There's no better time to be holier than thou than in the middle of
a Jihad. Or at least The Mirror thinks so, if you believe an ad that ran
in Campaign a couple of weeks back. Not only did the ad brag about the
fact that the paper has been running the odd news story but it also
accused The Sun of being a comic.
Tell that to the Daily Star, whose editor, Peter Hill, told Campaign
recently that he thought that both of his red-top rivals had lost the
plot and that even The Sun was betraying its heritage by becoming all
po-faced and serious. It's certainly true that the Daily Star has never
been so unrepentantly cheeky and trivial, but the truth in The Sun's
case is surely somewhere in between the Star and The Mirror. It seems to
be sober one minute, a right laugh the next.
It is true that there is a greater spread of tone and feel in the
red-top market at the moment than there has been in living memory. This
clearly offers readers more choice, but does the sector now send out
confused signals, not only to readers but to advertisers too? It's
surely difficult for tabloids, during these sober times, to mark out an
editorial tone for themselves.
Some observers believe that the war, or whatever they've decided to call
the whole business, was heaven-sent for tabloid newspapers. But the
circulation figures are more ambiguous - and The Sun clearly thinks its
sales need bolstering. Its circulation of 3,513,685 keeps it ahead of
The Mirror on 2,221,749 but it has lost some ground to its main rival
since 11 September.
The £1 million poster campaign, from TBWA/London, will run on six-
and 48-sheet poster sites in London and will remind Londoners that The
Sun is in tune with the concerns of the capital's citizens and reassure
them that it still caters for them in a light-hearted and accessible
But do the tabloids face some tough challenges these days? Will they
have to rethink their products? Roland Agamber, the marketing manager of
The Sun, says that it is difficult for him to comment on editorial
issues, but he does think it's clear that the paper has been addressing
the news in a very Sun way. He states: "The editorial team led by David
Yelland has rightly been given accolades for its coverage. They've taken
an objective approach to the news and the paper has been very news
orientated but we always put The Sun angle on it."
From a marketing perspective, he maintains that circulations across the
market have continued to be buoyant. But he adds: "The advertising
market has been depressed so we have to be even more cost-efficient in
our marketing efforts. We've taken the view that you can take a
blunderbuss approach or we can take advantage of our mass audience
concentrated in the Carlton region. And we have to look at all the
marketing opportunities, mixing promotions with letting people know what
the brand proposition is. It's essential that people understand what we
stand for as a brand."
Greg Grimmer, a managing partner of Optimedia, says it's interesting
that some of the trade press advertising doesn't exactly concentrate on
circulation figures. And he doesn't think that the crisis offers many
sales opportunities: "I can't ever see The Mirror catching up with The
Sun again - whatever strategy it pursues. It's a clear strategy at the
moment though - 'We'll be the red top that covers the war
I'll bet the talk down the pub is still about what The Sun's been up to
on its front page. But, to my mind, if you want a serious newspaper then
why not buy The Daily Telegraph? And the thing about The Mirror's
strategy is that the further it takes its readers along this path, the
bigger the danger that it loses some off the top end to the Daily
Express and the Daily Mail."
Grimmer says advertisers don't seem to be particularly worried about
what sort of environment they might be going into when they contemplate
using tabloids. They're far more likely to be worried about advertising
full stop. "There were a lot of them saying that after 11 September but
now it's still a steady flow. It has become almost routine. It will be
interesting to see how long that goes on."
Alan Doyle, the communications manager of Volkswagen, says content and
news values are rarely at the top of his agenda when it comes to
considering media vehicles. He states: "The only discernible difference
I can see is in The Mirror. For the other guys it's business as usual.
The only arbiters of whether that's appropriate will be the readers,
who'll vote with their feet if they don't like it."
Marc Mendoza, Media Planning's managing director, agrees that
advertisers haven't become overly squeamish about content and the
environment in which their ads could potentially appear. He states: "If
advertisers have products to shift, they are going to be no more
discriminating than they have been in the past. I don't think they'll be
put off because there's a girl on page one rather than Afghanistan. That
said, if a newspaper is daft enough to paint itself into a corner then
it might regret it. I can't see that happening, though. Airlines might
be sensitive about what sort of content they might find their
advertising next to but I can't think of too many other examples."
That said, Mendoza believes that the tabloids are in a difficult
position. "They are not where people go for intelligent commentary on
events of this magnitude. The Sun and The Mirror have chosen different
paths but it is not their role to be serious newspapers."
Steve Goodman, the director of press at MediaCom, says it is good that
the tabloids are all plotting a different course: "People tend to
forget, though, that The Sun always offers serious coverage and does
things in some detail - albeit in a very different way from the rest of
You don't go to the tabloids for in-depth coverage over a long
That's what the qualities are for. But the tabloids do have their own
value and it's interesting to see how many ABC1 readers turn to the
tabloids during this sort of period, precisely because they do offer
this different sort of coverage. In the shorter term, the tabloids
haven't seen the sort of sustained growth since 11 September that the
qualities have - but it's still generally true that newspapers sell more
on the back of bad news. It's great that there is real choice out there
for newspaper readers."
And perhaps, he adds, there's a clue to what advertisers really feel in
the revenue figures. "It's interesting that year on year, the Daily Star
is the one that has put on the most display advertising and it is the
paper that is the least sombre of the red-top tabloids," he concludes.