Stay Clear of the Newspapers (The TOI vs The Hindu)

One of the great abilities of a successful advertising campaign is to knock a serious bias in the consumer’s head. We live in a world where almost everything is made in China and the only difference between Apples and Berrys is the mind space they occupy.

Recently, a lot of ink has been shed on the duel between 2 seemingly unique publication brands, The Hindu (polite applause for the one with the oiled hair and side parting) and The Times of India (shrieks and screams, women falling over trying to touch the one with big arms and chiseled abs, of course he’s not wearing a shirt).

Contrary to popular belief one would observe from the ad sequence above that it was TOI who threw the first punch. Except that it slipped off the oily head of the rival who was not going to take it lying down. At home turf, it decided to hire the best in the business to land its own blows.

When O&M created this series of ads mocking The TOI and its readership, there was a crunch sound in Benett Coleman’s ribs.

Joono Simon, Executive Creative Director, O&M, said, “The Hindu has always stood for in-depth, substantive journalism. Though the brand has always been slotted in a well-defined space in the minds of the consumer, there was a need to articulate it sharply, especially in the context of the growing competition. Also, the environment around us is constantly changing as the notion of popular culture is vastly different from what it was a few years ago. All this demanded a fresh interpretation.”

Ok, well said, except, the success of this campaign then is either an accident or a blatant lie. What Joono is doing above is spelling out the brief he received from his client. The final output though seems more a result of something that would have sounded like this:

“The TOI is the largest publication in India, they’re scary not just because of size but also because of their brand of sensationalization which is now popular all around the country except for amongst some commies and those watching the History Channel and World Movies. We have a legacy and have done our best to honestly report things that matter, but we’re getting this sense that people don’t want to hear any of that. So now we’re worried sick as the filth of Bennett Coleman is creeping our backyard. We’ve heard you’re brilliant spin doctors, do something about it”.

The result was these:

The irony is that these ads went viral on Facebook, to such an extent that TOI had to deliver its own low blow attacking the The Hindu CEO (it’s in the body copy J ):

As a side note: Copywriters all around India are having a go at their ADs and CDs – “Look! pure copy ad”.

So amongst this engineered disorder we decided to go read the newspapers (both of them. phew!) to understand the products and see if these claims hold any weight. Actually, TOI we just looked at.


What makes most people pick up the paper every morning? Number of things in different parts but the front page obviously ranks the highest as you see it first and it’s supposed to literally wake you up. Many would argue the editorial. Don’t judge a book by its cover be damned whatever is really important should ideally make the front page. Some would also say (in private) the supplement. To that lot we’d politely say, Yes, we’ve seen you in them.

From purely a marketing point of view though TOI does 2 things really well, the front page and the supplement. With this hypothesis we compare fighters pound for pound over the period of this hype.

31st Jan

TOI The Hindu
Main Story (brand of reporting) Punjab polls (moderate and easy to consume) Punjab polls (direct and attacking)
In other News Sharukh Slaps Farah’s Husband, Jadeja to be IPL’s next million dollar Top IAS officer held in Emaar Scam, Tata to brew Starbucks in India

There is no doubt that on reading The Hindu you get a more real picture of what’s going on but the problem is that the reality is so depressing and the generation of readers so frivolous that if we were to choose between the two images below a very significant majority will choose the tuxedo boys.

The Hindu must take a bit of the blame here. I mean the old woman looks like she’s being thrown out of her house when in fact the highlight is that she is extremely old and still voting.

1st Feb

On this day, Hindu’s ads must have been at their viral peak. TOI aware that a layman’s hypocrisy will get the better of him, and they might get judged for being a mere reflection of their reader. A sucker for sensationalism. So  it decided to dress up a bit like The Hindu.

And we felt it was a good day to observe the standard front page layout:

TOI The Hindu
Layout 4 panel layout 3 panel layout
Headings 5 headings visible on the top fold front page 3 headings
Ancillaries Quote, Sensex, Weather, Bit sized news to be cont. inside Bit sized news to be cont. inside
Advertising Top Pannel, Bottom right None

It’s quite clear that The Hindu is a better NEWS paper, but it’s equally crystal why TOI has the better subscription numbers.

3rd Feb

By now both parties conscious that  every move they make is under scrutiny. However, none alter the core product much. What TOI does is launches the rebuttal seen earlier in the post. Yes, the cheap shot at the CEO.

It also does this(below) to ensure that it can work with a 3 panel inside –

It’s one of those days when The Hindu does its versions of Delhi Times. The only worry being it looks like a poor famished country cousin. With due respect “Upanishad Ganga” vs “Terminator and Sunny Leone”. Guess who won?

In the sports section The Hindu insists on reporting squash while TOI lets us know that Sania Mirza is going to shift her focus to the doubles event, accompanied like always with a pic. where her bosoms are at the highest point they can be at while hitting a fore hand.

The Editorial

What do these observations mean for The Hindu. In one word – Presentation.

With the new CEO at helm here are a few solution nuggets that can make a difference if they want to move beyond Chennai-

1. Aesthetics & Design

A great campaign does not guarantee you market share. A desirable product backed with a great campaign does.

The Hindu is well rounded when it comes to content. What it needs to do is focus on functional design to give it the edge. The paper quality for instance is better even in college weeklies. The photography can be at best described as wedding like.

2. Online

The Times of India made this entry early. The Hindu also has a presence but compare it with the likes of The Guardian, Washington Post and The New York Times and you feel our lot of have a distance to travel. It shouldn’t be news for those in the business of intelligence that most young people consume all their info online.

I have to confess if not for this post, I would have gone ages without reading a paper. I must assure you though that i have not been reading their online versions either. But I don’t feel ill-informed, and Hindu’s pot shot at TOI is at best an MTV like exaggerated vox pox.

If they or any publication worth their salt want to compete they must do it with an online strategy.

3. Reader Friendly

However, if they insist on being in the flimsy paper format they must suit up. If it’s the young you wish to acquire and influence, a basic understanding is paramount. You can’t possibly look like Amol Palekar and expect Duggus fans to follow you. Mind you there are plenty of them. Doesn’t  matter how that makes you feel.  The choice is yours, you can leave them Duggu worshipers at TOI’s mercy and make ads taking no responsibility yourself.

Tangibly -> How about summarizing TOI style. How about info on the weather and sensex.  How about a contemporary comic strip?

4. Advertiser Friendly

We live in a material world and socialist ideals have a place only in the most diluted form.  Now for a publication that started way back in the 19th century with a right wing name the best you can do is drop the holier than thou attitude. Not saying be blatant with advertising but there are ways of making it an intriguing even subtle proposition.

If you’re having trouble we could help you with it, or you could ask O&M to give you a wax.



2 thoughts on “Stay Clear of the Newspapers (The TOI vs The Hindu)

  1. A very well thought out analysis. Congratulations!

    Agree the Hindu has the perception of being more intellectual, and is probably is. And i loved its rebuttal ad. But truth, like u said, is that the young lot (my generation) prefers being informed about the tuxedo clad millionaires more than the old woman voter with a harassed face.

    Hindu must not compromise with its intellectual perception, but they can definitely focus to acquire the youth market with some neat campaigns that need not necessarily be dumb.

    Posted by manurawat | February 6, 2012, 8:08 am
    • agree, and that’s the thing you can buy great campaigns if you’re a good product but not the other way round. TOI has been doing good campaigns for years but this hits the nail because it appeals to the shallowness in us consumers. It shows on us and that’s probably the reason for its success. Imp. The Hindu sorts out other issues we’re attempting to highlight here..thanks for the response 🙂

      Posted by thinkrasta | February 6, 2012, 2:59 pm

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