Creative Creative Works OOH

‘Not for Sale’: Why The Guardian's latest campaign addresses media ownership


By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

September 27, 2023 | 8 min read

The news title’s latest campaign doubles down on its editorial independence as media plurality worldwide comes under pressure.

Guardian 01

The Guardian campaign / Lucky Generals

Last week, The Guardian released its first brand campaign since 2019. ‘Not for Sale,’ Lucky Generals’ inaugural work for the brand, discusses The Guardian’s support-led business model and approach to independent journalism. The creative team was instructed to shout from the rooftops about the big, shiny, new marketing approach.

The four-year gap between this and the last campaign was intentional. Head marketer Joel Midgley admits that the comms approach is evolving. “The news agenda has been pretty hectic over the last few years,” he says. “It felt like the best thing we could do for our readers was to put in front of them the products that would help them understand what was going on in the world.”

Over the years, The Guardian accrued a great deal of insight into its reader habits, but it hadn’t quite deployed it in a campaign yet. “We had these insights about what makes us unique and worth supporting,” explains Midgley. “We wanted to get confident again.”

The title had a frank and open conversation that Lucky Generals’ managing director, Cressida Holmes-Smith, recalls. After the Omnicom agency won the account toward the end of 2022, it landed on the final idea around springtime. “We had an exciting first meeting, which was a discussion around creative ambition and tone, which you don’t often get with clients,” she says. “It was such a good, rich discussion.”

Some questions were: what are you jealous of, and where would you like to be? The Guardian was also bringing some unique references to the table, like music videos and not purely inspiration from adland.

“There was ambition there to push the tone,” continues Holmes-Smith. “Playfully intelligent was a phrase the agency brought. ‘Weird’ was another word that was discussed.”

“It was one of those extremely rare meetings,” adds Midgley. “We just sat in a room with Lucky Generals and watched a few ads, watched some music videos, spoke about some photographers we like and just kicked around what we want the end product to be.”

‘Not for Sale’ was created by Lucky Generals after being inspired by a line written by the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Katharine Viner and its chief executive Anna Bateson, which was ‘open to all, funded by many, beholden to no one.’

“Within that, there’s just this very interesting tension,” explains Holmes-Smith. “About the fact that, unlike other news brands, The Guardian will always be open.”

The talks were about finding the confidence to say this while other news brands are up for sale, putting up a paywall or being owned by a ‘spurious’ billionaire. Among reader contributions, the media brand’s website is partially funded through various grants from organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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It’s a message that is so important to the outlet.

“We live in an age where the vast majority of the media is in the hands of a few wealthy individuals. People need to know that they can have quality journalism that they can trust and is freely available to all,” says Midgley. It’s a message now familiar to readers.

“But it’s being able to say it loudly and proudly and engage a much broader audience with our core values. We want to ensure that we can see more supporters come through the door and further grow the impact of the journalism.”

The whole team was sold on the strapline immediately due to its ‘beautiful simplicity’ and clarity of thought.

The 60-second hero film portrays all the different ways people interact with the media outlet, whether negatively or positively. In the spot, viewers see one man using the newspaper to pick up dog waste from the floor, a teacher highlighting articles in a classroom full of kids and a daughter seemingly debating with her mother. Getting the film’s tone was crucial but a fun experience for the whole team.

“What a bravery from a client to embrace the fact that everyone doesn’t necessarily adore the product. But it is open to everyone, so you’re welcome to those views, and you’re welcome to engage with it,” says Holmes-Smith. “We wanted to show a spectrum of international responses to The Guardian. Whatever you think about it, there is always an emotionality and a passion.”

The creatives had slight trepidation. ‘How far do we take it really?’ Was the brand ready to take on the trolls?

“Because there is such variety in the ad itself, lots of people have different moments that they cling to,” says Midgley. “Either because it’s brave and bold or because it speaks to them.” He explains that they had so many ideas for different scenes that so much quality content ended up on the cutting room floor.

The idea of a ‘global Guardian’ ran through this entire campaign. Lucky Generals enlisted New York-based duo Rubberband to direct the ad, which enabled them to get a grip on how the work would resonate outside of the UK.

To coincide with the film, there are also out-of-home (OOH) posters, audio, video, newsletters, print and social, with a paid media focus in the UK and Europe. A vital part of this push has been the launch of the Europe edition. “The expansion of our newsroom with new appointments in editorial means that readers in the UK, US and Australia everywhere else in the world will benefit from deeper insights around things happening in Europe,” explains Midgley.

“A big part of the future of The Guardian is being able to better serve readers worldwide.”

He concludes that the media outlet views this work as a new chapter on how it shows up as a brand.

“Quite quickly, we want to start plotting out all the various ways that this confident tone of voice and the beautiful design approach can reappear in the world.”

Interested in seeing more creative campaigns? Check out our Ad of the Day and the Best Ads of the Week sections.

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