Media Forum: Is MoS CD good marketing?

Is The Mail on Sunday's Prince promo a shrewd move, Alasdair Reid asks.

According to The Mail on Sunday editor, Peter Wright, it is "the most sensational CD giveaway of all time". According to Simon Fox, the chief executive of HMV, it is "sheer madness". And do you know what? They may both be right.

They are, of course, talking about the deal which will see The Mail on Sunday give away Prince's new album, Planet Earth, on 15 July. For the newspaper industry, it could be seen as a worrying development. The DVD and CD promo wars of 2005 threatened to bleed the industry white at a time when, according to some critics, it should have been investing in content, particularly in the digital sphere.

This could signal a return to that particular madness. And for the music business, it's a further erosion of the notion that music is a product you pay money for and that you sometimes buy in shops - Prince's album will not now be distributed via high-street stores.

There's no denying that this is a unique initiative. But still, it's a dangerous exercise. The goal of all such promotions is to stimulate trial among potential new readers. But many people, even those who are just mildly curious as to what Prince is up to these days, will buy the paper solely for the CD.

Some will undoubtedly check out the paper, too - yet, with Associated Newspapers gearing up for a truly gigantic print run, the odds are that we'll see several hundred thousand copies of the paper being bought but dumped unread. There can be no clearer (or expensive) way to send out a signal that a vast chunk of the population considers your brand to be utterly worthless.

So it's disappointing, perhaps, to see the newspaper industry still revisiting a mechanism that many believed had become discredited. Shouldn't the newspaper industry be coming up with new tricks?

Perhaps, Marc Sands, the Guardian Media Group's marketing director, agrees - but he adds that we shouldn't ever succumb to the temptation of believing that The Mail on Sunday is synonymous with the newspaper industry. It isn't. He adds: "I think the industry has moved away from this sort of thing. I'd be surprised if it sparked a rash of similar initiatives. It's a one-off, a big hot puff of air, and in a month's time, we'll all have forgotten it ever happened."

But Dominic Williams, the press director of Carat, can't agree: "Every newspaper needs to give itself a circulation boost - and any way that this can be achieved has to be good. They'll be printing more than three million copies and will be giving it a big TV advertising push. So it's really exciting. Prince is just such a huge artist and he's absolutely right for a big newspaper brand such as The Mail on Sunday. I think it takes the whole CD promotion thing to a new level."

Williams does, however, concede there may be a downside: "It's true it may stimulate The Mail on Sunday's closest rivals to look at doing something of similar quality. And, yes, it's also true the industry has to come up with something to encourage more long-term loyalty."

Claudine Collins, the managing partner and head of press at MediaCom, has no such reservations. She explains: "This is clever - anything that draws younger people into reading newspapers has to be a good thing. Prince is in a different league to all the rehashed compilation albums you tend to get. It will stimulate some trial."

And she doesn't think this will automatically trigger a new and even more expensive phase in the newspaper promotion wars: "I think rivals will want to see how this promotion goes, then assess the implications going forward."

That's also pretty much the view of Alison Brolls, the senior manager, global marketing and media planning at Nokia. She says: "Not only is this initiative giving readers something of genuine high-value merchandise quality, it is a real shot in the arm for The Mail on Sunday in getting ever-more elusive readers to trial the paper. Any initiative that addresses the issue of the national press's declining younger readership needs to be applauded."

NO - Marc Sands, marketing director, Guardian Media Group

"This appears to be the most astonishing mismatch of paper and artist that you can imagine. The paper will experience a phenomenal spike, but the new people who buy it won't stay."

YES - Dominic Williams, press director, Carat

"Yes, it's true that promotions don't tend to build brand loyalty and arguably the industry should be more innovative, but the numbers that this initiative will deliver are exciting. I love it. It's perfect for the middle of the summer."

YES - Claudine Collins, managing partner, MediaCom

"Of course, many will just see the promotion as a cheap way of buying the latest Prince CD - but there will be some who will read that issue of the paper and will like it and will keep buying it."

YES - Alison Brolls, senior manager, global marketing and media planning, Nokia

"The newspaper industry should not be resting on its laurels in terms of using the power and potency of digital marketing techniques to talk to a younger audience. That's something it badly needs to address. But this is a fantastic promotion."

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