What can we learn from the Mirror’s blue Tuesday? What price editorial
integrity? The cash must be tempting, but surely it’s a short-term gain
to set against long-term credibility. Should other advertisers complain?
Or do publishers know what they are doing? Can they be trusted to get
things right? Alasdair Reid reports
Is there anything that publishers won’t do for advertisers these days?
Last Tuesday the Daily Mirror and the Daily Record went blue, not in an
admission of any political realignment, but in honour of Pepsi’s multi-
million dollar repackaging exercise. The papers were printed on
specially imported blue newsprint and they even ran their mastheads in
blue instead of red.
It was certainly an unusual and eyecatching initiative, but was it wise?
Does this sort of thing damage editorial integrity and undermine the
value of the media brand? Staff at the Sun certainly thought so and the
editor, Stuart Higgins, was reportedly boasting that he’d had the good
sense to show Pepsi the door when it had made a similar offer.
Other sources, however, say that the Sun was annoyed at having missed
out - and its failure to sign a deal was more to do with a cock-up than
an aspiration to high moral virtue.
In the last year or so, publishers have gone through some pretty amazing
hoops to please advertisers. Women’s magazines have been prepared to
mess about with their covers - supposedly the most sacrosanct part of
the brand. Last year, when the Times allowed Microsoft to sponsor the
paper for a day and buy up its whole print run, effectively allowing
readers to have it for nothing, a rival broadsheet drew attention to the
event with the scathing headline, ‘Worth every penny - the Times for
Do media owners sometimes go too far to please advertisers? Advertisers
obviously value newspapers because they offer a quality editorial
environment. But are they in danger of destroying that environment?
Roger Eastoe, the deputy managing director of the Mirror Group, says
that he and the paper’s editors felt very comfortable with the Pepsi
initiative. ‘We played a big part in its development,’ he reveals. ‘The
Mirror is not just about news - it’s a fun, entertaining and humorous
product. Millions of our readers consume billions of cans of Pepsi.
‘This is not something that we’ll repeat on a regular basis but as a
one-off the public can enter into the fun of it. It also says something
about the Mirror to our more youthful readers - and that’s no bad thing.
We were also very careful to take account of things that might cause
concern. For instance, we talked to other advertisers who might be
affected. They were only too happy to take advantage of the extra
circulation they would get at no extra charge. It was a good day for
Trista Grant, the managing director of Universal McCann, is not so sure.
‘I think that the Daily Mirror and the Daily Record went too far and
took a good idea into overkill,’ she asserts. ‘I think that it is ironic
that Pepsi is spending a lot of time and effort on this because it
values its brand identity very highly. In contrast, the Mirror is
prepared to change its brand identity overnight. The contrast couldn’t
be more stark.’
Grant concedes that some publications value their integrity more highly
than others: ‘For a specialist magazine or a women’s title to do
something similar would be death because readers have to believe
unreservedly in the opinions of those titles. And when, say, the
Telegraph runs an advertiser-supported section that is markedly below
the standard of its normal editorial, then that comes dangerously close
to undermining integrity.
‘The Mirror, which is about entertainment and sensationalism, has more
chance of getting away with it. But there is a joint responsibility in
maintaining certain standards. Publishers have been under pressure to
find new sources of revenue and advertisers have been keen to get cut-
through in a cluttered market. If people behave irresponsibly it damages
the long-term prospects for both publishers and other advertisers. The
question you have to ask is: What does this do for the reader? None of
us have anything without readers.’
George Michaelides, a partner in Michaelides and Bednash, says that you
can’t make general rules about this area. He helped develop the strategy
used by Mercury Communications in its current ‘Oliver and Claire’
campaign. This uses a strip cartoon format that looks as if it is
produced by the editorial departments of the papers it runs in. Isn’t
this another example of blurring important demarcations?
‘The campaign’s strength is the fact that it is consistent with the
publication we use. We don’t want to challenge newspaper brand values,’
Michaelides counters. ‘We add to the editorial environment. So did
Microsoft with the Times - it allowed people to sample the paper for
Michaelides believes that editors can be trusted to make the right
decisions: ‘Editors are getting more commercial but they are not letting
that aspect override other concerns. They are very much the custodians
of their title’s values and I don’t see it as being a bad thing that
they recognise that it is a commercial world out there - it just means
that they have to be clear about those values and articulate them all
the more strongly.
‘If it works and it is consistent with the values of a publication, I
can’t see why this sort of strategy shouldn’t be explored. People are
learning about what works and how to do it better. The important thing
is the quality of the idea.’
Alan Brydon, the media director of Pepsi’s agency, Abbott Mead Vickers
BBDO, says that he can see both sides of the argument. ‘I’d be lying if
I said that I couldn’t see any potential problems in this area,’ he
admits. ‘When women’s magazines bastardise their front covers, for
instance, I think they are playing a dangerous game. But it’s a fine
balance and people have to make a judgment call. In the broadcast area,
people are quite comfortable with the sponsorship of opening credits.
‘We take the view that with a tabloid newspaper, the risk of alienating
readers is relatively low while the benefit the Pepsi association
brings, and the added reader interest generated, outweigh the fact that
the titles weren’t printed on white paper as they normally are. But I’ll
keep an open mind. I’ll be as interested as anyone to hear the