Headlines to stories about the takeover of Jaguar by Indian carmaker Tata bring home the difference between Associated Newspapers’ ‘Mail Today’ joint venture in the subcontinent and the local broadsheets.
While the ‘Hindustan Times’ and ‘The Times of India’ went passively for ‘Tata gets the keys to Jaguar, Rover’ and ‘Jaguar now an Indian beast’, the new tabloid carried a cheeky splash ...’The Empire strikes back’.
Telling the story of its development was Thomas Jacob, a committee member and former managing director of Ifra Asia who now works for Associated in Singapore as its international development director.
But he emphasises that nothing is ever as new as it seems: The London parent ‘Daily Mail’ may have only gone ‘compact’ in 1971, but its roots in tabloid journalism could be traced to 1896 when Alfred Harmsworth had launched the title to “explain, clarify and simplify”.
With women making up more than half of its current 2.3 million readers, the ‘Mail’ was just the model ANL and its partner, magazine group India Today thought might succeed in India’s fast-growing market.
There, attractions included GDP growth between eight and nine per cent, a retail explosion, a young demographic (62 per cent of the population under 32 years-old) and a growing urban population.
“English is also the language for aspirational middle-class Indians,” he says.
And there’s the appeal of growth in ad spend and the huge growth potential offered by a market in which only 117 people in every 1000 read a newspaper. Strategically, Jacob says there was a structural gap in an Indian market dominated by broadsheets which were “passive newspapers of record ... a similar situation to that which existed in the UK in Edwardian times”.
The partnership launched ‘Mail Today’ – an all-colour 48-page morning newspaper with a 110,000 circulation – in Delhi, Gurgeon and Noida last November, just three months after signing a joint venture agreement. Jacob says core competencies come from the London ‘Mail’ and are tailored to the local market, but there is no day-to-day involvement in the operation. “Our role was to bring expertise,” he says.
Initial reactions have been that while it was clearly a different paper with its size and presentation style as key differentiators, the content was not very different from other papers.
Large pictures and graphics explain news, and the reporting style and language are tailored to make consuming news easy ... with a ‘Mail’-style mix of light and shade. The ‘Femail’ women’s section is a regular element and the proportion of entertainment news is high.
Jacob says research showed readers liked the summarised stories, page structure and the quality of print and (high bright) paper. Whether western audiences would react in the same way is another matter ... and the success of the project is yet to be judged.
“It’s a new product and will take a while for advertisers to realise the concept,” Jacob says. “Perhaps a year before they start to take it seriously.” gx