Independent newspaper bucks U.K. conventions

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LONDON -- The Independent, the daily national newspaper that launched in the U.K. in 1986 (declaring its independent ownership with the advertising strapline, "It is. Are you?") undergoes a radical revamp September 16. It has suffered a drop in circulation over recent years.

Now owned by Newspaper Publishing plc, the paper, which claims its launch was "probably the most researched newspaper ever launched" in the U.K., has spent nine months researching readers' views and studying examples of foreign media.

The new format is designed to overturn accepted conventions in the U.K. broadsheet newspaper market, such as the enforced split between foreign and home news and the relegation of features on arts, fashion and architecture from the main body of the newspaper.

New TV, poster and radio ads proclaiming, "It's changed. Have you?" via M&C Saatchi, London, aim to reassert the paper's appeal to "intelligent, young urbanites" and to generate trial. The TV commercial features popular actors Julian Clary and Martin Clunes in personality-swapping roles to dramatize the message of change in a humorous way. Clary usually portrays a camp drag- queen and Clunes a politically incorrect beer- swilling womanizer. Broadcast buying is through Zenith Media and outdoor through Concord.

The campaign will also involve direct marketing and promotional stunts in key cities across the country such as using hi-tech projections to change prominent buildings into international landmarks and monuments from around the world.

"The new Independent... is setting out to do what The Independent first did back in 1986: change readers' attitudes to both the design and content of a serious newspaper," says Jeremy Reed, managing director of Newspaper Publishing.

The aim is to increase circulation steadily over a prolonged period. "The Independent has already proved it can compete in this highly competitive market and against aggressive price- cutting and subscription strategies," he says. "In spite of huge marketing and promotional spends by our competitors, we have succeeded in arresting circulation decline and have increased share of the quality newspaper market this year."

The new-look paper will feature on the front page the best image and piece of writing of the day, with a digest of news stories on the left hand side of the page. Inside, each major story will have a "keydex", giving a synopsis of the content. Stories will appear in order of priority, whether they be home or foreign, arts or politics, for instance. The new-style paper will have an "international way of doing things," its publishers promise.

"We spent some considerable time studying the effectiveness of different innovative newspapers from around the world and have borrowed from the best, radical approaches," says Andrew Marr, The Independent's editor. The paper will, he claims, be "upmarket, but easy to read and unstuffy."

Copyright September 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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