Cast your mind back to your last day off, or maybe even your last weekend away. There's a good chance that you spent (or wanted to spend) some of that time reading a newspaper. Why?
When you think about it, it's because reading a paper changes you; you feel better for it. It does recuperative and orienting jobs for you. Of course, it informs you, but more interestingly, it absorbs you, it makes you feel you're in the loop, it gets you thinking, moves you - not bad for a bit of a sit down.
When we work in advertising or communications, we often stop seeing newspapers in this way. It's easy to forget what it's like to read a newspaper and to end up not actually considering what being in the newspaper can offer the advertiser.
Instead of considering the relationship the reader shares with their newspaper, and the unique value of that connection, the focus with newspaper advertising is to "knock it out for the next day" - a form of shorthand for saying newspapers are not the first-choice medium.
With this perception in mind, press remains the place for rational product detail messages or price ads, not considered as the environment for brand building or emotionally involving communications.
Consumers, though, see newspapers differently. Their perceptions of what it's like to read a paper offer advertisers all sorts of opportunities.
Four years of research
The Newspaper Marketing Agency's programme of qualitative research, which Davey Bioletti has been involved in over the past four years, has sought to understand how consumers read and value their newspapers and, through this, pinpoint those opportunities for advertisers. As well as exploring several key markets in detail (men and sport, women, health and beauty, motors), we have undertaken creative development research for specific brand campaigns. Potential advertising has been explored in situ in newspapers and then worked on further to help optimise its delivery in the newspaper context.
Newspapers feed emotional needs
Listening to newspaper readers, it is clear that what they value from their newspaper is not simply the information that they are extracting (although they do want that); rather, it is the way newspapers make them feel as they obtain that information. Newspapers feed their emotional needs. They add up to much more than just photos and newsprint; the way they put across their messages and their use of imagery means that reading the paper is both involving and engaging. Consumers make time for their papers - their reading slot is time they covet; time they specially carve out of their day. In essence, newspapers are valued; considered time well spent.
Reading the paper is much more than just simply getting an update on the latest headlines. Newspaper readers, just like everyone else, become aware during each day of "the news" via many more instant media channels (digital, internet, radio, etc), which are useful to them for their immediacy. But, reading their newspaper actually feels better than these other options. Due to the sheer variety of content their paper provides, they can focus on their personal choice; deepening their knowledge and experience of the issues on their personal agenda - seen as a rewarding experience:
"There's juicier bits in the paper I want to read about."
"A fascinating article on how Sex and the City evolved."
"If they've won and I'm reading a report, there's complete elation, it's so gratifying, you know you're going to enjoy the piece."
Newspapers are unique in this way. They have the space to dig deeper, go further, and be more controversial than other media - changing and confronting opinion, transforming moods, views and thoughts.
Time and space
At its simplest, newspaper readers choose to read. They savour the way they take in editorial, they make both time and space for their paper. They choose what they are going to take in. The reader is in complete control, and this has very real implications for advertisers.
Reading a newspaper is a unique experience. Respondents explain that when you read a newspaper, you get to stop, sit down, concentrate, think about what you are reading and absorb it. As theyenter that newspaper-reading time, readers can appreciate the silent and focused act of reading: a rare pleasure in such a fast-paced world.
Reading a paper creates personal space for them; it is a "bubble", a "capsule" that they enter and are immersed in. The experience is physically relaxing and mentally stimulating.
Advertisers can take advantage
The newspaper "bubble" is a highly desirable place for an advertiser to be; the reader is attentive, focused and connected. Advertising that looks to the newspaper editorial for guidance as to how papers are consumed; advertising that creates or triggers emotional responses, works powerfully.
If brands can show readers that they understand the reader-newspaper relationship, they can tap into the strong involvement readers feel towards their chosen topics.
Shared set of values with your paper
And each reader's choice of paper intensifies the connections with what is read, because that choice of paper is a very personal one. Newspapers are chosen because readers perceive they share important values and opinions; because they give the readers what they individually care about. Readers feel very close to their paper and in tune with where it is coming from: "like a person close to me, it gives me the opinions I want."
Active thinking and processing
Not only are readers connected with their newspaper, they are also actively engaged with it. This active thinking is fundamental for the reader - their brains are "switched on". They are processing as they read and digest; responding to the insight, angles and opinion which the paper provides; thinking about what the paper is saying in comparison to their own views and feeling they're learning new things as they read. From the Daily Star to The Guardian, the same process takes place, despite specific differences within content.
A very different state of mind to that experienced when vegging out on the sofa in front of the TV - the research has consistently shown how feeling in charge of, in tune with, and switched on by the editorial environment of a paper engages consumers.
When it comes to advertising, this is extremely important. The reader retains their engaged and emotional involvement when consuming the newspaper. As a result, advertisers can benefit from this sustained frame of mind. By positioning advertising in the most relevant sections of the paper, readers can feel even more of a connection with it.
An ad that accesses how the reader is feeling and reflects their mood, feels clever, relevant and works more strongly.
With TV, viewers feel that there is a change in mood and level of attention when moving from the programming to the commercial break. TV ads have to work hard to regain the same pitch of emotional involvement that viewers experience with the programmes, a gap between editorial and advertising which newspapers don't have.
Papers provide a short-circuit to their emotions. This level of emotional closeness, wherein the distance between the subject and the reader seems to disappear, is very much a product of the active imagination at work.
When reading a newspaper, individual readers talk about "imagining it happening to me" or "putting yourself in their shoes".
At its core, deeper engagement means deeper feeling. The act of filtering, reading and absorbing makes the articles, opinions and advertisements in the newspapers sink in. Readers feel that they are able to take things in from their paper; they describe it as "going in better".
And reading makes a strongly felt and profound impression:
"When somebody tells you the news on the television, you hear it, but you don't feel it. When you read something, it sort of sinks in a little bit more."
"It hits more layers, it gets you deeper down."
Making advertising connections
Newspaper advertising that deliberately avoids this identification, or that confines the role of newspapers to rational, emotionless messages, is missing a trick. Papers are a personal choice and an emotionally led experience and newspaper advertising can evoke a variety of moods, while the papers' production values are now strong enough to deliver a sense of experience long associated with by magazines.
A journey of variety through the paper
Readers' emotions develop throughout the newspaper-reading journey. Depending on the content of a paper, the gamut of a reader's emotions can be wide-ranging; from revulsion, despair through to horror:
"I care, I'm interested, I'm disgusted."
"Saddened, sickened, incensed."
"... to inspiration, excitement and amusement. Newspapers are an important source of entertainment, as well as providing information."
"I love the headlines, they make me laugh."
And this is equally true for both broadsheets and tabloids. Part of this is due to how the information is being put across - the way it is written - but it also comes from pleasure readers derive from engaging their brain; they are thoroughly absorbed in the experience of reading a newspaper.
People each have their own personal touchstones. To read about those things in the newspapers, and learn more about them, makes readers feel they are being rewarded. Across more than 130 groups in different markets, there have been numerous examples of readers feeling stimulated by what they have gleaned, where the actual topics and types of newspaper have been very different.
Powerful emotional rewards come from having read the paper. For the reader, newspapers provide a sense of connection to the wider world:
"Without it, I'd feel powerless."
"I can't not have a newspaper, I'd feel cut off."
"If I don't read the paper, I feel I'm not involved in what other people know."
Newspapers allow consumers to feel included; they put them "in the know"; papers make them feel a part of what "everybody is talking about".
The newspaper's own individual insight and opinion, and news about what's going on in the world - whether that's in relation to Big Brother or reporting about the current status of the conflict in Iraq - provide vital social currency.
Overturning traditional views
All of this means two overall things for advertisers, both of which fly in the face of traditional thinking about how to use newspapers.
The reader is experiencing and valuing the paper on an emotional level. Brands that understand this have the best chance to get in on the act. Even advertising that is traditionally thought of as "price advertising" has the potential to evoke a strong emotional response for the brand.
Getting your ad read is tough, despite the fact that consumers are reading the newspaper, but, ultimately, it is worth the challenge. The reward of a deeply engaged consumer, who is taking in messages far beyond the surface level, is a valuable target.
The ideal way to get through is to be simple, visual and relevant. The reader is busy with their own agenda; they are in an active state of mind and choose what to take in.
Readers "eat with their eyes" when it comes to newspapers. This reflects the level of importance attributed to photographs and imagery within the paper generally. Rapid sifting is done visually and very fast. Readers make instant decisions via a combination of what the pictures and headlines are saying to them and how that stacks up against their own areas of interest.
Share the potent connection
Ads that break into the reader's flow work the hardest when they are visual, impactful and well thought through in terms of their context.
Newspaper readers feel that strong advertising with a clear idea, apparent visual identity and a logic to their placement, work much better at becoming part of their flow, than what may in the business be referred to as "a quick press ad".
Advertisers can share the compelling connection readers have with their newspapers by providing advertising that entertains, engages and informs. But that emotional connection must be treated with the utmost respect, or this great opportunity will be missed.
An ad needs to put itself in a position which is completely relevant to the overall experience as well as present itself in a way that feeds into the engaged and entertained mindset (and brand fit). With this at the forefront of the agenda, there is a much greater chance of strong engagement on the part of the reader.
Making the effort is, in fact, worth it: you get a short circuit to connection and involvement. So next time you're having a sit down with your newspaper, watch how you react to the ads.
- Fiona Bioletti is a partner at Davey Bioletti Planning and Research.