Media Spotlight: Times turns to humour to meet Independent threat

Brand advertising has been delayed because of product launches, Ian Darby reports.

You will not be able to switch on the TV during September without being confronted by an ad from Times Newspapers Limited. First it announces a £4 million campaign to back The Times and now it is updating its "The Sunday Times is the Sunday papers" campaign.

But at least we will not be subjected to another three years of The Stereophonics' Have a Nice Day. The track is being dropped from the Sunday Times campaign in favour of a more humorous approach to reach a new audience.

There could be many reasons for TNL to be bursting into activity and some suggest that circulation issues with the daily are top of the list.

Sales figures for The Times show its compact edition launch (which now accounts for 65 per cent of its daily sale) has helped it increase circulation only marginally (3 per cent year on year in August to 648,091). Reports suggest this increase has come at a heavy price of between £12 million and £15 million invested in producing the twin formats. And it's certainly very unimpressive compared with The Independent's year-on-year increase of more than 20 per cent.

The Sunday Times was slightly up year on year in August, to 1,325,357, so there is arguably less of a circulation issue here.

However, Andrew Mullins, the marketing director of TNL, says the reason to invest in new campaigns is more prosaic. "It's nothing really to do with the compact launch or other things," he says. "Our fiscal year starts on 1 July - we get new money to make ads during the summer to put on air when everybody comes back from their holidays in September, when the whole news market hots up."

The Times does have issues to face up to, though. A massively competitive quality newspaper market was made more complex by the launch of The Independent's compact edition and the reactive launch of its own tabloid edition arguably brings The Times into more direct competition with the Daily Mail, as well as The Independent and The Daily Telegraph.

TNL wants to create a stronger idea of what The Times represents to bring in new readers. Mullins says brand advertising has had to take a back seat because since Robert Thomson, the editor of The Times, joined in March 2002, the focus has been on product innovation - the launch of The Game football supplement, the Bricks & Mortar property supplement, followed by the launch of the compact edition.

The focus on brand positioning will attempt to communicate a less serious side to the paper under the line: "Join the debate." Ads have been running since 1 September, featuring pairs of celebrities such as Jonny Wilkinson and Gabby Logan discussing issues of the day.

Mullins says: "Historically, it is a trusted paper, very strong on authority and leading the news agenda on serious issues, but it is time to move forward and become more inclusive."

Will this work? Ian Tournes, the press director at Starcom Mediavest, says: "What is quite nice is that News International, with The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun, tends to do more branded campaigns. The mid-market titles tend to do off-the-cuff price promotions, so it is good to see newspapers that preach to us to do branding campaigns through newspapers doing it themselves. And it is quite nice stuff."

With The Sunday Times, it is more business as usual with its advertising for a title that, Mullins says, is increasing its market share.

But TNL has noticed changing lifestyle trends, with people treating Sundays more like Saturdays (indulging in leisure activities such as shopping and travelling) than the "day of rest", which could threaten future sales.

"We want to target people who are off doing things with the additional line: 'Make time for The Sunday Times.' It is a flexible mechanic that can be used to highlight stuff in the paper," Mullins says.

So individual product innovations and promotions will hang off the main brand advertising.

There's little doubt TNL needs to build both brands, but cynics suggest it may have other motives linked to ongoing discussions with media agencies that involve it trying to up its ad rates by 8 per cent.

"TNL is going out into the market and trying to increase rates. Being smart marketing people, you would expect that it would want to keep circulations up for a couple of months while conversations are going on," Tournes says.

Generally speaking, agencies are pointing out to TNL they have seen little in circulation increases to justify the ratecard rise, so immediate uplift would be welcomed by its commercial department.

But the sparkly new advertising will not distract advertisers completely.

"The Sunday Times is always very strong and is strong with promotions throughout the year. Everything is fine with the Sunday paper, but everybody is looking closely at what the daily compact is doing," Tournes concludes.

AUGUST CIRCULATIONS (quality titles)

TITLE Sales Year-on-year

increase (%)

The Daily Telegraph 912,334 -1.8

The Times 648,091 2.9

Financial Times 406,438 -2.0

The Guardian 364,504 -4.4

The Independent 262,588 20.8

Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, August 2004.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus