The Economist’s CMO on how it applies digital learnings to traditional channels

The Economist has recently shunned TV advertising in favour of social channels where it believed it could better target it readers. But with improved TV technology, the brand is moving back to traditional mediums and using its digital learnings to draw people in.


Brunt has previously spoken about the importance of social media, claiming it has been a “critical component” in doubling profitability at its circulation business over the last four years.

However, the publication has now launched a TV campaign in order to increase brand awareness and convince readers that the brand covers “much more than economics”. 

Brunt speaks to Marketing Week about how the brand plans to apply digital learnings to traditional channels, scale its marketing and create “upmarket clickbait” to get consumers to sign up.

Raising awareness and scaling marketing

The biggest opportunity [for us] is to grow awareness. We’ve been going for 173 years in the UK, and our penetration in the UK is somewhere between 3.5% to 4%. What that shows to us, among the audience, there are a lot of people who ought to be reading The Economist but aren’t. I like to position that as a big opportunity, and not a failing on my part.

We can be successful because we can scale on marketing, and do so profitably. The Economist isn’t cheap – it’s two to three times more expensive than the next most expensive competitor in almost every country. But that really opens a lot of doors for us in marketing, because we can afford to do marketing that perhaps other publications can’t because they wouldn’t get the ROI once someone has subscribed.

We can scale our marketing, but we need to shift higher up the sales funnel in the distribution of our spend. We spend about a 15th of our marketing budget currently on developing an audience. The rest is spent on converting people who are already engaged through social media and people who are searching for us. A small proportion is spent further along the sales funnel.

READ MORE: The Economist on how social media is ‘critical’ to doubling circulation profits

Creating ‘upmarket clickbait’

[As a brand] we’re too small to do marketing where we don’t know if it works or not. So all our audience development activity has a responsive element to it and is tracked very carefully. We use live attribution models to track the value of the spend at the top of the sales funnel.

We’ll track what people are reading, and then have hundreds of creative executions that relate to one specific article that we’ve written. So when you’re reading that article we’ll place an ad on that site, which is upmarket clickbait, really. People can then click through, but there is no mention of subscribing at that point. Our audience are heavy readers, and our job isn’t to extend the period of time in their lives that they spend reading – they will have to switch out something for us. We’re trying to show that we’re relevant and topical.

Returning to TV

I have to generate subscriptions at an acquisition cost that’s considerably lower, and that’s what drives our profits. Three years ago we ran a TV campaign, but we decided to pause until the technology had caught up. We tested everything, from using different channels, programmes, time of day, creative executions, all those types of things.

It got to a point where the acquisition cost was about twice what it needed to be, so we stopped. But now the technology has changed. We’re beaming our ad only into the households that have the demographic profile of our readers. We’re confident we can now do some ‘super targeting’. At the same time, we can take those postal areas and hyper localise online content surfacing ads that we want on webpages at the same time.

Taking the learnings from digital and applying them to traditional channels

I would say we’re taking the learnings from digital and applying it to traditional channels. An example of that is our global experiential activity, which is a traditional marketing channel that has proven to be very successful channel for brands like Red Bull and Coca-Cola.

It’s a subscription-generating campaign using experiential marketing. We wrote an article looking into how sustainable insects are. Around two billion people eat them regularly as part of their diet, so if we joined them, it wouldn’t harm the environment. We have set up stalls across the UK, where we hand out ice cream with deep fried insects in four different flavours. In winter, we handed out crepes instead.

Through the campaign, we’ve recruited over 20,000 subscribers so far. Experiential is a huge part of what we do. It’s a pretty traditional channel but it’s all about the content. We’ve made that very effective for us on a global scale.

Demanding diversity when working with creative agencies

When it comes to diversity, more could still be done. A personal interest is ensuring that there’s no LGBT discrimination. However, it’s also about gender diversity.

“Less than 4% of executive creative directors at agencies are women. This is a disaster zone.”

Michael Brunt, CMO, The Economist

We target both women and men, so we need to make sure there is no gender bias created by the fact that the whole creative team is male. They have to bring in female creative, we’re very strict on that when it comes to working with agencies.

We’re focused on social diversity too. Marketing skews very heavily towards middle class people, but target audiences are not. It’s important to make sure to think about jobs in marketing where a degree shouldn’t be a criteria at all. We create jobs that are available to people with no academic experience. The Economist is very international, but it’s not very diverse if everyone is posh. Any brand that has been around for a long time has to think carefully around this.

Not seeing Facebook and Google as ‘the big bad wolves’

People reading news on Facebook is great. You can’t treat Facebook and Google as the big bad wolves. They’re very keen to work with us – and vice versa.

Sometimes people will want to read our content on Facebook, other times they want to read it in a ‘The Economist’ branded environment. There is a risk of cannibalisation to an extent, but we use a quite unsophisticated strategy called hedging when it comes to [pushing out content]. If people want to read content on a particular platform, we should provide that opportunity.

One of the categories in this year’s Masters of Marketing Awards celebrates excellence in the media, gaming and entertainment sector.

Don’t forget to submit your Masters of Marketing entry. Click here to view all the categories.

Masters of marketing

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here