Superbrands case studies: The Sun

Originally published in Consumer Superbrands Volume IV, May 2001. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by the independent Superbrands Council.

Case study provided by the Superbrands organisation


Printed publications such as newspapers and magazines are some of the few information sources that one can take where and when one likes. Newspapers remain the longest standing and most effective medium through which the topics and stories of the day are reported and discussed. As a main source of daily news and information, newspapers have an unrivalled ability to drive brand loyalty and pass their brand values on to their reader. A British newspaper thus plays a virtually unique role in our daily lives, and as a result it has a place in the heart of the population that is unmatched by European counterparts.

Around 13m newspapers are sold in the UK every day, making it a highly competitive and dynamic market.

In the UK newspapers are generally grouped into three segments -- tabloids, the mid-market and broadsheets. Unlike other European countries there are no daily all-sport newspapers. The tabloid sector comprises three daily and three Sunday titles. They represent the popular end of the market, being smaller in format and highly entertaining in style. They are characterised by their attention-grabbing red logos along with bold, punchy headlines, concise articles and a strong focus on celebrity and human interest.

The tabloid titles include two renowned titles, The Sun and The Mirror who are long term rivals. The continued fading of The Mirror has meant that The Sun's closest competitor is now the mid-market Daily Mail. Characterised by its middle-England positioning, the Daily Mail has profited in recent years from the changing mood and social make-up of Britain. This has left The Sun as the pre-eminent voice piece of working-class Britain. Long-associated with its committed support of the Conservative party under Thatcher, the title has in fact continually shifted its political support to represent the interests of its readers. Thus in 1997, The Sun urged its readers to vote for the Labour party and Tony Blair.


The Sun has now been the biggest selling daily newspaper in Britain for 30 years with a daily readership of 9.6m. The impact and influence that it has had on the British people is therefore highly significant. Renowned for its ability to capture and reflect the mood of the nation, its famous front pages have entered British folklore. 'Gotcha!', 'Freddy Star Ate My Hamster', 'Paddy Pantsdown', 'Up Yours Delors' and 'Is this the most dangerous man in Britain?' amongst others have set the agenda, entertained the population and taken their rightful place in history. The Sun has also become famous for its determination to reward its readers beyond all others. To this end, it paved the way with the first cheap channel-ferry crossings, the first massively discounted holiday flights and a continuous succession of tickets, offers and prizes that no other newspaper has matched. So successful has The Sun been in these offers that it has actually become the biggest booker of short-break holidays in Britain and became the first newspaper ever to give away a £1 million prize.


The modern Sun was born in 1969, but its pedigree dates back to 1911 when trade unions produced a strike sheet called the Daily Herald. By 1933, it had become the world's biggest selling newspaper with a circulation of 2m copies per day.

However, by the 1960s the Daily Herald was in serious difficulties. Its columns were filled with nothing but dry trade union reports and readers deserted it in droves.

In 1964 its owners, the International Publishing Corporation (IPC), decided to kill off the Herald and launch a new paper, The Sun, aimed at the affluent young as well as graduates emerging from red-brick universities and technology colleges.

The target circulation was 2m but by the middle of 1969 sales had slumped to around 800,000 and the paper was losing money rapidly.

In July 1969, IPC began negotiations with Rupert Murdoch and sold the title for just £600,000.

The new-look Sun was launched as the newspaper we know today with the promise of being a fresh and lively campaigning paper. It took the country by storm, with the very first issue selling more than 1m copies. Within a year, sales had doubled, and after four years the circulation reached 3m.

In 1970, the first topless Page Three Girl appeared causing massive controversy, and in 1983 the most famous Page Three Girl of all, Samantha Fox, made her first appearance.

In 1986 the Sun moved to Wapping with the other News International titles in a move that instantly broke the dangerous stranglehold that the trade unions had on the national press. By 1990, massive investment in new print processes enabled The Sun to shake up the market again with higher quality print, full-colour reproduction and various extra supplements and pull-outs. Most noticeable of these was the launch in 1996 of the first free TV listings, that again re-shaped not only the tabloid market but the paid-for TV listings market itself. Through all of this, The Sun has long established itself as the premier source for news, celebrity gossip and sport.


The Sun newspaper has questioned, challenged and demanded reactions for the last 30 years and has established itself as a leader of the mood and opinions of the British public. In a world dominated by increasingly sophisticated media spin PR and clever marketing, The Sun can always be relied on to give a firm opinion. The result is that many people will have different reactions to The Sun on different days -- whether that be laughter, tears, outrage or pride -- but few can ever ignore it.

This is crucial, because The Sun gives the ordinary person's point of view. It continues to report on the issues important to the nation in an uncomplicated manner using language to which millions of people in Britain can quickly relate. It also shares the humour and wit that characterises the best of British. The result is a newspaper read by the Prime Minister and chief executives, but most importantly by millions of ordinary men and women in Britain. The Sun therefore continues to be the people's paper and the voice of the people that no one in authority can ignore.

The breadth of The Sun's news and sports coverage is one of its great strengths, ranging from Del Piero, the world-famous Italian footballer, to Del Trotter, the equally famous Peckham trader. The paper also prides itself on getting those who are actually making the news to be columnists. Thus Sir Alex Ferguson, Delia Smith and Jeremy Clarkson are all examples of those to be found in the newspaper, giving the inside track and expert opinion on a wide spectrum of issues. Bizarre, with Dominic Mohan, also excels in its role as the premier source of exclusive celebrity news and gossip.

Recent developments

The Sun has achieved some great extra successes in recent times. It celebrated recognition of Richard Pelham as Sports Photographer of the Year at the British Press Awards in 2000, and also took the Front Page of the Year award for its front cover on the day following the Solar Eclipse in 1999. It also won the Hugh Cudlipp award for the book 'Hold Ye Front Page' - a history book written in the style of The Sun that has achieved phenomenal popularity throughout the country.


The Sun has long believed in the power of word of mouth and personal recommendation as its strongest form of promotion. Supported by carefully selected sales promotions and reader-offers to keep the brand very much at the front of the consumers' minds, The Sun has developed a level of brand awareness and strength of brand personality almost without precedent. Few have not heard of The Sun or cannot recount one of its amusing stories or headlines. The key to the brand's success also lies in its ability to bring its equities of humour, passion and entertainment to bear on all the most relevant situations of the day. Thus if there is a major new craze or development, The Sun can be guaranteed to be amongst the first to provide an associated offer, presented in the unique approach of The Sun.

Brand values

The Sun is a brand that represents the values and concerns of the British public. Over the past 20 years its activity has made it an icon of contemporary British culture.

It is emotive, passionate and humorous. It entertains and informs but always remains uncomplicated and down to earth. The result is an extraordinary brand that brings millions of people together through shared reactions and emotions.

In an increasingly fragmented world The Sun aims to be a focal point around which people unite: an enduring point of daily reference.

Things you didn't know

  • There is a 30% higher chance of Sun readers being white van drivers than the population average.

  • Every year The Sun uses more than 80m kilometres of paper -- enough to go to the moon and back many times -- but a huge amount is now recycled.

  • The Sun's first lotto game in March 1988 entered the Guinness Book of Records for the largest number of entrants in a newspaper competition more than 4.3m.

  • The Sun has been used as a model by the Foreign Office and the Department of Social Security to help their staff phrase issues clearly and concisely.

  • The first few editions of the modern Sun in 1970, set in 'hot metal' type, were limited by a shortage of the letter 'E'. Any headline could therefore only use the letter twice.

    © 2002 Superbrands Ltd

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