A new ad campaign featuring Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen trumpeting the new-look Sunday Express is the latest in a long, colourful and incredibly varied history of Express Newspapers advertising. However, the creative team behind the spot - Jeremy Beadle, an old mucker of the Express owner Richard Desmond, and former Capital Radio DJ John Sachs - sets a precedent in even these newspaper's ad history. Will the former star of You've Been Framed manage to reinvigorate the Express portfolio's image and readership?
The trail of discarded Daily Express agencies almost echoes the number of redesigns the paper has undergone as it has tried to recapture the glory days, decades ago, when it enjoyed a healthy circulation of more than four million.
Under Desmond's Northern & Shell, there has been a wholesale reordering of the newspaper's team, with the editor, Rosie Boycott, and her deputy, Chris Blackhurst, both heading out of the door. Much of the old has been hacked away, including the newspaper's creative agency, The Bridge, which in its year-long tenure has churned out tactical ads but has been given no opportunity to develop core brand advertising.
It is hard to think of any great ads for The Daily Express - but it's very easy to remember the toe-curlingly awful stuff. Many of the newspaper's previous agencies admit that the work is not something they would like to boast about. Who can forget St Luke's infamous 'full speed ahead' spot, Campaign's Turkey of the Year for 1999, which featured a determined editor striding through her office with her staff in mock editorial conference?
And then there were the ads from Lowe Howard-Spink featuring Delia Smith nutting a football as she promoted her cooking section in the paper. Paul Hammersley, the chief executive of Lowe, admits: 'It was not for want of trying, but we're not proud of what came out of the process.' The agency remained on the account until Paul Woolfenden joined the group as its commercial director and appointed Leo Burnett, the incumbent on the Daily Star's advertising, without a pitch.
Leo Burnett's relationship with The Daily Express lasted just eight months.
The agency's brief had been to increase the newspaper's profile in the aftermath of Boycott's appointment and arrest the newspaper's decline against the ever aggressive Daily Mail.
Insiders at The Daily Express said that the agency's demise came about following conflict between the marketing and editorial departments. While editorial argued that the advertising should take a content-led approach, marketing believed that brand advertising was the solution. Leo Burnett and Lowe had followed the editorial-led approach.
Cue St Luke's, The Express's third agency in 12 months, and their 'full speed ahead' campaign which soon gave way to tactical ads. It lasted a year and The Bridge stepped in, producing more than 60 ads, many of which were promotional one-offs.
The experiences of The Daily Express's litter of agencies in the 90s was pretty much a repeat of the 80s, when the paper slowly lost its leadership over the Daily Mail. Gold Greenless Trott lasted only eight months on the account in 1986 because it was felt that the agency had failed to establish a clear and relevant brand proposition for the newspaper. Express Newspapers' former incumbents all agree that newspapers are a difficult nut to crack but also point to the impossible position that The Daily Express has found itself in as it has battled with declining circulation and the powerful machine of Associated Newspapers, owners of the Daily Mail.
David Abraham, the chief operating officer of St Luke's, says that the challenge of rescuing the paper is too alluring for agencies to turn down. 'The Daily Express has always excited agencies' ambitions because the newspaper says 'we really need to reframe this brand and reverse its dusty image' so any agency worth its salt says 'brilliant, this is a great opportunity'. The tension between the agency wanting to create brand values and attract readers and the newspaper which needs to sell the product that week is so great that the two end up talking across each other so it's very easy to fall in the middle and achieve nothing.'
It is evident that The Daily Express has also been seriously hampered by its financial situation. During her initial honeymoon period in the late 90s, Boycott was promised heavy investment in editorial and marketing. The process of fashioning a new look was begun but the resources began to wear thin, and any long-term plans foundered. The Daily Mail is not known for its great advertising, but the strength and consistency of its product mean that it doesn't need it. Ads are used to reassert the brand's market position, rather than reinvent it. On the other hand, as one agency head says: 'Any advertising will not solve The Daily Express's problems.'