Should Media Cater to the Advertiser or the Consumer?

This is the question I asked myself after reading the article, “Coupons Come to The Wall Street Journal” in the August 12, 2010 issue of Highlights of the article are included below.

The Wall Street Journal will start delivering coupons inside its Weekend Edition this Saturday ( August 14) furthering its push to become a full-service newspaper — and taking business away from The New York Times in the process.

The coupon insert being added, SmartSource Magazine, had run in the Sunday Times for years until it stopped last month — after SmartSource’s owner, News America Marketing, decided to switch to The Journal. News America Marketing and The Journal are both owned by News Corp.

The appearance of coupons won’t drive away readers, some of whom will welcome them, but it might undermine the Journal’s premium positioning in front of advertisers, according to Ken Doctor, author of “Newsonomics” and a news industry analyst at Outsell. “I think of them as being more Prada than Pillsbury,” Mr. Doctor said. “It does seem to create some dissonance with the brand promise.”

News America Marketing said the decision to switch SmartSource to the Journal was not primarily about their corporate relationship. “The Journal is a very dynamic newspaper right now and we felt it was important to offer our clients access to its readers,” said West Naze, exec VP and national sales manager at News America Marketing.

I know the newspaper industry has been dying a slow death, but trying to turn The Wall Street Journal into a full-service newspaper is not the way to go. The essence of the WSJ is that they are a business and finance publication that reaches a highly educated, affluent audience. This is the paper where brands like Tiffany and Mercedes Benz can place their message and know they are reaching people who are more likely to buy their products. This may not be the case with every reader, but it’s all about perception. People, meaning advertisers and consumers, think the WSJ is more upscale, so therefore it is.

I don’t think the readers will stop their subscriptions because their Saturday paper now has coupons. They can just toss them out if they don’t want them. But will the advertisers start to leave? I think a newspaper like the WSJ needs to maintain its integrity and not turn into a full-service paper. Maybe they could offer the coupons online only in order to keep the paper free of the cheap looking coupons.

The WSJ and other media outlets need to remember who they are and why they are successful. They need to keep both their advertisers and consumers in mind and come up with new ways to do things that cater to both groups. The WSJ coupon insert seems to be a marriage of convenience for News Corp. They are risking cheapening their high-end brand to bring high-end consumers to a low-end product. They are taking a risk and I hope it works for them.

Source: Ives, Nat. “Coupons Come to The Wall Street Journal”. August 12, 2010.