Alasdair Reid investigates the influence advertisers have in
shaping the media.
The Financial Times isn’t exactly renowned for its sports coverage
Football-club flotations, yes; the latest on Gazza’s groin strain,
The best you would expect is a featurette on something aspirational yet
slightly wacky, like croquet, in Saturday’s Weekend section.
For planners at Western International Media, this was slightly
The FT is ideal for the new Vauxhall Omega campaign. The numbers stack
up. The FT hits the target market perfectly. Just one snag - the new
campaign is designed to run in sports editorial.
It’s at this point that planners are faced with a stark choice - either
forget all these ideas about their ’upstream’ involvement in the
communications process, ignore the creative brief and book the FT; or
they can attempt to use a carefully crafted combination of other titles
to deliver a portmanteau audience profile similar to the FT’s.
Western International Media, of course, did neither. Instead, it thought
it might be a nice idea to re-engineer the newspaper, moulding the FT in
its - or rather Vauxhall’s - image. The plans seems to have worked out
rather well. From Friday 7 March, the FT will have a two-page sports
section. Vauxhall will advertise in it (Campaign, last week).
Gazza’s groin goes pink? Not at all, Michael Murphy, the FT’s UK sales
director, insists. Coverage will be classy. And he disputes the
suggestion that the sports section was Western’s idea. ’We were working
on a sports section for a while,’ he states. ’It was a coincidence that
they approached us just when we were ready to go ahead.’
Perhaps - but a rather unfortunate coincidence, at best. Co-operation
between advertising and editorial has become commonplace over the past
couple of years but doesn’t this go too far?
The FT has been involved in this sort of thing before. In 1995 it
created Midweek Money, a personal finance section, so that National
Savings could set up its ’virtual shop’ permanent adsite there. Should
media owners take their lead from advertisers in this way?
Murphy maintains that ’the brand is sacrosanct’ at the FT. Mike
Smallwood, the managing director of Western International Media, agrees
that there is a line you should not cross - not surprisingly, though, he
says that the deal stays on the right side. ’This sort of thing works
when you are clearly not interfering with editorial integrity and when
there are shared benefits. Most importantly, readers must get something
they wouldn’t have had otherwise. And why shouldn’t the FT’s brand
values extend to sport?’
Tess Alps, the managing director of Drum PHD, has masterminded several
ad-ed tie-ups on TV - the latest was the Waterstone’s 100 Best Books
series of short films on Channel 4. She reckons that the FT-Omega deal
is a good idea, yet she too acknowledges the dangers. ’Just because you
can do something, it’s no reason to go ahead and do it. Often, our job
is telling advertisers just that. No-one will thank an advertiser for
making their newspaper or TV channel worse, will they?’ she says.
But Tony Manwaring, managing director of Initiative Media, believes
these days the temptations are getting too great. ’With an increasingly
competitive market, considerations of editorial integrity will seem less
and less important to media owners,’ he argues.
Manwaring insists that if you undermine the relationship between
consumers and the media, you devalue all commercial communications
’Advertisers are going to push and try their luck. Maybe we’d all have
tried to do what Vauxhall has done. The point is, it’s up to us to push
and media owners to say no. However, I think this FT thing is
disappointing. The FT is a barometer for the rest of the industry. This
sends the wrong message to the market.’