Youth appeal puts soaps streets ahead

The shock horror revelation that Mavis, actress Thelma Barlow, was quitting Coronation Street after 26 years was broken to a stunned world in a front page Sun exclusive last week. But inside the same edition of the paper there is ’yet another showbiz exclusive’ from the Street, about 20- year-old ’stunner’ Angela Griffin, who plays hairdresser Fiona.

The shock horror revelation that Mavis, actress Thelma Barlow, was

quitting Coronation Street after 26 years was broken to a stunned world

in a front page Sun exclusive last week. But inside the same edition of

the paper there is ’yet another showbiz exclusive’ from the Street,

about 20- year-old ’stunner’ Angela Griffin, who plays hairdresser

Fiona.



She is pictured with her new boyfriend, who just happens to play

’Jumbo’, the favourite character in Channel 4’s teenage soap Hollyoaks.

They were snapped after a lunch at Bill Wyman’s Sticky Fingers

restaurant.



The message is crystal clear: Coronation Street is now peopled with

young new stars who go to trendy restaurants rather than Cheshire golf

clubs on their days off. Now this is part of a carefully conducted PR

campaign which has made itself increasingly evident on the pages of all

the tabloids and big circulation weekly magazines since last autumn.

’We’re working flat out to promote our younger stars,’ said one of the

team.



All the main soaps have dedicated PR teams. Even Family Affairs, Channel

5’s lowly rated new daily soap opera, has been accorded a full time

press officer, (Jackie Shrimpton from MTV) the only programme on the

channel so favoured. Last week she persuaded Christie’s auction house to

let actress Tina Russell, who plays a blonde teenage Spice Girl wannabe,

model Madonna’s bra for the cameras. It is part of a strategy to target

teenagers, through magazines such as Sugar, Fresh and J17, and to build

up a plot line which sees her audition to be a lap dancer.



Soap wars are more than mass market ratings battles. Coronation Street

has been shaken to its roots by the popular appeal of EastEnders

symbolised by the 25 million who watched the ’Sharongate’ episode last

year, and last month’s British Academy Award for best drama series, the

first ever handed out to a soap. Under a new producer it is trying to

cast off its fusty, aged image, and build up its audience in the

south-east, where its rival reigns supreme.



The Sun is invaluable here, as Labour knows only too well, its

readership is more heavily concentrated in the south than north. The

urgency is real: Coronation Street symbolises ITV’s problems, where

audiences have been rotting away for three years. The network’s aged

audience profile is also seriously worrying advertisers, and the

marketing razzmatazz injected by M & C Saatchi since last September has

not put that right. The latest Institute of Practitioners in Advertising

TV trends report shows its audience profile slipping further towards

older age groups: in peak time it attracted 44 per cent of the over 55s

watching, compared with 34 per cent for BBC1 and just eight per cent for

Channel 4. It will need more than the departure of Mavis to put that

right.



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