Brands shy away from exploiting Beckham affair

Advertisers aren't inclined to jump on the circulations express, Alasdair Reid says.

The Beckham affair has it all, obviously - just about every single sport, celebrity and sex angle you could wish for. Or almost all. What it didn't have, from a publishing standpoint, was timing. Easter is not a good time for newspaper sales. So although the revelations boosted tabloid circulations, especially as the story panned out in the days leading up to the Bank Holiday weekend, they did so from a seasonally low level.

But you have to admire the way that Britain's tabloid finest kept the story cooking. They weren't going to let this one lie. On Sunday 4 April we had the original "world exclusive" in the News of the World.

On the Monday, as the Daily Mirror was playing catch-up by recycling the by-now-ancient picture of Beckham and Loos in a nightclub and interviewing the brother of the mistress, John Loos, The Sun was retelling the whole story through the eyes of a former Beckham minder.

As the week progressed and the story rattled around the tabloid press, we then had lesbian revelations, bonking tennis players, Victoria hitting back, sun cream, profound sociological analyses about the role of text messaging in modern relationships, tattoos, snowboarding, an illegal burger stall in Cardiff (proprietor: a certain Mr Beckham, no relation) and shock Champions' League exit. This all culminating in bombshell number two the next Sunday as a second alleged mistress was wheeled out.

By day nine of this very passionate red-top affair, momentum was threatening to drain away and it looked for a moment as if it was about to turn nasty, with the Beckhams preparing to issue writs. Yet it was all given a new lease of life last Thursday with the Sleazy Senorita interview on Sky One followed the next day by The Sun's revelation that Troubled David was trying to buy his way out of the Doghouse by giving the missus a Big Pink One. A big pink diamond, that is. By last Sunday, the News of the World was running with "another world exclusive" under the headline: "Beckham confesses."

With a bit of luck and a following wind, they'll still be writing about this come May Bank Holiday. All of which has to be great news for advertisers, hasn't it? Surely scores of opportunists will have been clambering aboard this particular bandwagon by knocking up topical and humorous executions referring to the revelations.

Actually, no is the answer to this one. There are several reasons why this might be so - but the biggest is the fact that Beckham is "owned" by a number of advertisers, notably Vodafone. Otherwise, you would have expected all of the mobile telephony advertisers (including Vodafone) to run wry ads around a texting theme.

Ian Clark, News Group's director of advertising, says that sales teams do try to encourage tactical advertising around a big, rolling story like this one, but it doesn't often amount to a big deal. Surely, though, many advertisers are pulling money forward to take advantage of the circulation gains, estimated by some sources to be between 10 and 15 per cent year on year for the red tops.

Again, not necessarily. Clark explains: "Some clients do hold back money for this sort of opportunity but they are relatively thin on the ground.

Realistically, most planning cycles don't allow for the level of nuance on a planning basis that would allow them to take advantage of short-term circulation boosts. There is generally bigger interest in tying in to scheduled events such as Euro 2004."

Some observers add that neither media agencies nor their creative cousins are geared up to turn around spur-of-the-moment topical ads. "By the time they've talked to the client and then to each other, the opportunity has gone," one source says.

Paul Thomas, the press director at MindShare, isn't sure that's true.

He states: "Many advertisers don't want to get involved in this sort of thing because of potential libels. All of this is possibly ruining the guy's marriage. Do you as an advertiser want to associate with that? It's the sort of thing that might look funny to start with and then seem in very bad taste."

What about pulling money forward to take advantage of circulation gains?

"I don't think we'll see advertisers who are not in the press saying that they'll do a newspaper campaign on the back of this, just because the audiences are bigger. It has to be strategically correct," Thomas says.

But, let's face it, he adds, advertising just isn't a priority for the papers themselves during this sort of three-ringed circus. "That's why editors are nicking back so many ad sites - they are far more interested in the extra revenue that is coming their way from increased cover-price revenues," he concludes.

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