The War of the Print Media: A Second Look

Stay ahead of the times is the mantra that The Hindu has imbibed in its so uncharacteristic direct assault on the tabloid and gossip mongering The Times of India. While I was all smiles over the ad, reactions have been pouring in ever since the TVC's went viral over the Internet. So what do the netizens have to say on the ad campaign? Starting on a positive note, the advertising circuit has lauded the marketing chutzpah of the Hindu for proving that it's a paper that talks sense over gossip. R. Sukumar, journo for The Mint, writes ' is good to see the paper becoming aggressive about what it does and, more tellingly, what it thinks of The Times of India's style of journalism.'

The ads weren't without their criticisms though. Some staunch Hindu followers feel the counterstroke is demeaning the paper and is out of character with its personality. An article which I read recently in Business Standard (Knocking the Competition, which appeared in its supplement The Strategist yesterday) goes on to say that the comparison should have been on real product differences and not on the user imagery.

The Hindu ad makes the Times readers look stupid, which is pure hara-kiri. Hindu readers could be smiling and nodding (like me!), but the readers of Times, specially the younger generation portrayed would hate Hindu for life. Though I concur with the views on the brand comparison, stating that the younger audience would hate it for life sounds quite stretched. My own office discussion forums were teeming with posts on this topic. While most of my colleagues favoured Hindu over TOI, some valid points were raised (highlighted in the forthcoming paragraphs). As an ad that makes the consumer rethink his media choices, and switch to a smarter paper, Hindu may have hit the bull's eye, but will the ads alone be sufficient?

Sukumar, in his piece, exercises a word of caution and tells that such an aggression may be a little late in coming given the fact that TOI is the most widely read newspaper in the nation with a readership of close to 74.67 lakh while the Hindu lags behind with 21.69 lakh. However, down south, Hindu scores over TOI by a margin of 8 lakh, and Chennai unsurprisingly being its biggest market. However TOI's foray into its bastion last year has put the Hindu's dominance in an awkward position and with the former now beginning its circulation in Kerala as well, the paper has all the reasons to go all guns blazing. I must admit I was a tad condescending towards the Times as such, but you got to hand them for their pan-India news coverage which the Hindu severely lacks.

While it's coverage is excellent in Tamil Nadu and Kerala predominantly, other states, especially in the north, don't get the same treatment. A comment in the Wall Street Journal's India edition goes:
The Hindu is Indian Cricket Team…best in its home turf (Chennai/TN)… and not so good in other locations! TOI is an IPL team… only entertainment.. no real stuff…

Post the Hindu's ad campaign, many a people commented about switching to the Hindu rather than reading such low-brow trivia. While it's too early to comment on the ads' success, it is nonetheless safe to assume that people are willing to try the Hindu, provided it gives them the opportunity to do so. Then, is there any truth in the ads released by TOI? The answer is tricky. Many people, especially the youngsters, refrain from reading the Hindu mainly because of the reason it's synonymous for - the English language (despite a decline in its standards in recent times). The articles in the paper border on inscrutability at times, not to forget the editorials.

The same articles on TOI, on the other hand, tend to be more accessible without all the embellishments, thus giving them an ammunition to hit out at the Hindu for putting readers to sleep. Hindu therefore faces another challenge, where it will have to attract the present day youth, at the same time satisfy the readers who revel the language in its news items. A tough tightrope act! With the recent editorial shake-up, things seems to be changing at the Hindu. Siddharth Varadarajan, who has taken over from N. Ram, mentioned of local news getting a prominent coverage in the newspaper, which is definitely a step in right direction.

Following a report on WSJ, it has also decided to revamp its ad policy. A full front page ad placed in the its Delhi edition (that too on Jan 1st) carried a sycophantic message from Congress politician and Tamil Nadu businessman Vasanthakumar (of Vasanth & Co.) extolling Sonia Gandhi, telling her that her followers were ever at your feet. On receiving complaints from the readers, Varadarajan took to Facebook to term the ad as atrocious and said that in future the paper wouldn't be used for such crass commercialization. All the same, it's surprising that a paper founded 130 years back doesn't have a proper ad policy in place. While it's understandable that ads are the main revenue sources, both Hindu and TOI can take a leaf out of Deccan Herald, which comparatively puts up a fewer ads on its print edition, making reading a much more pleasant experience.

So will these ads translate into more subscriptions for either of the two newspapers? In a time when Internet is taking over print medium, this tussle between the papers is a question of survival. And so far, the only evident clues seem to be the increasing number of likes on the Hindu's Facebook page and the number of Twitter followers, which has seen an upward spike from 32,000 to 37,500 over the last few days!