‘News is seen as a duty’: how The Guardian’s partnership with Howatson+Co aims to challenge news fatigue in Australia

At yesterday’s Mumbrella Publish Summit, Jocelin Abbey, head of growth at The Guardian and Chris Howatson, founder and CEO of Howatson+Co discussed how their partnership has bolstered the progressive spirit of the publication and helped disseminate its content to more Australians, who as a population are experiencing widespread ‘news fatigue’.

Last month, The Guardian Australia launched its first-ever brand campaign as part of a multi-year growth strategy, produced by Howatson+Co with OOH partner JCDecaux.

Speaking at the Mumbrella Publish summit in Sydney yesterday, both Abbey and Howatson elaborated on the distinct purpose of the project, which aimed to communicate the core heartbeat of the publication – that ‘News needs a guardian’ – through ‘organic content discovery’ facilitated in a dynamic OOH campaign targeting a projected 5.2 million Australians.

The project was inspired by a need to address the ‘news fatigue’ faced by Australians, who widely view news consumption as a chore and have become increasingly cynical of publications. Research conducted by YouGov for Guardian Australia earlier this year revealed that 82% of the population believe that media ownership influences the content that’s published – fomenting a broader aversion to news consumption given contents’ perceived dubious objectivity.

“I think as an industry, we’re facing some really significant challenges outside of the economic head headwinds we’re all facing. Trust in media is decimated. I think everybody is really aware of that as an issue – 60% of Australians don’t trust the media. We’re dealing with news fatigue. So about two thirds of Australians actually are fatigued and avoid news, and that is a massive issue for people who are trading in news. You know, news is seen as a duty it’s, it’s something people have to do to stay informed,” Abbey said during the panel.

“It’s not something that’s light and and entertaining. So for us, being aware of that, and being able to embrace the distinctive attributes that people come to, both at The Guardian as well as the broader news industry is incredibly important.”

“We have to look at how we have to expand outside of that 25% of Australians we reach really regularly, to be able to supercharge growth,” Abbey added.

“Our challenge was essentially to bring The Guardian to new audiences who might not see it. We’re seeing a shift across the Australia of not relying on aggregated sources, but going directly to the masthead.
And so our challenge was not just to show up in those aggregated places, which is happening extensively through the deals that the guardian are doing, but how people know what The Guardian stands for. The core purpose of advertising is to give people comprehension around a product or a service. And so this was to give comprehension to an audience that didn’t already understands what The Guardian is,” Howatson said.

In light of this objective, the premise and conceptual meaning of the ‘News needs a guardian’ tagline was explored, with the two discussing the actual meaning of the tagline as well as the strategy utilised to project its essence in a way that drove the publication’s growth and brand awareness.

Two reels were showcased in the talk, both products of the collaboration between The Guardian and Howatson+Co. Each reel embedded a progressive ideological focus on a prescient movement that’s been dominating the news in the last 24 months – the first centred on Australian womens’ right for gender equality, featuring seismic historical moments that altered the course of the movement in this country.

The second – which was played twice as a testament to its profundity – centred around the Black Lives Matter movement in Australia and its impact in light of decades of lobbying and struggle for Indigenous rights. The reel featured clips from moments in Australian history like Kevin Rudd’s apology address and Eddie Mabo making his way to the High Court, in addition to emotive imagery that highlighted the essence of the Guardian ‘brand’.

Originally, the reel was presented to the Indigenous leaders that drafted the Uluru Statement of the Heart, who Howatson said were “brought to tears” by the clip.

The out-of-home campaign produced by Howatson+Co reflected that focus on some of Guardian Australia’s core editorial themes: the fight for progress in women’s equality, Indigenous rights and the climate crisis.

“Integrating Guardian headlines into the daily routines of Australian news consumers will not only improve their commuter experience, but it will address the growing demand for independent, fact-based reporting, and scale access to it at the same time,” Abbey commented at the time the campaign was announced.

Commenting on the growth seen so far at yesterday’s panel, Abbey said: “We wanted to see an increase of 20% from a brand awareness perspective. We’ve seen about 8 or 9% since launch, which was the 17th of July.”


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