MEDIA: Newspaper giveaways can help re-energise their brand

A few weeks ago, a big box of doughnuts was delivered to my door.

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

the newspapers?

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.

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