TOP EUROPEAN NEWSPAPERS: Getting promoted - In the battle to attract readers, Europe's papers are offering greater incentives. But how far can they go, Robert Gray asks

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

route.



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

damages."



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

Europe.



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

giveaways.



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

promotions.



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.



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