The New Age turns to old tactics

2010-10-02 15:05

Marketing a new media product to a saturated and cynical audience is a brand manager’s worst nightmare because, ultimately, the manager is trying to convince us to try, and then buy, something we have no real desire for.

Media consumption is an ­entrenched habit – whether it be 10 minutes of John Robbie in the morning, a scan through Business Day or the Daily Sun or a quick evening eyeballing of a national television newscast.

It’s a habit that is almost impossible to break.Media consumers know what they like.

Most can’t be bothered to change, and if they are going to form a new habit there has to be a compelling reason to do so.

Parting with money is the principal determining factor – ­given the amount of free online content available – and while readers, listeners or viewers do not say it quite in this clichéd marketing speak, they are really asking if the value proposition of a new entrant is better than their existing choice.

I’m not sure if The New Age newspaper, which we still await with bated breath, has fully grasped the concept of a compelling, easy-to-understand debut marketing campaign.

In order to pique early interest and expectation, the brand being born amid some political controversy would be better served by telling prospective readers what it can offer that The Star or the Cape Times cannot right now.

Bluntly put, are there more or better sports and news pages? Are there exciting and provocative new columnists who will cause ­trouble?

And will I be paying more or less every morning for the ­privilege of digesting all of this?In advertising terms this is called a teaser campaign.

The ­paper, however, has opted for the sometimes confusing, well­trodden idea of showing a deliberately ambiguous billboard image and then posing a leading question.

On one billboard we see a picture of a policeman in what could either be a close-up confrontation with a crowd or, if imagined from a reverse angle, helping ­others by holding a crowd back.

The headline reads: “Brutality or Protection?”

The hoarding has been strategically placed outside a ­police station.

There are several other riffs on the theme.Another hoarding is erected on the perimeter of a dusty Soweto and shows a tranquil, contrasting picture of a dwelling in the ­township, with the question, Ekasi or Egoli? designed to provoke ­debate about a person’s positive or negative relationship with Jozi.

All of these ideas stem from a brand premise that the newspaper plans to see both sides of the story and will deliver on its mission statement to view the country from a “glass is half full” perspective.The idea here is not entirely new.

When the public broadcaster had some marketing money a few years back, SAfm used a similar concept of using contrasting ­pictures to serve a payoff line about starting a conversation.

I’ve seen similar campaigns in the US and Europe that try to position media players as proactive, provocative and ­balanced. So strike one against The New Age for a little creative recycling.

It’s also worth pointing out that some of the smaller payoff lines on the billboards are strangely familiar: “News as it is” comes very close to The Star’s grammatical mishmash some years ago of “Telling it like it is”. Strike two. And strike three?

For cliché abuse as a brand descriptor – “the bigger picture” and “balanced ­reporting” were probably being hawked around in 1884 when John Jabavu was marketing Imvo ­Zabantsundu.

The New Age will no doubt be a welcome addition to the media firmament in South Africa, ­providing another voice and ­perhaps a clearer idea of what ­government is thinking and planning.

But if it is going to sell papers and knock rivals off their perches, its initial marketing message needs to be a little less lofty and a lot more offering-specific.

Newspaperland is a jungle where prisoners are not taken; they are eaten.

» Maggs is a media commentator 

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