Advertisers come second when cost precedes content

Richard Desmond, the owner of Northern & Shell, must be having great fun at the moment, constantly torn between spraying vitriol over his despised adversaries at Associated or counting the heaps of cash he has made since his takeover of Express Newspapers, writes Ian Darby.

As a venal man in principle, though thwarted in practice, I admit that my interest in Desmond reached new heights when I read his entry in the recent, totally unbiased, Sunday Express report on the 100 Richest People in Britain. After months of exhaustive research, the Sunday Express team have learned that their boss is worth a staggering £1.32bn, placing him ninth in the list.

While the Sunday Express paints Desmond as a man who knows about business, the sort of self-made force who could teach our youngsters a thing or two, it seems his bitter rival Lord Rothermere is doing less well. The UK's youngest media baron and owner of a controlling stake in the Daily Mail & General Trust is worth a paltry £674m (despite his company's market cap of well over £2bn).

Then the Sunday Express confirms what we already suspected: Desmond really is one of those self-made men who has not forgotten his roots. "He still plays drums in the office, and enjoys weekend bike rides with his family." But while Desmond is engaged in such activity, or having meetings with Tony Blair, you'd think, from reading the Sunday Express, that Lord Rothermere was pissing his fortune away. My favourite bit of the report intoned that "experts fear the worst is yet to come, with the launch of the London Evening Mail likely to cut deep into the Evening Standard's sales."

Returning to reality, we have yet to see Northern & Shell's new title. However, this week's launch of its celebrity magazine New! reveals much about its approach to one particular market. It's straight out of the Netto or Aldi "pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap" handbook. Rip off a few ideas from the likes of Now and Heat, whip in a bit of OK! and whack it out for 60p. Not a bad idea if you're in the business of making money.

But it is an idea that treats content as commodity, that smirks at its consumers rather than smiling. Where Northern & Shell's products are good, as in the case of the Daily Star and OK!, there is more to them than low-price positioning. They both have some sense of cheek or charm that creates a relationship with a reader and provides a better environment for advertisers.

Maybe New!, with its cunning spin on an arch-rival, will steal the celebrity market from more established titles. But, while it might be slightly more in step with reality than the Sunday Express, New! seems well off the pace in the celebrity sector. If this turns out to be the case, we won't see Desmond tumble down the Sunday Express table next year. He might drop one of his drumsticks though.

If you have an opinion on this or any other issue raised on Brand Republic, join the debate in the Forum here.