News & Opinion

Jeremy Bullmore asks why newsbrands?

However valuable the print editions of papers and their revenues are to the industry, the word "newspaper" no longer reflects what they do. Writing for Newsworks' annual review, Jeremy Bullmore works out the theory of newsbrands.

It was those dodgy marketing people who first started talking about 'brands'. The rest of the world was more fastidious. Everybody knew that a brand was just a jumped-up name for a product with a maker's name attached: FMCGs (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) as those dodgy marketing people liked to call them.

Daz was a brand and so was Persil, that much was agreed; but thirty years ago, to suggest that a high street bank was a brand, or the BBC, or Penguin Books, was to incur contempt and derision: 'We are the British Broadcasting Corporation, constituted by Royal Charter to inform, educate and entertain the nation. We are not a washing powder.'

Today, go to the BBC's homepage and you'll be invited to 'Explore in depth some key themes of the BBC story, from the development of the BBC brand through case studies of editorial independence to the history of …'

To some commentators, though a diminishing few, this usage of the word brand is still seen as a kind of surrender: just a part of the general dumbing down and commercialisation of our culture. But for most, I think, there's been a gradual acceptance that the word has earned its place and needs to exist for the same reason that most words need to exist: because no other word does quite the same job.

I've always found newspapers some of the most fascinating examples of brands

I've always found newspapers some of the most fascinating examples of brands. If a packet of washing powder changed its contents every day, it would soon go out of business. Yet there are newspapers – newsbrands – that for hundreds of years have changed their contents every single day; have regularly changed their editors and editorial staff; have occasionally changed their formats, their typography and their mastheads; and even, in the last ten years or so, have discovered that they don’t always need paper in order to reach and satisfy their readers.

Yet despite these almost total physical transformations, they remain undeniably, unarguably the same brand. And if the word didn’t exist, what could take its place? You couldn't possibly argue that the product was the same.

It's easy enough to say what newspapers – newspapers as products – deliver to their readers: news of all kinds; informed opinion; gossip; reviews; weather forecasts: you've only got to study the contents page.

What's a great deal more difficult is to put into words what newspapers – newspapers as brands – deliver; but here's an inadequate opening attempt.

Each of our newspaper titles, as richly disparate as they are, has as distinctive a personality as any human being; you either warm to it or you don't. Each attracts its own, self-selected group of supporters: ranging from the occasional visitor to the fervent fan. Each offers familiarity: an often underrated quality.

Newspaper brands both inform and challenge our views: whether on fracking, Farage or Kim Kardashian. They simplify the complicated. On our behalf, they can call the mighty to account. Because we know that the brand we read is read by thousands of others, and is widely and publicly available, we also know (or rather sense) that Them (bosses, the government, Brussels, the FA) will also read; and might even, hallelujah, take note.

To know that those in high places regularly study your preferred brand with some care is rare and welcome evidence of influence: it gives us a share in a collective influence of a kind that we'd never enjoy as individuals. And those in high places know it.

Brands exist because people want them to exist; indeed, because they need them to exist. If they didn't exist, people would re-invent them within days.

As marketing men, again, were first to discover, a crucial difference between a product and a brand is one of longevity; a truth that not only applies to newspapers but is confirmed by newspapers. A product, dependent as it is solely on function, is at the mercy of the merciless Product Life Cycle. From their moment of birth, mere products are doomed to a pre-destined journey of growth, survival, decline and death. When thoughtfully nurtured, a brand can be immortal.

Jeremy Bullmore's article features in Newsworks' first annual review. To request a copy, get in touch

30/01/15

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