A few weeks ago, a big box of doughnuts was delivered to my
It came with compliments from the promotions director of Associated
Newspapers, Desmond Nichols. He was responding to something I’d written
grumbling about the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday’s aggressive Lucky
Bags promotion, promising every reader two prizes, with the prospect of
a foreign holiday, in seven days. Alas, my prize, a free doughnut, was
only available from a chain of bakeries absent from my neighbourhood,
and I felt cheated.
I take a close interest in the promotions used by national newspapers to
get us to pick them up. Free dry cleaning at Sketchleys (Mail), tickets
on Eurostar when it launches (Times), cut-price restaurant offers
(pioneered by the Financial Times, but widely copied).
In many ways, it’s the unwritten newspaper story of the 1990s, less high
profile than cut-price crusades mounted by News International, and
ignored by media columnists who prefer to analyse the shifting political
allegiances of the tabloids.
Giveaways are clearly influential in slowing decline, encouraging
sampling and stealing readers from rivals. But how do promotions help
Well, we all like things for free. But there are dangers. In the case of
the Mail’s Lucky Bags, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have
moaned to me about their paltry prizes. However, Associated’s sales are
on an unbroken upward curve, and Lucky Bags may have produced an uplift
of 100,000 sales per day for an (estimated) outlay of pounds 200,000 per
Which brings me to the Books for Schools offer being run across the Sun,
News of the World, the Times and Sunday Times, by News International
jointly with Walkers crisps. Linked to the Year of Reading, it’s
If you have school-age children, it’s impossible to ignore this campaign
which offers a wide choice of free books in exchange for vouchers.
An astonishing 93 per cent of schools (32,400) are taking part, the
educational establishment is behind it, Tony Blair endorsed it. The
interesting thing is that the title most benefiting is the Sun. A year
ago, speculation was rife about the paper’s need for refreshment, with
Page 3 even said to be on the way out, a move that would have depressed
Instead, the campaign (estimated total cost pounds 4 million) has been
used to take some edges off the brand, to make the Sun seem less
blokeish, more a paper which young families could have around the house.
And the gap between it and the Mirror has widened to 1.6 million copies.
I don’t know whether the Sun’s sales decline of last year will be
arrested, but this is the kind of ’win-win’ cause-related marketing
campaign business school students will study for years to come.