In much the same way as cinemas now use the lure of movies to sell popcorn at vast profit, so the World Cup can be seen as deploying football games as a lure to sell enormous quantities of advertising. Which is absolutely fine by me as I find advertising infinitely more interesting than sport. Actually, I find everything infinitely more interesting than sport; but I digress. My point is, to advertisers, the appeal of the captive audience is just as great as the actual event - and no more so than The Sun.
Since Rupert Murdoch bought the paper in 1969, it has successfully positioned itself as a publication with the 'common' touch; very much addressing itself to the male, working class readership. It was the first newspaper to feature a topless woman every day, for instance (thereby becoming rather too 'common' for some observers). As with almost all the print media industry, The Sun's readership has tailed off somewhat since the advent of the internet, but it still holds its own and is easily the UK's most popular tabloid. Unsurprisingly, what with its blokeish connections and avowed popularism, The Sun is very keen to associate itself with the World Cup and England's progress (or lack of it) through the tournament.
So much so that, last week, it produced a special copy of the paper and gave it away to every household in the country.
That is no mean feat. Nor is it cheap. There are roughly 24 million households in Britain. For obvious reasons, this special edition wasn't sent to Liverpool, so let's assume the 22 million recipients claimed by the paper is correct. Even if News UK, the owners of The Sun, cut a deal with Royal Mail, the campaign must have cost at least £10m in postage alone. So, was it worth it?
'This was more a PR exercise than an advertising mission.'
I very much doubt this endeavour increased the paper's circulation greatly. People who buy The Sun are already very loyal, and a large percentage of those who don't, genuinely loathe the thing. A free copy isn't going to change that situation. Then again, that probably wasn't the point. This was more a PR exercise than an advertising mission. And on that level, it worked magnificently.
Radio shows swooped on the subject with gusto. 'Did The Sun have the right to do this?' 'What will you do with your copy?' and so on. Then there was the matter of the politicians. In some wildly misguided and embarrassing attempt to curry favour with Mr. Murdoch, Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Ed Miliband (ED MILIBAND!) were all photographed clutching their free editions. A day later, two of them were forced to apologise for doing so. Terrible publicity for Nick and Ed, but nothing but glory for The Sun. After all, in present circumstances, who would look harshly on any publication which managed to make fools of party leaders?
So, in terms of raised profile and association with the World Cup, the project came off a treat. Did £10m offer value for money? I'd say so. And that is not an enormous spend for The Sun, anyway.
For the record, my copy arrived a day late. What's more, as one of those punters with a healthy dislike of the title, I was more than happy to tape it up and mail it straight back to The Sun's freepost address. However, as I don't much care for football either, I think I can safely say the whole gambit wasn't created with me in mind.
Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger and consultant