A battle of brands between two of India’s leading English dailies is brewing, with The Hindu newspaper launching an advertisement campaign suggesting that The Times of India contains trivial news that leaves its readers unenlightened on issues that matter.
The three television advertisements come in response to one by The Times of India some four months ago that showed a man, holding a newspaper strikingly similar to the Hindu, fast asleep in various locations, from a construction site to the roof of a car, and in situations that included him even being arrested. The advertisement carries a line asking viewers if they’re “stuck with news that puts you to sleep?” and ends with the words: “wake up to the Times of India.”
The Hindu’s adverts, which respond with the tagline “Stay ahead of the Times,” were launched last week. They feature young people being asked a volley of questions, including what is the name of India’s vice president, who will succeed business tycoon Ratan Tata, and what the acronym ATM stands for.
They clearly struggle for answers, with one saying Mukesh Ambani is not only Mr. Tata’s successor, but also his son, while another suggests that Tahrir Square is a “geometrical shape.”
They are then asked some rather lower brow questions, such as what is actor Hrithik Roshan’s nickname, who is the actress associated with the size zero, and what is the gender of Aishwarya Rai’s baby. The respondents have no trouble answering these.
Then follows a series of beeps as the respondents reveal what newspaper they read. No prizes for guessing the answer, but if you still haven’t figured it out, click here to see one of the ads.
The campaign is surprising for a newspaper perceived as traditional and old-fashioned, but The Hindu argues that the objective behind the adverts is to advocate responsible journalism and highlight the increasing trivialization of news.
“More than ever in a globalizing, knowledge-driven economy, it is vital that readers are well informed about the world at large. And yet, over the last few years, there has been an increased trend in media houses to focus and serve greater dose of Bollywood news and trivia masquerading as news,” said Suresh Srinivasan, vice-president of advertising at The Hindu group in a recent interview with India Real Time.
The Times Group was recently criticized for carrying a misleading front page article that read more like an advertisement. The Hindu also carried sycophantic advertisements towards Congress party President Sonia Gandhi, but following a report in The Wall Street Journal, the newspaper decided to revamp its ad policy.
Mr. Srinivasan added that while Bollywood gossip may sell newspapers in the short-term, in his view, it is “news equivalent of junk food.”
He said the responses to the questions in The Hindu’s advertisements were “not stimulated” and that the actors weren’t told about the questions ahead of the shoot, and therefore the answers were spontaneous, he claims. With the campaign, The Hindu group aims to generate debate about the current state of affairs in the country, he added.
“We are aiming it to be an eye-opener to get people to re-evaluate their media choices. We are telling the youth that you have a choice of a smarter paper and that being knowledgeable is cool. Get yourself a paper that gets you ahead in life,” he said.
A senior official at The Times of India declined to comment, while the company’s chief marketing officer didn’t respond to requests for comment about the campaigns.
The Hindu’s campaign has won praise from the advertising industry, with experts saying it is tied to a change in leadership at the company. The Hindu’s Editor in Chief N. Ram last month stepped down after more than three decades at the top of the paper. He was replaced by the considerably younger Siddharth Varadarajan.
In an interview with India Real Time, advertising expert Prahlad Kakkar noted that The Hindu’s “necessary” counter campaign has positioned the newspaper as “aggressive, competitive and informative.”
Not only will these advertisements revamp the newspaper’s brand but also reinforce it as a pioneer of “cutting-edge journalism,” he said.
According to the latest figures from the Indian Readership Survey, The Times of India is the most widely read English-language newspaper, with a daily readership of 7.4 million, while The Hindu ranks third. However, in south India The Hindu is the most widely read English daily, significantly ahead of The Times of India.
Mr. Kakkar added that it was “natural for them [the Hindu] to feel threatened” after the Times Group extended subscriptions to south India in 2008. “The recent ad campaigns are evidently a bid to woo the average south Indian reader,” he added. “The Times Group wants to capture a larger market down south while the Hindu wants to retain the status quo.”
The latest advertisements have gone viral, but are they likely to reap increased subscriptions for either of the two newspapers?
“Only time shall tell,” Ramanujam Sridhar, chief executive of Bangalore-based Integrated Brand-Comm Pvt. Ltd., told IRT, adding that the Hindu “is likely to have an advantage” as its campaign targets a “younger audience.”
“Youngsters are accustomed to change, while the older generation may not be swayed by advertisements,” he noted. “The Hindu was witty enough to capitalize on this.”
On YouTube, where the Hindu’s ads have attracted much attention, one user wrote that they’d already switched subscription from the Times of India to the Hindu, while another noted that the Hindu had “the soul” for “pure journalism.”
But not everyone was swayed by the adverts.
“I must admit that if these same questions would be asked to the ‘the hindu’ and ‘hindustan times’ readers, many of them won’t be able to answer too… because many people have left reading newspaper due to shortage of time, however, everyone wants to stay updated about bollywood.. and u cannot force people to read the main newspaper rather than reading Page 3,” one said.
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