From 1990 to 1995, as the Los Angeles Times celebrated its 110th anniversary, the paper saw its circulation sag along with that of the rest of the newspaper industry. Analysts speculated about the industry's long-term viability, intimating that changing lifestyles and push-button media would hurt America's newspapers.
In the midst of this dilemma, Times management made a commitment to growth and hired DDB Needham Los Angeles to help formulate its 1996 marketing campaign.
Substantial research was reviewed. Times segmentation research identified readers who gave the paper high ratings overall and identified topics that were of interest. Surveys detailed why readers subscribed or stopped subscribing, while focus groups gathered data about various editorial features. One consumer barrier always stood out: People said they had no time to read.
But media data showed that this busy target audience somehow squeezed in several hours of television viewing. Our DDB Life Style Study showed that infrequent newspaper readers did not lead such harried lives. And historical research said the lack of time was just an excuse.
In planning sessions, these contrary observations helped us stake out a simple, intuitive premise: People make time for things they enjoy or feel are important. They did not have a few minutes to spend with the Times because they preferred doing something else.
We envisioned consumers facing a key moment of truth every morning. As their personal clock ticked away, we imagined them asking themselves whether there was anything in today's Times worth a few spare minutes.
These people also believed the Times excelled at precisely what interested them. So, we wondered, what was it like to learn you just passed up exactly what attracted you to a brand in the first place?
To find out, we conducted one-on-one sessions. Consumers looked through issues of the Times they hadn't read, noting whether they found anything of interest and how missing it made them feel. The consumers surprised themselves. They found many items typifying exactly what they liked about reading the Times and were sorry they had missed it.
Our interviews also identified themes that separated the merely interesting articles from those that were "can't miss" reading because of their captivating angles, emotions and experiences.
Based on our planning, our brief demanded that ads contain real Times content demonstrating what readers could miss at each moment of truth.
The "Cliffhanger" campaign uses Times articles and photos to tease captivating stories that are cut off at a pivotal point. The campaign urges consumers to "Get the story. Get the Times."
Television commercials abruptly go blank, while radio ads stop in mid-sentence. Billboards have holes where panels were removed, while newspaper ads and posters are printed with an apparent rip across them.
As a result of an integrated marketing program, including pricing, telemarketing and advertising, Times circulation jumped 4.7 percent, creating the largest gain in newspaper circulation for any U.S. newspaper.
Jeffrey S. Klein, SVP, Consumer Marketing
Kay Heitzman, Dir., Consumer Promotion and Marketing
Maria Kretschmer, Marketing Group Mgr.
Ed Batson, Dir., Marketing Research
Peter DiChellis, Dir., Planning and Research
Rick Carpenter, Chief Creative Officer
Allen Hannawell, Senior Copywriter
Rick Casteel/Rick Carpenter, Art Directors
Tom Lehr, Management Supervisor
Robin Burns, Account Supervisor
John Wells, Account Executive
Nancy Strohm-Klein, Media Director