It was all go in the newspaper market last week. More cover-price
cuts on the Times; J. Walter Thompson launching a new campaign for the
Telegraph; the Independent handing its account to Lowe Howard-Spink.
Small beer, though, when set alongside the real earthquake - the
Guardian’s decision to part company with Leagas Delaney.
Who’d have thought it? These two were inseparable. It was often cited as
the ideal relationship between newspaper marketing department and agency
- one that succeeded in producing a long-term branding strategy rather
than a stream of tactical promotions. A relationship that helped keep a
45p paper’s circulation rock solid throughout the cover-price wars.
But split they have. Creative differences, apparently. Surely the
Guardian isn’t thinking of striking out in a completely new strategic
The Guardian’s brand personality used to be couched in terms of
cheap-shot images of its supposed readership. Traditionally, Guardian
readers (you have to say it with a sneer) could be found wearing sandals
with calf-length white socks underneath. He or she ate muesli, was a
teacher or social worker. They were the sorts of people who produced
composite motions at Labour Party conferences. The men wore beards and
the women didn’t shave either.
And then, in the 80s, they had a haircut. The newspaper itself smartened
up - in fact, arguably, suddenly looked sharper than any of its
The Guardian was the first to realise that features and editorial
attitude were as important as news. Yet that didn’t stop it running
scoop after scoop as the Tory regime crumbled. And it was at the
forefront in developing added-value sections - the G2 tabloid section,
the Weekend Saturday review, the Guide, Space.
It’s still possible to talk of Guardian readers with the same
patronising attitude of old but it doesn’t quite work any more. And in
any case, the Guardian can outsneer anything or anyone these days. Its
cocky, post-ironic stance is nothing to do with the fact that it should
technically be the paper of the new post-Tory establishment. Because it
isn’t. In fact, it’s reputedly hated by the upper echelons of the New
Labour government machine - largely because it reserves the right to
sneer at anyone, including Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson.
So is the Guardian about to reinvent itself once more? Or is this down
to something more simple? Some commentators are quick to point out that
the Guardian’s fabled belief in brand advertising has become just that -
a myth. Leagas Delaney hasn’t actually run a pure branding campaign
since 1994. Activity over the last four years has been all about
Brian Watson, the deputy creative director of FCB - and a veteran on the
Daily Mail business - knows a thing or two about newspaper accounts.
’The Guardian’s commercials have always been distinctive but for me the
offering was buried too deep within the idea. That’s always a danger
with themed advertising - you’re developing a subtle brand message
rather than selling specifics.’
Guardian readers may go for subtlety. Unfortunately, the problem is you
risk preaching to the converted. Watson adds: ’To its existing readers,
the Guardian is brilliantly positioned - they know exactly where it’s
coming from. The challenge is always to put that over to a larger
’But, I have to say, it’s not the best idea in the world to fire your
agency. It’s better to go in and ask them what they’re going to do to
change things. There are so few agencies out there with newspaper
And it’s a big learning curve for those that don’t.’