The Guardian and Guardian Unlimited websites (MW January 4).

He hopes to change perceptions that The Guardian is just a paper for left-wing sandal-wearing academics.

In a declining and competitive newspaper market, Sands has decided not to embark on a pure branding campaign that just talks about the values and the philosophy of The Guardian.

New or infrequent readers who can get their daily news fix from a number of multimedia sources have to be given a reason to sample the product. Branding messages are to be incorporated into promotional ads supporting supplements and one-off editorial specials.

Sands says: “Branding advertising for newspapers, unless there are extraordinary circumstances, really aren’t worth doing in the classic sense, such as the Independents’ Litany. They are effective if launching a product, changing the belief system of the newspaper or relaunching it. Advertising should be all about content, brand advertising, but not abstracted from content.”

FT marketing director Gordon Willoughby thinks that there is a place in the newspaper market for branding campaigns that change perceptions about existing products.

In an attempt to show consumers that the newspaper was not a dry read, Willoughby introduced a quirky branding campaign 18 months ago featuring the FT wrapped around editorially relevant products and the ready-made 20-year-old line “FT no comment”.

Sales of the newspaper have increased in the UK, as well as overseas, so that the FT’s average net circulation for the six months ending November 2000 is 465,140, up 14.29 per cent year on year.

The key, claims Willoughby, is to integrate the branding campaign into all means of communication.

He says: “There are too many brand campaigns that are used too quickly. You have to give a brand a long time to build and change perceptions.”

Those that have worked often co-incided with a product launch like the Independent’s “It is Are you?”; a significant revamp, such as the “Sunday Times is the Sunday Papers”; or a change in direction such as the Daily Mail’s move to attract female readers with its “Every Woman Needs Her Daily Mail”.

Times Newspapers marketing director Patrick Sherriff recently introduced to The Times the line “Feed Your Mind”, when it switched its second section Times 2 to a tabloid format.

Sherriff says: “We won’t do a brand campaign in isolation. It has to be a part of the long-term campaign to push the product.”

But the availability of daily circulation figures means that marketers are put under pressure to adopt short-term tactics so that the published monthly audit figures are maintained or boosted.

Partners BDDH, the agency appointed to produce The Guardian’s last branding campaign “Free Thinkers Welcome”, ended up creating 93 tactical and promotional campaigns. Chief executive Nigel Long says: “I have never seen any evidence that a branding campaign sold more newspapers. It’s a sales today versus brand-building tomorrow debate.”

Tim Armes, client services director at MediaVest, which handles media buying for Daily Mail owners Associated Newspapers, agrees: “Because circulations have been drifting downwards, certain newspapers have the attitude that the short-term promotion is king.”

He also claims that there is a general cynicism in the newspaper world about the effect of branding.

Some newspapers have successfully devised promotions to reflect the newspapers’ brand values. In the case of The Sun, the promotions are often associated with fun and good value, while The Daily Mail has appealed to its mid-market readers with British Airways flight offers.

But Telegraph marketing director Mark Dixon warns: “A promotional line can push a broadsheet down-market.”

Even promotions have disadvantages encouraging promiscuity in consumers’ reading habits.

MediaCom press director Steve Goodman says: “Branding campaigns help to develop loyal readers, rather than those that just buy into a particular promotion.”

Promotions may well be the key ingredient when it comes to selling newspapers, but it will be up to the ingenuity of marketers to wrap them up into messages that reflect brand values.

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