26/10/15

5 reasons why The Economist’s subscription campaign continues to be a success

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Sense Board Account Director Sally McLaren reveals why offering insect ice cream to City workers is going so well.

It started off as an experiment. Some 15 months later, The Economist experiential subscription campaign is still going strong, having gone global, generated more than 13,500 subscribers and £1.1 million worth of value, with a return on investment of 191%. From its initial launch in the City of London, it has been rolled out across 10 countries spanning four continents.

The concept seems almost too simple. Take a key topic from the pages of the renowned weekly newspaper, use it to strike up a conversation with workers on the streets of the City of London as an introduction to inviting them to sign up for the latest subscription offer. So what has made it so effective and enduring to such an extent that The Economist is increasing significantly its investment in experiential marketing? Here are five key factors behind its success:

1. An original on-brand creative idea
It’s important that the creative concept behind a campaign is true to the brand being promoted. Sense worked closely with The Economist to come up with a theme that would reflect the newspaper’s image of tackling challenging socio-economic issues head on. ‘Discomfort food’ was chosen, with the latest campaign addressing how eating insects could help to solve the growing world food crisis. The delivery was relatively simple and highly cost effective as it involved a small team of brand ambassadors manning a traditional bicycle-drawn branded ice cream stand offering people free insect-flavoured ice cream – and it really engaged the public’s imagination, proving to be a great way to introduce the subscription offer.

2. Clever targeting
Choosing a theme that reflected the editorial policy of The Economist also helped to narrow down the target audience of the campaign, while the central business district location ensured a high footfall of people working in finance. The Economist isn’t GQ or Grazia – it aims to provide mind-stretching journalism that can really challenge readers’ views. But challenges have their rewards, so rather than shrink from this issue, the campaign played with it. Engaging potential subscribers with something interesting, but not everyone’s cup of tea had the effect of ‘pre-screening’ the more reticent reader, while tacitly flattering the more daring and intellectually curious, letting them know that they could be the type of person who might enjoy The Economist.

This mini “personality test”, subtly played, had the potential to marry what the newspaper is really about with people who would benefit from it. This way, those taking up a subscription would be more likely to stay on board beyond the 12-week offer period. And this has been proved by the average retention rate of 60% across the life of the campaign, which is on par with other acquisition channels.

3. A good deal
Everyone likes free stuff, and the offer of complementary ice cream certainly attracted attention, even if it did contain whole insects. But this, of course, was only a taster (pardon the pun). It was also vital that the subscription offer was good enough to ensure people thought they were getting a good deal. In this case, it was £12 for a 12-week subscription to The Economist, with everyone signing up receiving a previous copy worth £5. This was enticing enough for 30% of everyone approached to take up the offer – an excellent hit rate for such a campaign.

4. Well trained ambassadors
An experiential campaign like this, which requires engaging the general public in conversation, is only as good as the promotional staff or brand ambassadors who are managing the activity. Not only do they need to be warm, friendly and polite, but they also need to be clearly briefed on both the subscription offer and the story behind the insect ice cream – in this case how eating insects could help to solve the world food shortage. It’s also vital for the team on the ground to be able to talk knowledgably about The Economist.

5. Flexibility
The simplicity of using the ice cream bike supported by iPads, which provided a mechanism by which people could sign up for a subscription online, made the campaign not only cost effective, but also highly portable. This has enabled the activity to spread globally with minimum effort and expense, and be used in a variety of environments from outdoors in busy cities worldwide to relevant trade shows and events. Finally, the fact that the issue chosen as the focus of the campaign was human and culturally neutral meant it was not restricted by race, religion or culture, increasing its flexibility and reach.

Essentially, as Marina Haydn, The Economist’s Senior Vice President of Marketing, has been keen to point out, the campaign “spoke to the right audience in the right way”, and it’s fitting that she has the last word: “We are looking to reach new readers with a progressive psychographic profile, and this discomfort food strategy, based on Economist content, is a surprising recipe for success at home and abroad.”

 

Sally McLaren is board director at real world marketing agency Sense.

This article appeared in What’s New In Publishing.

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