Did you hear the one about the Turkish newspaper that ran a special
offer of free funerals? Sounds like a joke? Well, it isn't.
Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of newspaper promotions. The
example above neatly illustrates that the nature of what is acceptable
in one European country differs markedly from what the public and media
regulators are prepared to stomach elsewhere.
While in countries such as Turkey, Spain and Italy, competitions and
giveaways have been used aggressively to build sales, other markets have
shied away from the tactic.
Yes, cultural diversity is alive and well across Europe. Which is a
wonderful thing, unless you are an advertiser or media buyer hoping to
engineer a consistent promotion across leading newspapers in a variety
of different European markets. In which case, different mores and
regulations can be difficult to overcome.
Increasingly, it is national attitudes rather than regulatory
restrictions that stifle the practice. Many publishers think that they
risk damaging the standing of their brands if they either discount their
cover price too heavily or too frequently, or if they offer too much in
the way of giveaways or products on special offer.
In Italy, which was once renowned for going overboard on promotions,
there has been a noticeable slowdown, possibly because the publishers
have realised that if everyone is doing similar promotions, any
advantage over competitors is lost. Moreover, research shows that any
uplift in sales is temporary rather than long term: so bolstering
circulation in this way can be a costly business. However, in October
the Italian daily La Repubblica ran a couple of notable promotions,
offering CD-Roms on the history of art and audio CDs containing famous
pieces of classical music performed by top international artists, such
as the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and the pianist Martha Argerich.
But even though some countries have just as liberal a system for
promotions as Italy or Spain, there is a reluctance to go down that
In Germany, recent changes to the Rabattgesezt regulations covering
marketing discounted product and giveaways have opened the way for
newspapers to carry out more adventurous and aggressive promotions. But
there seem to be no takers among the leading national titles.
"The law has been changed but practice has remained the same," Joerg
Laskowski, the managing director of the German Newspaper Publishers
Society, the BDZV, says. This is confirmed by Carat Wiesbaden's managing
director, print buying, Sabine Weber-Klein, who says: "Even with the
size of clients we have, such as Christian Dior perfumes, it's hard to
persuade the German newspapers to run promotions. Some, like Bild
Zeitung, simply won't do them."
The Swedes are a little more open-minded. However, the market there is
characterised more by cover price reductions than giveaways.
"In general Swedish newspapers are focused very much on keeping good
relations with their loyal readers/customers," Ingrid Sandell of
Tidningsutgivarna, the Swedish Newspaper Publishers Association, says.
"But of course there is a fluent market for short-time, low-price
subscriptions, more driven by price reductions than giveaways. You find
much more of discounted products and giveaways on the market for
magazines and periodicals.
"We also have the law of marketing saying that when a businessman gives
a special offer, he's also obliged to give special information about the
offer; the conditions to use it, the value of it, the time limits and
other limits connected to the offer. This information duty is sanctioned
by prohibition or penalty of a fine. If the advertiser/businessman
continues with his banned ad/offer, he could be ordered to pay special
In Ireland, where national newspapers operate under the guidelines of
the ABC Regional Newspaper Rulebook, there has been a fair amount of
promotional activity related to cover price discounting. The Irish
Independent and the Irish Examiner have launched a campaign whereby they
issue coupons that can be used to purchase the newspaper the following
day at a reduced price.
Clearly, the way in which newspapers promote themselves - and who they
partner with, if anyone, when so doing - varies considerably across
Which is surely preferable to every major European newspaper running a
free funerals promotion.
PROMOTIONAL REGULATIONS ACROSS EUROPE
Most of the major European markets now have a fairly liberal approach to
the regulation of newspaper promotions. In the Netherlands, for example,
there are no legal or voluntary restrictions, but sales tend to be
driven by editorial quality, although trial subscriptions discounts are
a widely used tactic.
In Sweden, the picture is similar, with the market driven more by short-
term, low-price subscription offers and price reductions than
However, those companies involved in special offers are legally obliged
to give information about any conditions, the value, time limits and
other restrictions connected to the offer.
Latin countries, such as Italy and Spain, have had more of a tradition
of offering extravagant prizes as a means of building circulation. The
same is true of Turkey.
Recent changes to regulation in Germany have made big promotions
possible for the first time. However, there seems to be little cultural
appetite for the approach among German media owners. The French,
likewise, appear to have little enthusiasm for heavily supported
In Ireland, which operates under the ABC Regional Newspaper Rulebook,
where a publisher wishes to offer items as an incentive to purchase
copies of a newspaper, the terms of the offer must be clearly notified
to the prospective purchaser - ie the incentivised items must be
identified with their prices (unless items are free) - and the newspaper
must be sold at full cover price.