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By The Drum | Administrator

March 14, 2003 | 6 min read

To say that the newspaper market is competitive is more than a little unnecessary. On a daily basis the titles that make up the UK newspaper industry savage each other with a ferocity that puts even the harshest celebrity roasting to shame. The British newspaper scene has never been so aggressively combative, with so many different titles slugging it out every day for the greater share of precious readership. Although there are several examples of this (the Sun vs the Mirror, the Mirror vs the Daily Star, The Sunday Times vs the Observer, etc, etc), none seems to be quite so pronounced as the ongoing, heated and harshly bitter exchange between Express Newspapers and Associated Newspapers. A straight circulation war between these companies has escalated into a full-blown slanging match between the company heads, Richard Desmond (Express) and Lord Rothmere (Associated), played out on the pages of Express titles the Daily Express and the Daily Star and Associated papers’ the Daily Mail and the London Evening Standard. “You’re a porn baron!” one side shouts. “So what, you’ve got an illegitimate child!” screams back the other. Insults aren’t the only steps to be taken either. In the last several weeks it has emerged that Express Newspapers now plans to launch an evening paper to rival the London Evening Standard. Associated has, in retaliation, announced that it will launch a downmarket, red-top tabloid to take on the Daily Star.

Such developments, aside from providing a certain entertainment value, also raise a valid question: is this increasingly competitive marketplace of benefit to advertisers?

To gauge feeling towards this issue The Marketeer spoke to experts on both the marketing department and media agency sides of the fence.

As more and more titles launch, the readership is bound to fragment between the different titles. Gordon Swan, head of advertising and sponsorship at Intelligent Finance, a major newspaper advertiser, was keen to point out that as this happens costs can skyrocket. He said: “As a major press advertiser, Intelligent Finance tends to be able to buy at competitive rates. However, the range of publications mean that it is necessary to advertise in a larger number of titles to achieve the coverage of all the sectors a mass market product needs to reach. The costs, therefore, can be significant and we have to measure response on a fairly sophisticated basis to give us the true value of the business we receive.”

Needless to say, over the past several years the choices available to advertisers have multiplied. With interactive and online advertising giving new opportunities to communicate direct with consumers, newspapers are facing increased competition from all sides. Some believe that the introduction of new titles is just what is needed to inject some fresh energy into what is essentially an old medium.

“If national press was a product we would have to advise it has been losing its way in the face of increasing appeal from substitute media,” states Patrick Humphreys, an account manager at media buying agency Feather Brooksbank. “Its customers have been looking elsewhere. Some means of re-invigorating the market is required, and new entrants may provide exactly that.

“To really make a change, however, the new players should not be content with rehashing much used formats but must strive to offer something new and exciting to provide a challenge for clients and agencies. An increased breadth of choice could also result in an overhaul of how the more established titles operate.”

In the specific case of the Associated and Express rivalry, however, Cherry Jackson, head of press at Mediaedge:cia Manchester, believes this may not be the case. She says: “I think that as media buyers we enjoy a competitive marketplace. But has this rivalry gone too far? The Express don’t seem to do a lot of research into developing products, they tend to produce a lot of ‘me too’ type products. As for the Daily Mail, I know they’ve had an alliance with Hello in the past but I don’t know if they have the experience to launch a really down-and-dirty tabloid.”

The issue of increased competition isn’t, of course, confined solely to these companies’ newspaper titles. With the UK’s growing obsession with celebrity, publishers are increasingly spending money on introducing new celebrity-focused magazines and supplements.

“I think with all this ‘celebrity being the new royalty’, you have to ask: how long can this be maintained?” wonders Jackson. “Now, with New being aimed at the cheaper end of the market, is there actually room for another celebrity magazine on a Sunday?

“How many times do you, as a consumer, need to see the same pictures of Posh and Becks? Is this giving consumers more choice or are they just spreading what’s already out there more thinly?”

The “me too” mentality certainly seems to be the craze for magazine and newspaper publishers alike, but the issue remains: is this actually helping advertisers target their customers? Swan, at Intelligent Finance, believes it can.

He says: “The new publications fragment the audience but do make targeting easier. The trick is to ensure that you continually monitor the response. It is amazing the fluctuations in efficiency that Intelligent Finance gets from individual publications. That change in relative performance may well reflect the growth of diverse publications and the knock-on effect of their rise and (sometimes their equally swift) decline.”

At this stage it certainly seems that publishers will continue to flood their respective markets with new titles. With the change in media ownership rules now rapidly approaching as well, it certainly seems that we’ll be seeing a lot more launches before the flock starts to thin. As advertisers, it is now more crucial than ever to research who is reading what and when. But with that knowledge in hand, an increase in media competition can serve as a valuable weapon when targeting your audience.

Let battle commence.

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