If and when the Financial Times goes ahead with a new advertising campaign, it's likely to be something of a collector's item. The paper can't give away DVDs - not on an international basis. Nor, for broadly the same reason, can it hope to punt individual bits of content, in the way that purely national papers can at the weekend when they've got scoops, big serialisations or whizzy new supplements.
The paper, the fortunes of which are on an upward curve following recent lean years (in 2005, it broke even for the first time since 2001), has approached agencies with a brief to develop ideas for the UK market that could also run globally.
Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners, which holds the account in Europe, will repitch alongside others including, it is expected, M&C Saatchi, which handles it in the US. Last year, the FT's UK spend was around £200,000.
This year, that could rocket as it seeks to consolidate its recovery.
The FT isn't the only newspaper examining its approach to advertising.
The Guardian is currently reviewing its relationship with DDB London following its Berliner relaunch and subsequent circulation hikes.
However, many newspaper groups tend to be addicted to the quick circulation fix - and in recent months that has been synonymous with the DVD giveaway.
So, as the FT dusts down that most exotic of strategic weapons - the brand campaign - the industry will watch with interest.
1. For many years, the FT boasted one of the newspaper market's strongest brand propositions and most memorable slogans - "No FT, no comment," created by Ogilvy & Mather. This was ditched in the 90s, as the paper tried to reposition itself as a more mainstream and international business title rather than a purely financial and City institution.
2. There have, however, been a number of classic newspaper branding campaigns down the years. The austerity of The Independent in the 80s was perfectly captured in the "It is. Are you?" slogan. Perhaps the most famous of all was The Guardian's "points of view" commercial, shot by Paul Weiland, courtesy of BMP, in 1986.
3. The most radical attempt to rebrand a mainstream title in recent times came in 2002, when Piers Morgan relaunched the the Daily Mirror as a serious campaigning newspaper, changing the colour of the masthead to make it a black-top as opposed to a red-top. It wasn't the happiest of experiments, and Morgan departed soon afterwards.
4. Sophisticated ad strategies have largely been off the agenda this century. Newspapers have not only been under severe pressures on the circulation and the ad revenue fronts, but have also been trying, especially at the quality end of the market, to reinvent themselves. While many titles retain the vestiges of branding techniques (largely in slogan form, such as "Express delivery" for the Daily Express), the industry is now almost entirely focused on promotion-led one-off circulation hits.
5. The newspaper market as a whole (including relatively niche titles such as the Racing Post and The Sport) spent £77 million on advertising during 2005. Spend this year is likely to be considerably more than that - against a background of continuing overall circulation declines. The fight for market share is getting desperate.
6. The catalyst for the new spirit of unashamed marketing directness was triggered by The Independent's move from a broadsheet to a tabloid format, beginning in the autumn of 2003. As The Times followed suit and The Guardian and The Observer began contemplating their response, the emphasis of ad messages shifted to format as opposed to content. This intensified as The Guardian and then The Observer shifted to the Berliner format - upmarket rivals responded with DVD giveaway promotions and the DVD war spread into the mid-market titles.
7. That said, there is still a surprising amount of brand advertising activity around. The Independent's "Indypedia" (from Chick Smith Trott) campaign back in April underscored the paper's intellectual credentials. And the "values" campaign (from Beattie McGuinness Bungay) for the Daily Express back in January sought to remind potential readers that the title is not just a paper for Diana-obsessed conspiracy theorists - it's actually a champion of traditional good manners and civilised values.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
THE FINANCIAL TIMES
- The marketing community will be fascinated to find out just what advertising can contribute to the recovery of the Financial Times. It's a tough brief. The FT is not just a single product but effectively a family of brands. It means different things to different people, depending on their status and location.
- It has to talk to readers in Frankfurt, New York and Tokyo, as well as those on the early-morning commuter train to London Bridge. In recent years, it has attempted to fulfil many functions: business journal, finance guru, international political observer and lifestyle journal for the excessively well-heeled.
- A campaign that can rediscover the brand values that lie behind these many facets will be rightly celebrated.
- Some newspaper publishers are incredibly scathing about the whole notion of using advertising to develop and disseminate a newspaper's brand values.
- Even in relatively easy times, with circulations holding up and revenues secure, newspapers have been suspicious of using advertising for ends other than aggressive promotions. The attitude of middle and senior managers, forged largely in the old dog-eat-dog days of Fleet Street, is that the personality of a newspaper is embodied in the front page, which should shout from the newsstands.
- Now that papers are locked into what many believe to be a vicious circle - a promotion-led war of attraction that will produce few (if any) winners - such attitudes are more likely than ever to prevail.
- Back in January, for instance, sources at Associated Newspapers were not slow to advance their views that the Express' brand campaign illustrated only feeble-mindedness. A successful brand campaign is unlikely to impress the harder heads in the UK newspaper business.