The Metro Effect

On Monday, Nov. 27, 2006, the Toronto Star’s front page was dominated by images of a prison escapee and a hero. While that may seem like fairly typical fodder for page A1, it actually marked a significant first for the country’s largest daily newspaper. The images were part of an ad promoting that night’s fall […]

On Monday, Nov. 27, 2006, the Toronto Star’s front page was dominated by images of a prison escapee and a hero. While that may seem like fairly typical fodder for page A1, it actually marked a significant first for the country’s largest daily newspaper.

The images were part of an ad promoting that night’s fall finale of Global Television’s hit show Prison Break and a new episode of its rookie success Heroes. The vertical ad, which covered roughly a third of the front page, marked the first time in the Star’s 118-year history it had covered this formerly sacrosanct space with advertising (the tactic was repeated three days later, with Rogers Wireless as the advertiser).

Suzanne Raitt, who joined the Star from the Canadian Newspaper Association in November in the newly created position of managing director of advertising effectiveness, says the cover ad-which required roughly a month from conception to implementation-was undertaken after high-level discussions involving the paper’s new senior management team of publisher Jagoda Pike and editor-in-chief Fred Kuntz, as well as its VP of advertising, Wayne Clifton.

“It was a discussion on how do we feel about it, can it be done, does it make sense?” says Raitt.

But would such a discussion have taken place before upstart freebies like Metro and 24 Hours started siphoning away readers and advertisers from the paid dailies (the Star’s ad linage was down 8.6% in 2005) and making ad concepts like cover wraps commonplace? Would the Star have entertained the notion of a cover wrap five years ago?

“I think not,” says Raitt after a brief pause. “I think it was a different time, a different place,” when newspaper publishers were largely drawn from the editorial side of the business and thus more protective of the editorial environment. However, she dismisses the notion of a “Metro effect,” calling the recent cover wrap a natural progression as marketers continue pressing their media partners for standout ideas.

Until recently, newspapers were probably the most reluctant of all major media to tinker with accepted ad formats. “When I started in the ad business I worked for a newspaper, and they thought it was quite bold to have an earlug on the front page,” says Bruce Claassen, CEO of Genesis Media and president of the Canadian Media Directors’ Council. “Look at what’s happened now: They put banners on every paper at the bottom, the Post started ages ago with the half-page overlap, and the freebies don’t give a damn (about where they put ads).”

In fact, some believe the freebies, and Metro in particular, are creating this new template for newspaper advertising. “Metro really set the benchmark for innovative newspaper design and advertising promotion,” says Chris Kubas, vice-president of Toronto-based Kubas Consultants. “That kind of innovation is really setting a new standard for the industry, and I think it really gets the attention of advertisers.

“I think the more traditional daily newspapers are saying ‘What can we do to step up to the plate?’ ” he continues. “That’s why we’re seeing the Toronto Star do a cover wrap.”

The National Post, he points out, is also actively selling space on both its front page (including a Dec. 8 cover wrap for Ford) and the front of its Financial Post business section. It’s a no-brainer for the Post, says Kubas, because of its “underdog” status in the newspaper war. “I don’t think I’ve seen The Globe and Mail do anything like a wrap,” he says (the Globe was unavailable for comment).

Kubas, like Raitt, believes such tactics would ultimately have emerged with or without Metro, but Bill McDonald, publisher of the free daily, feels his paper is directly responsible. “There’s no doubt that if Metro hadn’t introduced a number of creative ideas and concepts, the market would not have seen them in the Star or any other newspapers,” he says.

Walter Levitt, senior VP of marketing for Global Television’s parent, CanWest MediaWorks, says the Star ad was something of a coup. The broadcaster, he says, was “looking to do something really new and innovative. We wanted to do something that sent a very clear message that this was a big event night on TV. From our perspective it was perfect. It really achieved everything we needed in terms of making a statement about the bigness of the night.”

Raitt claims the only negative response to the Star’s cover ad came from retailers, who complained that it covered the paper’s UPC code-requiring them to fold it back in order to scan the newspaper at the cash register.

It could be that readers have grown inured to such tactics. Cover wraps have become almost commonplace among many daily papers in Canada, pioneered largely by Metro Toronto and its sister publications in Vancouver, Ottawa and Montreal (see “They don’t say no to anything,” this page and “Mixing it up in Montreal” on pg. 26) McDonald says his publication has produced about 24 cover wraps in the past 12 months for a diverse group of advertisers including McGregor Socks, Warner Home Video (Canada) and Unilever.

But advertisers and readers can also expect to see more unconventional newspaper ads in traditional dailies, too. “I think you’re going to see more and more (tactics) embraced,” says Raitt. “It’s like anything. You try something for the first time and you think ‘How’s that going to go?’ And then it goes OK, so then you say ‘Well let’s try something else,’ and then that goes OK. I think there are a lot of new ideas out there that can be tried and explored.”

In fact, November’s cover wrap was no mere “one-off” for the Star. Raitt says the paper is currently making the rounds of advertisers and media agencies with a 52-page presentation outlining about 20 new ad concepts. “Some are bold, some are milder, (but) all them are impactful,” says Raitt. “They’re all different than anything that’s been run before.” (One tactic being presented, she says, is an ad that will run down the middle seam in a section spread).

Since there’s a premium attached to such ads-McDonald says a cover wrap with Metro costs about three times more than a standard ad-they could prove an enticement traditional newspapers find hard to resist as they grapple with declining revenues. At the Star, for instance, revenues de-clined $11.8 million in fiscal 2005, attributable to an 8.6% drop in ad linage marked by double-digit de-clines in the classified (-14.6%) and retail (-10%) categories.

“Anything they can do to increase the linage run, or upsell (advertisers) has got to be their benefit,” says Kubas. “The only way to maintain or grow your business is to charge more for what you currently are carrying. They’re already producing a front page, so they may as well do a fold on it and now they’ve got that extra revenue. It’s kind of a neat solution to declining linage.” (It should be noted, of course, that Star parent Torstar owns a 50% stake in the Metro Toronto products, and shares ownership with CanWest in Metro products in the Vancouver and Ottawa markets, while Sun publisher Sun Media Corp. produces its 24 Hours freebie in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.)

The question is, just how far can traditional dailies follow the freebie papers down this road? Even a perfunctory glance at the 36 nominees in the 2006 Metro Global Print Awards-an awards show held by Metro parent Metro International S.A. to honour the best advertising in its papers-demonstrates just how accommodating the product is with advertisers in its 70 markets around the world.

Even in Canada, Metro is pioneering new ad techniques. Last year, to promote the launch of Unilever’s Dove Cool Moisture line, Metro’s entire run was printed on green-tinted paper with a sample of the product affixed to the front cover. It’s a pretty safe bet that not even a surplus of green ink at the Star’s massive Vaughan, Ont. printing plant on St. Patrick’s Day would be enough to get it to follow Metro down that route.

Metro International S.A.’s Creative Solutions Unit won the “Best Contribution to an International Campaign by a Media Owner” award at the 2006 M&M Europe Awards, an industry awards show, for ads promoting Nokia’s new 6630 cellphone. The campaign, by MediaCom Stockholm, saw Nokia ads placed in key sections of the paper, with their screens mimicking editorial copy featured on the pages. For example, the ads depicted that day’s contents page, the crossword puzzle and the day’s headlines in the phone’s screen. The M&M judges lauded the ads as “topical and miles ahead of what other papers are doing.”

“Metro is really quite amazing and innovative,” says Kubas.

“I think there are some things that our competition can’t or don’t do,” agrees McDonald. “It’s an issue of lack of capability on the production side to a philosophical belief that it’s not the right way to handle things. I think we have a mandate that de-mands greater creativity and we’re constantly pushing the envelope.

“Just as you see others doing wraps today, we’ll introduce something this year that will be different,” he adds. “Other newspapers may or may not follow suit.” In fact, he adds, Metro is close to finalizing another ad concept he claims is a first for Canada. He’s tight-lipped on the details, saying only that he expects it to appear sometime in the first quarter of 2007.

Your move, Jagoda.

“They don’t say no to anything”

“Traditional dailies may not admit it, but since Metro, 24 Hours and, for a while, Dose, hit Vancouver streets more than 18 months ago, they’ve been doing a pretty good job of attracting readers and advertisers. Media directors say they like the flexibility the freebies offer, and traditional papers seem to be taking note.

Andeen Pitt, vice-president of media and business development at Wasserman & Partners, says it recently placed client Encore Pacific in 24 Hours.

“They’ve been open to how the ad appears,” she says. “You can even get their promoters to wear T-shirts and do that sort of thing. They are on the ground, they can interact with people and that lends something to the product. Since the (free) papers have come on, the dailies want to talk and convince you that they are open to new ideas.”

Samantha Richardson, associate media director at Barlow Media in North Vancouver, says the commuter publications are growing faster in the West than they did in the East. “They’re raising the bar and forcing other products to serve their advertisers and catch the attention of readers in new ways,” she says. “Those who have audience to lose have to work even harder.”

Tim Monaghan, VP and media director at Cossette Media in Vancouver, says he’s also seeing a lot more flexibility from the paid dailies.

“There are no more forced buys any more. (Before) if you wanted the Vancouver Sun you had to buy the Province; now we have flexibility to purchase whatever suits the particular campaign strategy,” he says, adding “they are more open to ideas that we have, such as consecutive pages.”

Monaghan says Cossette is putting clients like Bell and Solo into the freebies because they can tap into an audience that doesn’t read traditional newspapers.

He says freebies will also increase the number of distribution boxes to help advertisers target certain areas, and are open to everything from cover wraps, to front page stickers and front page ads. “They don’t say no to anything,” he says. -Eve Lazarus

Mixing it up in Montreal

Last August 18, readers of The Gazette in Montreal were greeted with a nearly blank front page sporting only the newspaper’s name, a photo of Rogers Cup tennis tournament participant Stéphanie Dubois, and a tiny editorial cartoon.

Those who turned to page three were spared the need to complain to the Gazette’s customer service department. The print-free cover was merely part of the kickoff to the newspaper’s “Words Matter” ad campaign, created by Montreal agency Bleu Blanc Rouge. Aimed at giving the paper-which has seen its circulation dip in recent years-a more youthful and edgy tone, the offbeat campaign launch was “designed to demonstrate the importance of the written word,” publisher Alan Allnutt explained to readers.

Times have certainly changed when Quebec dailies use advertising tactics they once decried to kick off their own campaigns.

Sylvain Desfossés, senior media planner at LXB Communication Marketing in Montreal, recalls that when he toiled at Cossette in the 1990s, major dailies once turned down his proposal for a campaign calling for the use of post-it notes. Now, such campaigns are commonplace.

Desfossés says local tabloid giveaways like Métro and 24 Heures-as well as unconventional advertising in other media-have played a key role in changing the tune of major dailies. Media consultant François Vary notes that even before the arrival of the Métros of the world, creative and unusual media was beginning to crop up in major dailies. “The young dailies are aggressive and innovative, and it’s a reason the major dailies do more,” he says. -Danny Kucharsky

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