The Sun is claiming to run “the richest rewards scheme in the country” after paying out millions of pounds in cash to 500,000 purchasers of its print newspaper who have signed up to the Sun Savers programme in its first six months.
Sun Savers, launched in June as a “reverse subscription” scheme to incentivise loyal buyers of the red top tabloid, pays £5 to readers every time they provide 28 proofs of purchase. Crucially, these readers must input their personal data by registering online, or via the Sun Savers app with its distinctive red pound-sign logo.
Executives at News UK believe that the scheme represents a historic breakthrough in enabling the publisher and its commercial partners to identify and market products and services to the previously anonymous readers who casually purchase the paper at newsstand.
The Sun has so far paid out more than £2m in rewards.
In an interview with The Drum, the Sun’s chief marketing officer Kate Bird says the Murdoch publisher now has “huge ambitions” for Sun Savers. “Given we only launched in June it’s a pretty phenomenal rate of growth,” she says. “We have created, from what was an anonymous pool of people at newsstand, a known base (of people) that love the brand.”
'Cash, content and community'
In addition to being “the richest rewards scheme in the country”, Sun Savers encourages print readers to interact with the brand digitally, and digital readers to see added value in buying the physical product. “We talk about Sun Savers as ‘cash, content and community’,” says Bird. “What we are building is a community of loyal Sun readers.”
The claim to “richest rewards scheme” is understood to relate to the comparison with supermarket, high Street chain and other brand loyalty schemes, none of which offer £5 in return for such a low outlay (£14 spent at the newsstand).
Bird says the original concept for Sun Savers was for a scheme which would underline the brand’s claim to be “the home of family value”, while simultaneously offering incentives to frequent buyers of the print product, which is still vital to the Sun’s business model. The launch blurb, in typical Sun patter, promised print readers “you can get your mitts on £5” by entering their details online or using “our snazzy app”.
The scheme also represents something of a gamble.
In annual results published this month, the Sun reported a loss of £24m and a 5 per cent fall in total revenues (down to £424m), which the publisher blamed on inactivity at the newsstand. “The main driver of the decrease in turnover was the challenging market conditions, with declines in both newspaper circulation in the popular segment and in print advertising,” the company said.
By promising £5 to readers who entered a month’s worth of unique codes printed in each copy of the Sun, News UK was handing back close to 18 pence from each 50 pence sale.
But as Bird explains, Sun Savers enables the Murdoch-owned publisher to have a far more extensive interaction with print readers than the fleeting act of handing over their coins each morning. “We’ve got a personal relationship with these readers now where we can contact them with offers and content and things that we know they love about the Sun brand.”
Unsurprisingly, she says advertisers and commercial partners have responded “really positively” to the idea of being able to connect digitally with a large and previously hidden audience. “Conversations” are taking place on future commercial deals, she adds. “Those half a million customers all have cash in their wallets… we have a known customer base that all have money that they’re willing to spend.”
The Daily Mail operates a code-based rewards scheme, My Mail, under which loyal purchasers can earn Nectar points (up to 80 per week) to spend on Mail offers and promotions. For example, 1500 points earn a discount of £11.25 from a meal at Pizza Express.
The Sun Savers pricing points of £5 for 28 copies were heavily researched. Members can spend their money on other Sun programmes, such as the “Hols from £9.50” scheme, which takes readers to destinations from Clacton-on-Sea to Croatia. They can also use their money on Sun Saverdays to venues including Madame Tussauds and Legoland for huge discounts.
So far this community has spent £250,000 from its Sun Saver wallets on the “Hols from £9.50”, and it handed over £20,000 of its savings to the Sun’s Christmas Charity appeal (for children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent).
Funneling readers to editorial
The 500,000 Sun Savers are predominantly women (60 per cent). The Sun as a whole has a far slighter female skew.
The split between app and online registrations is 50-50, with both platforms designed for simplicity. App users screen their codes via their smartphones; desktop users type the codes in manually.
When they register, readers sign up for a regular Sun Savers newsletter with links to money-saving stories from the Sun’s website, adding to online traffic while giving print readers a multiplatform brand relationship.
Many of these “stories” are hardly recognisable as journalism, carrying headlines such as “You can get 12 free Krispy Kreme doughnuts – here’s how” and “Elbows at the Ready! Boots 70% off sale 2018 is on NOW!”
But Bird insists this is editorial and not sponsored content. “A lot of the feedback that we had from readers was around finding high street bargains and stuff that was attainable,” she says. “That is editorial content.”
So Sun journalists are filmed at the shops haggling for bargains. Similarly The Sun partners with online “influencers” like Holly Smith, author of Holly’s Frugal Blog (Bird describes her as a “voucher and coupon queen”), to spot good buys in Poundland. Pregnant reality TV performer Casey Batchelor reports from the rails in Mothercare.
This is a sign of changing definitions of news. It’s hard to imagine a Sun editor of old allowing staff to examine such trivia and giving it column inches but the digital audience has shown an insatiable appetite for this content (witness local paper websites obsessively covering the opening of global fast food outlets).
Either way this “content pillar”, as Bird calls it, is working for Sun Savers and helping to strengthen and grow this bargain-hunting community. That’s also a win for the Sun’s marketing team and its advertisers.
All this newspaper code-collecting might even shore up the Sun’s print circulation, which at 1,480,337 is down by 8 per cent on last year (though it has out-performed the popular market, of which it now has 60 per cent share).
The Sun spent £75m on sales and marketing last year promoting a brand that has been targeted for criticism by press reform groups such as Hacked Off and Stop Funding Hate, which has tried to damage the paper’s relations with commercial partners.
Bird says that a news brand of the Sun’s scale will “naturally” attract opponents and that she prefers to give her attention to those who feel aligned with its values.
“Our focus is on people that love the Sun,” she says. “I think that’s the key – we are not trying to convert everyone to be in love with the brand but we certainly want to reward and look after our readers and customers and give them what they want.”
Ian Burrell's column, The News Business, is published on The Drum each Thursday. Follow Ian on Twitter @iburrell