Reinvesting in news brands paid off for retailers at Christmas
A view from Vanessa Clifford

Reinvesting in news brands paid off for retailers at Christmas

Some of the big winners in the supermarket wars have seen sales rise after they ignored the negativity around print advertising.

It’s often said that great minds think alike – a saying that sprang to mind when Campaign’s Maisie McCabe suggested in her column last week that Newsworks establish a link between retailers’ Christmas sales growth and increase in press spend. We were already on the case.

2016 was an extraordinary year. People just didn’t behave in the way they were expected to, or said they would. Surveys were deemed inaccurate, predictions didn’t foresee the main events, experts were confounded. The silent majority found their voices – but only if we listened in the right places.

So, it should not, perhaps, have been surprising that right at the end of the year, a number of the UK’s prominent retailers bucked predictions and delivered better than expected seasonal results.

Morrison’s enjoyed its best Christmas in seven years, Tesco reported a 0.7% increase in sales at stores open for more than a year and Sainsbury’s returned to sales growth.

There was also no single winning formula. The sales boost was enjoyed by a wide range of outlets, from premium to discounters, including Aldi, Lidl, M&S, the Co-op, Waitrose, John Lewis and Debenhams.

Advertising no doubt played its part. To what extent, we don’t yet know but, as usual, most industry commentary has focused almost exclusively on the impact of the Christmas TV blockbusters and the flurry of digital and social media activity surrounding them. 

What we do know is virtually every winning retailer spent significantly in newsbrands, and some of the most successful have increased investment year on year.

Excluding any digital spend, Nielsen estimates show Aldi investing a healthy 28% of their December ad budget in print newspapers, Morrison’s 26% and the Co-op 21%.

Tesco increased spend by 5% compared with December 2015, while Waitrose (+19%) and Lidl (+14%) both invested more heavily in newspapers across November and December than the previous year.

It’s also worth noting that a couple of the biggest losers slashed their newspaper spend a bit drastically. 

Smart brands know it’s wise not to treat newspapers as a Cinderella medium (and in the case of some media commentators, gleefully anticipate their demise in the same way they were sure about Brexit and Trump).

There is a wealth of evidence in IPA Effectiveness case studies to demonstrate a healthy return on advertising investment for many of the big retail names in previous years.

Peter Field’s analysis of the IPA Databank shows that adding newsbrands to a campaign is highly effective in creating longer-term business effects such as profitability, customer acquisition and loyalty as well as delivering increased sales.

Similarly, meta-analysis by Benchmarketing shows that adding print newsbrands to the media mix in the retail category improves overall campaign revenue return on investment (RROI) by a factor of 2.8.

We can demonstrate that Christmas ads in newsbrands attract and keep the reader’s attention. We can prove that Christmas ads deliver more eye-balls, for longer, than at other times of the year. And we can prove that the quality environment of digital newsbrands means that your ad is more likely to be visible and actually viewed than on non-newsbrand sites.

Eye-tracking specialists Lumen tested a wide range of print and online newsbrand ads in December 2016, to see who won Christmas in the newspapers. They monitored which were noticed, what most interested people and how long they spent looking at the ads.

They found that people spend longer reading their newspapers around Christmas – and that includes the ads. Total viewing time for print and digital newsbrand ads increased by 36% in December – that’s over 100,000 hours more than pre-December.

People love the magic of Christmas, but most need to deliver the best Christmas they can for their families and friends within a defined budget. They need to keep an eye on prices and value (pun intended) as they seek the best quality they can afford. So they are prepared to invest time in newspaper advertising, in order to aid their choices, provided the creative is clear and attractive.

On average, Christmas press ads achieved 86% standout, compared with all ad norm of 75%. For the most successful retail advertisers, such as Waitrose, Tesco, Lidl, M&S, Sainsbury’s and Boots, 100% of readers noticed the ads.

Dwell time also increases for Christmas newspaper advertising. Tesco ads showing a range of products (themed by categories, such as beer, wines and spirits or party food) captured attention with wit and held it for between 3.4 and 4.5 seconds with interesting visuals.

Waitrose opted for simple, high impact, striking creative that was viewed for between 1.4 seconds (full page) and 5.6 seconds (Front cover wrap).

So, newspaper print ads capture and maintain attention – and this increases at key shopping times. That may be news for some, but it really shouldn’t be.

And what about digital newsbrands? The ground-breaking work that Lumen has carried out through their eye-tracking panel looked at what’s actually visible when people are on sites, what is actually viewed, and how long it is viewed for.

This shows that online newsbrands are significantly more engaging than non-newsbrand sites, generating 41% more dwell time on average. This in turn translates into more viewable time for ads, more attention paid to ads and 30% higher ad dwell times.

It’s particularly compelling when the size of the digital newsbrand audience is taken into account – of the 47 million people who read any newsbrand every month, almost 39 million read on at least one digital device and 17 million read via a computer.

So, who did win Christmas 2016? It’s a close-run thing, but Tesco probably takes the honours. Lumen calculates, with assistance from Ebiquity estimates, that total dwell time with Tesco Christmas ads in newsbrands was 16 million minutes. That should have sold more than a few bottles of prosecco.

Vanessa Clifford is chief executive of Newsworks.