How The Sun is challenging ‘blokey’ misconceptions as it looks to widen appeal to advertisers

With the recent disappearance of The Sun’s paywall comes a new set of opportunities and challenges. But amid the digital changes, News UK’s commercial chief Dominic Carter is determined to reach new audiences and foster more direct relationships with brands and advertisers.

As of November this year, The Sun’s digital content is available to read for free. The reason for its disappearance seems simple – the newspaper wants more people to read and share its content.

“While it [the subscription model] was successful on one level and generated 225,000 subscribers, there wasn’t enough scale from an advertising point of view,” News UK’s commercial chief Dominic Carter told Marketing Week.

When The Sun’s content was behind the paywall, the brand took the opportunity to track what its readers liked and didn’t like, and to experiment with their social media behaviour. As a result, it found there was a strong appetite for shareable content.

“What we know is that we can grow that audience very quickly, and that they will equally want to share that content to fuel a conversation with their friends,” he commented.

However, to reach new people the brand has to dispel a persistent myth around its target audience.

“The Sun has always been a title for women – the fact that it’s all blokes is a common misconception. Housewives and mums are an important audience, and are a key pillar going forward of who The Sun needs to appeal to,” he explained.

Carter also recognises that the free website will give the brand more opportunities to reach a younger demographic. He said: “It will provide us with a way to reach more men and keep growing our audience. We are going to continue to do a good job and invest more to do so.”

Moving away from lad culture

There has been a recent trend by brands to move away from ‘lad culture’, with Bauer closing down its lads’ mag titles FHM and Zoo. Meanwhile, Lynx and Heineken also decided to move towards more “mature” marketing.

In January this year, The Sun decided to overhaul its “Page 3” section and stopped printing pictures of topless women. However, Carter says it wasn’t commercial pressure that made the newspaper change its mind.

“Our decision to take Page Three out was an editorial decision, no advertisers have ever complained about it. What advertisers do want is for brands like ours to have a sense of responsibility. From a brand positioning type of view, it didn’t work for us. But the readership is still there, Page Three is still alive and kicking online,” he said.

Appealing to advertisers

As The Sun rolls out its new digital strategy, Carter is determined to take a more direct approach with advertisers.

He explained: “If you look at the market from an advertising perspective, media owners have been very reliant on agencies. What you’ll find over next six to 12 months are a lot more direct relationships with brands. It’s an area that a lot of media brands could do with improving on, because advertisers want have more personal conversations with their audiences.”

Going forward, the brand is also keen to collaborate with advertisers to creative native and video content. News UK is currently reassessing its own video strategy and looking to improve it. According to Carter, the company’s video ad tech company Unruly, which it acquired in September this year, will help achieve this.

“With Unruly we can work across all areas. Our video growth strategy for The Sun is very important, and we’re looking to work with advertisers using Unruly’s IP to have a different conversations with our audiences. This is something we want to develop in the new year,” he said.

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