Aug 06

Two Centuries of Brand Building Pays Off

Today's guest post is by London Peppercommer Carl Foster.

Times2 The balance sheet of most major newspapers looks something like this: 

Advertising RevenueDown
Editorial StaffDown

The most radical move to counter this downward spiral has come from one of the world’s oldest newspapers, The Times (Incorrectly referred to by many as The Times Of London or The London Times). Last month The Times put all its content behind a pay wall – the first major, non-financial daily newspaper to do this. It is probably no exaggeration to say that the outcome of this experiment will determine the future of the newspaper industry.

Subscription to costs £1 for a 24 hour pass or £2 for a one week pass. (The daily print issue costs £1.) In the weeks leading up to the introduction of the pay wall, when visitors were asked to register to view articles, traffic fell 58 per cent. The paper’s share of UK news traffic, from sites like Google News, fell from 4.37 per cent to 1.83 per cent.

Losing almost two thirds of your customers overnight is enough to panic any business owner, but  is it really that bad? I don’t think so. First of all, have you lost 58 per cent of your customers or just 58 percent of your footfall coming through the shop door? How many people clicked through from Google News not caring if they read a story in The Times, The Daily Telegraph or, the 800 lb gorilla in the room, the publicly funded BBC? The fact that people should be focusing on (and the newspaper industry rejoicing at) is that 42 per cent of people chose to pay for their news from The Times. That is the kind of brand loyalty that 225 years of publishing gets you.

The other positive is that the people paying to access The Times’ content are a much more lucrative demographic than the froth that washes up on the site from a news aggregator. People see more value in things that they consider worth paying for, and that goes for consumers and advertisers. This is completely the opposite strategy to that taken by another stalwart of the British newspaper industry, the Evening Standard. As I blogged about last year, after more than 150 years, the Standard became a free newspaper. Yes, the readership grew significantly, but the brand, and the value of its content was reduced, irrevocably, in my opinion.

I am heartily encouraged by the apparent success at The Times and what it means for mainstream publishing. Yes, citizen journalism is important, and in situations like the Iran elections it can be invaluable. But don’t discount the big media groups. There are times when only the resources of a major newspaper can tell a story adequately. Two examples of this are the recent leak of the Afghanistan files to Wikileaks, which in turn passed them to The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel. The other is the British Parliamentary expenses scandal, when thousands of pages were passed to The Daily Telegraph, which ensured the story was analyzed and told properly and responsibly.

There is much ill will directed at Rupert Murdoch, but as owner of The Times his brave experiment will hopefully prove to be the turning point for a troubled, yet vitally important industry.

Jul 26

Ministry of Silly Names

Today's guest post is by London Peppercommer Sandhya Shyam

Sounding suspiciously like Nineteen Eighty-Four Newspeak, the newly elected British government
Big-Society is  busily unfolding it’s most dramatic manifesto yet, Big Society. Yes, they actually named it Big Society, an umbrella phrase to describe what will be a gradual transfer of power from the state to the communities.  David Cameron and his merry troupes are busy announcing initiatives that will see volunteers and local community groups adopt significant administrative and policy control of local schools, rural housing schemes, post offices, libraries, museums  etc.– you know, those things called jobs that people used to get paid for. 

Cynicism aside, I actually genuinely appreciate the concept of empowering people and making communities responsible for issues that impact them directly. Britain for the last decade at least has suffered from being spoonfed.  Huge chunks of society happily depend on handouts and for the government to tell them what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Big Society, in theory at least, is designed to get people thinking for themselves again.

Though Britain has a strong culture of volunteerism, I wonder who actually will participate and where will they find the time? An Audit of Political Engagement in 2009, found that ‘half the public do not want to be involved in decision making in their local area and over half (55 percent) do not want to be involved at a national level.’ At the very least, perhaps Big Society might cure the curse of apathy. Still, who are these charmed few who will be running our country? I’m pretty sure that my own local despot will be the busybody at the end of our street who keeps reminding us that the plants in our window box are a little too tall.

Oh dear. 

Mar 05

New print ad isn’t one of BMW’s finest hours

The hotshot German carmaker, BMW, is running a new print ad heralding its certified, pre-owned modelsBmw2_3
(read: used cars). The headline declares: ‘One of our finest hours, revisited.’

The copy’s obvious intent is to emphasize that a pre-owned BMW is still a great automobile, which it very well may be.

But, the copywriter clearly doesn’t have any sense of history. At the absolute height of the Battle of
Britain when Nazi bombs were raining down on London and elsewhere, Prime Minister Winston Churchill rallied his fellow Brits by proclaiming, “…if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour.””

Whether it’s ignorance or insensitivity, the BMW ad is an unnecessary image and reputation gaffe that should be rectified faster than a Nazi Panzer tank blitzkrieging its way through France in June of 1940.

Sadly, the ad copy is just another example of today’s generation having absolutely no sense of what went before.

Nov 26

I’d give ‘e’ an ‘A’

I just finished reading a hilarious book called ‘e’. Written in 2000 by a veteran of the British advertisingE_5
wars, ‘e’ follows the adventures and misadventures of a fictitious London ad agency called Miller Shanks.

Like ‘Who moved my blackberry?‘ the plot unfolds in a series of e-mails between agency management, the creative group, executive headhunters, office services and new hires.

Unlike ‘Who moved my blackberry?’ ‘e’ gets into office politics, office romances and office images/reputations. There’s the technology-challenged boss, the backstabbing creative director, the burnt out hippy of an art director, the nerdy office services manager and a whole bevy of sexually active personal assistants. They all act, and react, to the stresses of a major new business pitch while jockeying for power with one another.

To call ‘e’ a page-turner does it a disservice. I found it alternately riveting and rollicking. And, I related to just about every character, having worked for, or with, carbon copies of each.

‘E’ is a little dated and uses some Brit-specific jokes and phrases, but it’s well worth the time and effort. It’s also the kind of book I’d like to one day write myself since it reinforces the absurdity of the workplace and self-important types who too often frequent the hallways.