Anirban Roy Choudhury

Hindustan Times takes a jibe at TV news; flaunts new avatar

First, it was the Times of India. And now, it is the turn of Hindustan Times to roll out its marketing blitzkrieg.

Newspapers have their back against the wall. The chips are down, but the market leaders have now put their foot down, saying, "down, but not out." After the Times of India's 'Want my paper', it is now the turn of Hindustan Times to roll out its marketing blitzkrieg.

The English daily has relaunched itself by sporting its old masthead in a new avatar. The HT Media Group has just released a video featuring a young woman. She is narrating a powerful monologue to explain how news, primarily on television, is mundane and assaulting the thought process of the common people.

"It's an all-new digital-first avatar," said the company in a statement. Hindustan Times, with a legacy of over 96 years and a total readership of eight million across India (TR, IRS Q4 ’19), is HT Media's flagship brand, with a strong presence in northern India and Mumbai.

The redesign is the group's attempt to address the multi-platform shareable news consumption habits of today’s generation, particularly the millennials.

"The refreshed HT product portfolio, including HT City and Brunch, is replete with elements that offer seamless print to digital integrations. It gives the readers more than what is available on just the print medium via QR codes, video pointers, links to podcasts and photo galleries that direct the readers to HT’s digital platforms to experience, engage and express more," stated the company.

The new design elements include a new logo and the tagline 'First Voice Last Word'.

"'First Voice' alludes to its digital-first agile approach, always the first to raise issues facing the citizens today. The 'Last Word' captures the essence of journalistic excellence associated with a credible, trusted and respected news brand," said the group.

News consumption in India is at an all-time high, owing to the Coronavirus pandemic and also the repeated high-decibel debates around Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput's death back in June. HT's brand film takes a not so subtle jibe at TV news, which KV Sridhar, global chief creative officer, Nihilent Hypercollective (he was CCO at Leo Burnett and SapientNitro too), defines as a "mockery of journalism." The video emphasis on keywords like secularism and religion to establish its unbiased attitude.

The Hindustan Times edition, August 15, 1947
The Hindustan Times edition, August 15, 1947

"The new logo is the old masthead that Hindustan Times had. At a time when the television channels are running behind TRP, it is a good strategy to go back to basics, and talk about credibility and clarity," adds Sridhar.

However, he feels Hindustan Times has "missed out" on an opportunity. "Whether it is the Times of India or The Hindu or Guardian for that matter, all of them did path-breaking advertising when they had something strong to say. Mumbai Mirror's 'I am Mumbai' is a great example."

'Pops' KV Sridhar
'Pops' KV Sridhar

The mind behind the Mumbai Mirror ad Santosh Padhi, CCO and co-founder of Taproot Dentsu, has a different view on HT's new logo and appeal. He feels that the new logo is like many other newspapers in the world.

"I genuinely feel the old one was far more minimal and appealed to a larger audience, especially the youth. The San serif modified font was ageless and had certain distinct identity and throw. The blue colour in the masthead, which is also a colour of knowledge, stood out in their category, where most owned red."

Hindustan Times before the relaunch
Hindustan Times before the relaunch

"I would have loved the campaign to openly talk about the change of masthead with the changing times or whatever their reason or new positioning/philosophy is. This is trying to talk about many things, including a dig at TV, etc., which I thought diluted the single-minded messages. At the end of the film, I don’t know how different HT is compared to any other newspapers," added Padhi.

Santosh Padhi
Santosh Padhi

Sridhar is of the view that the film, though (it) had a strong intent, failed to deliver because of the way it was shot. "Question marks and Xerox machine, it felt like they didn't have much money left."

"It's not a bad ad…" Sridhar feels strategically it is a brilliant move, but it lacked gravitas, "Here's a schoolgirl standing up on a stage and then speaking about such heavy things. It sounded a little frivolous to me. Maybe, they should have put a little more gravitas to the words and thought of doing it in a way that's far more riveting and made every man, woman, and child in the country sit up and take notice of what's happening with the news today."

Navin Kansal, chief creative officer, 21N78E Creative Labs, has a view that contradicts Sridhar's. "Roping in a spoken word artiste, like Aranya Johar, brings in more authenticity to the narration. It has the potential to create cachet with the digitally savvy 'millzy' generation, for whom print may not otherwise carry much heft."

Navin Kansal
Navin Kansal

He finds the ad relevant and refreshing. "With its 'First Voice Last Word' proposition, it seems to have hit the right notes. It takes on electronic media and its all too familiar penchant to masquerade debate-filled opinions as news across either side of the ideological divide."

The former national creative director of Indigo Consulting (Leo Burnett) and executive creative director of Grey Digital, Kansal identifies himself as an avid HT reader. "I personally find the new layout quite appealing, in terms of its visual aesthetic and HT’s intent to bridge the physical-digital divide."

A lot of the marketing blitzkrieg from print publications across India is aimed at getting back on track. In 2019, print was a Rs 29,570 crore industry that secured a five per cent year-on-year 'de-growth'.

Advertising revenues fell by five per cent in 2019 as ad volumes fell by eight per cent, and government business, which comprises 26 per cent of the total advertising, did not live up to expectations. Thirty-eight per cent of India reads news publications that attracted advertising money worth Rs 20,000 crore in 2019. Apart from ads, print companies conducted over 3,000 events to rake in ticket sales and sponsorship revenues.

The outbreak of the pandemic has derailed the economy. Hindustan Times' parent company HT Media's total income in the quarter ending March 2020 was Rs 300 crore. Then came the lockdowns, which disrupted the entire supply chain, and the quarter ending June saw the total income drop to Rs 96 crore.

Raman Kalra
Raman Kalra

Raman Kalra - Partner/Leader - Entertainment, Media & Sports Advisory, PWC, believes that though the industry has not yet reached the pre-COVID levels, it is in a far better position than, say, three months back. "India's growth story for print in the next three to five years will still be intact."

Many print editions from legacy brands, like The Hindu and India Today, have discontinued. "Eventually they have, or will, come back. As an industry, print will continue with its survival journey," Kalra asserts.

He believes that the government's 'Vocal for Local' initiative and the MSME push will create a lot of demand for local advertisers, where print can play a larger role. About the rebranding exercise, Kalra sees it as an attempt to announce its existence across all the platforms. "Every news house will try to build stronger integrated digital properties," he concludes.

Abid Hussain Barlaskar and Shreyas Kulkarni contributed to the story.

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