MEDIA ANALYSIS: Just who does read the Daily Mail?

Readers of the Daily Mail have a reputation for being judgmental and reactionary. Robert Gray describes how the latest research paints a picture of the Mail reader that is in stark contrast to the common stereotype.

<em>Daily Mail</em>: research has thrown into question the caricature of the average reader
Daily Mail: research has thrown into question the caricature of the average reader

For a media product that has been a raging mass-market success story, the Daily Mail and its Mail on Sunday sister title have long had to contend with a narrow view of their core audience taken by non-readers. The typical Mail buyer, so some rival national newspapers would have us believe anyway, is the quintessential Little Englander – replete with prejudices, suspicious of foreigners, aghast at government meddling and rather old-fashioned in some of their values and opinions.

The stereotype is flawed. A reader base as large as that of the Daily Mail – its ABC-audited circulation is over 2.3 million – can never be distilled into such a simplistic caricature. But – arguably encouraged by the papers’ often uncompromising editorial line on some issues – the perception has proved difficult to shift.

In an attempt to reveal the true character of its mid-market heartland, the Mail has undertaken research into what it terms ‘Modern MidBritain’, a demographic that includes 47 per cent of the UK population and is res­ponsible for 51 per cent of all consumer spending. According to the research, 61 per cent of the titles’ readers are drawn from this group, which compri­ses 6.4 million individuals nationwide.

The right audience
The denizens of Modern MidBritain are, according to the research, diverse, open-minded, well-educated, caring, brand-aware, powerful, proactive and influential. They spent £257bn last year – £63bn on groceries alone. By the sound of it, they are exactly the sort of audience that marketers and communications professionals want to reach.

The Mail sales team has started presenting the research findings to advertisers but has also lined up meetings with several PR agencies to push advertorial. Nelson Bostock, Talk PR, Kazoo, Freud Communications, Fishburn Hedges and Attenborough Saffron have all been contacted. Daily Mail weekend sales manager Michael Sharman says ‘the research will be used on an ongoing basis to provide effective solutions’ for clients.

So do the findings show Mail readers in a different light to the one in which they are perceived by PROs?

The research shows Modern MidBritain to be at ease with technology and new media. The group owns over half of the UK’s most expensive MP3 players, represents 62 per cent of all GPS owners and has been instrumental in driving Sky+ adoption.

‘I’m not at all surprised by the findings relating to consumer technology,’ says Nelson Bostock joint managing director Martin Bostock. ‘The Mail has always been way up high on our list of targets for technology clients as they move from early adopter to mass market, lifestyle status.

For instance, in getting the message across over the last few years that digital TV is for everyone, not just for blokes who like football, the Mail was the bull’s-eye in our Freeview PR programme.’

Bostock says the Mail’s current marketing push will not tempt his agency to target the paper more than it already does, because it confirms what it already knew. He feels that the research highlights a ‘web-savvy readership’, and it would be a positive step if the brands were to use the internet more strategically and creatively.

To build the picture of its core audience, the Mail combined CACI desktop research with qualitative research in the form of a dozen focus groups and video ethnographic research into the home lives of seven families. TGI and Acorn data provided further analysis.

Some of the conclusions directly challenge the popular myths of Mail readers. 64 per cent of the core audience agree that it is important for companies to act ethically and 72 per cent believe that it is important not to judge how others live their lives. Linda Grant, group marketing services director at Mail owner Associated Newspapers, says misconceptions about the Mail’s audience – for example as being judgmental and reactionary – are based on a caricature of an outdated mindset.

Daily Mail managing director Guy Zitter concedes that clients’ and agencies’ understanding of what was labelled ‘Middle England’ had become confused with ‘Little England’ and to an extent pejorative. ‘Extensive research highlighted characteristics that dismiss these preconceptions. To many it is a shock that this group of Modern MidBritains are open-minded and technologically literate, as well as having huge social and economic power,’ he says.

Perception problems
Nevertheless, the apparent disparity between the sometimes stridently critical tone to be found on the Mail’s editorial pages and the supposedly non-judgmental nature of the majority of its target audience strikes a jarring note. Addressing these perception issues will require a great deal of effort and will necessarily involve editors as well as sales staff and researchers.

‘I think most PROs are aware of how high value and upmarket the Daily Mail readership is and that it’s top of their mid-market list for reaching an ABC1 audience,’ says Taylor Herring Communications joint managing director James Herring.

‘However, words like “non judgemental”, “open minded” and “liberal” are not values that are easily associated with the brand. I wonder if this new reader insight is going to drive a complementary turnaround in editorial policy more akin to that of The Independent. I can just see the relaunch front page now: “Asylum seekers: great for UK economy”.’

Fishburn Hedges group chief executive Neil Hedges says the preliminary research findings certainly offer some surprises. Yet he thinks that people have such ingrained perceptions of the Mail’s readership that the full research will need to be ‘pretty hard-hitting’ to change that. ‘I think the research has made us think again about the Mail as a target, but I’m not convinced we’ll be rushing to them with stories and clients’ money,’ he says.

CONTACTS for Advertorials

Michael Sharman
Daily Mail weekend sales manager
T 020 7938 7665

Georgina Holt
The Mail on Sunday sales executive
T 020 7938 7325

Bryan Scott
– group comms manager, marketing services
T 020 7938 6769

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