Friday, March 26, 2010

In new ads, USA Today fires at rival; is NYT next?

[AdWeek banner tackles famous WSJ feature; see arrow]

Gannett's flagship is now taking on The Wall Street Journal via a series of ads in AdWeek and other trade publications -- and the paper isn't holding back. In a banner ad I saw recently, USAT not-so-subtly takes a dig at one of the WSJ's most famous daily features: "Heard on the Street," a column and related stories closely read by Wall Street investors because its exclusive news often moves stocks.

As the NYT Co. rolls out a brand-awareness campaign of its own, I expect to see USAT's focus shift to The New York Times, too.

The USA Today ad is part of its new campaign focused on potential advertisers, one that emphasizes the paper's populist position in the market. The paper's line: USAT's more general readership isn't so taken with inside-baseball accounts of, in this case, the stock market. "What's heard on the street doesn't matter," the ad says. "What they really want is Money."

That, of course, is USA Today's Money section, which emphasizes personal finance, consumer technology and well-known retail brands: the public face of U.S. business.

But the USAT campaign isn't risk-free. In distancing itself from harder-edge coverage like "Heard on the Street," the paper may draw unwanted attention to its reputation in some quarters for being too lightweight. That could backfire among potential advertisers seeking better-educated, more affluent readers. The Gannett paper's ad revenue remains under pressure, so this campaign's success ultimately depends on whether is spurs more sales.

It's no surprise that USAT is gunning for the WSJ. Under new owner Rupert Murdoch, the paper snatched the No. 1 circulation title last year, bolstered by its hundreds of thousands of paid online subscriptions. The Gannett paper is left promoting itself as No. 1 in print, a difficult sell when online is where the action lies.

Now, the Journal is beefing up its sports reporting, too, a key franchise for USAT. This week, The New York Observer reported that the Journal's sports reporters are getting on-the-road credentials to cover New York area pro sports teams like the Mets, aiming for human-interest features beyond game scores, a hallmark of USA Today's well-regarded sports reporting.

USA Today's campaign also comes as the NYT is similarly engaged in a full-bore trade marketing effort of its own, largely targeted at the WSJ, but with collaterall fire for USAT, too.

[Image: today's WSJ, Newseum]

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