It wouldn’t be a year in advertising if there wasn’t a stoush about who has the best or biggest offering.
In early 2015, Spark and Vodafone tussled publicly on Auckland billboards, each proclaiming theirs as the largest 4G network.
This battle went on and on, before spilling over into the Commerce Commission and eventually fizzing out.
In 2016, it was the battle of the SUVs as both SsangYong and Mahindra trumpeted their respective vehicles as ‘best value’ on the market.
The complaint by T. Morris summed up his sensible sentiment: “I feel like a broken record here, but 'best value' SUV seems to be being thrown around willy-nilly in the car industry at the moment.”
In both cases, the ASA board chastised the car brands for potentially misleading consumers with the claims being made.
If anything, this was yet another lesson on why using absolutes in advertising is a precarious game to play.
The lessons of prior infringements have, however, fallen on deaf ears and it appears that marketers will continue to step into this space for as long as ads are made.
The annual stoush in this space involves our major news organisations and comes after a series of ads in which Newshub claims to be “New Zealand’s number one source of news”.
Asked to justify this statement, MediaWorks marketing manager Rebecca Saunders said it’s derived from the three million people Newshub reaches across all its channels, including TV, digital and radio.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Newshub’s competitors aren’t impressed by the claim.
NZME managing editor Shayne Currie questions how the organisation has come to the three million reach figure being used to justify the claim.
“Newshub appears to be trying to claim all of its Mediaworks music radio audience in its news audience and also using a monthly measure,” he says.
“If so, that is definitely misleading. This would effectively mean they are saying that someone listening to The Edge music radio station is part of their Newshub audience. NZME wouldn’t claim its music radio audience in counting its news audience. Mediaworks should at least be transparent about how it is conveniently slicing and dicing the numbers to make this dubious ‘number one’ call.”
The frustration from NZME is largely attributable to the fact that it could also make pretty strong claim to being the number one source of news in the country.
With the NZ Herald reaching 425,000 readers across print and 925,000 online on nzherald.co.nz every day alongside Newstalk ZB’s audience of 492,000 weekly listeners, NZME certainly has a strong case for being the number one source of news.
That said, it all depends on what you take into consideration when determining what can be defined as the number one source of news.
If it’s based on reach alone, then Newshub could potentially scrape into contention on the strength of its radio brands.
To compare listening to an entertainment show punctuated by news reports isn’t the same level of engagement with the medium as buying a newspaper, listening to talkback or going to an online news site of your own volition. This isn’t comparing like for like.
It’s also worth pointing out that news is the product of the people working in the organisation. It’s sourced by the journalists on the ground, reporting on the issues that matter to the people. And in this respect, Fairfax could similarly make a pretty solid claim to being the number one source of news in New Zealand beyond the fact that Stuff is the most popular news site in the country. While the organisation might not have the biggest accumulative audience across multiple channels, it does certainly have the biggest spread of local journalists across all the regions.
“Our focus is on how we continue delivering more value to our audiences who engage with us, and as an example, this is reflected in Neighbourly's success,” says Fairfax group executive editor Sinead Boucher.
“The local social network now has a membership base of more than 470,000 of highly engaged New Zealanders and counting. Every day, Neighbourly is growing, and hyperlocal news important to our communities is growing along with it."
It's also worth noting relevance that Neighbourly audience size overtook NewsHub's online audience, according to Nielsen ratings for May 2017.
When the Newshub campaign first launched, TVNZ head of news and current affairs John Gillespie also released a statement pointing out that 1 News continues to have the biggest TV news audience in the country.
“When it comes to total viewers, the 1 News average daily 6pm audience is 946,000 vs 420,000 for Newshub,” Gillespie said.
The impact of this should also not be underestimated, given international studies showing television news served as the main source of information for Americans during the US Election.
The influence of television on an audience that has specifically tuned in to watch a broadcast once again seems in a different category of engagement to someone who has clicked on a website or listened to a quickfire news bulletin.
Given the various possible interpretations of ‘New Zealand’s number one source of news’ it comes as little surprise that the nation’s news providers are taking the matter seriously.
One source has revealed that the matter has even been put to the lawyers by at least one of the media companies.
Of course, a counter-argument to all this is that consumers don’t care and that this is just another example of corporates bickering about inconsequential matters.
But if these discussions don’t take place and if marketing claims go unchallenged, then it will do little to ameliorate the ongoing perception that advertising is just an endless series of half-truths, at best, and lies, at worst.
Newshub chief news officer Hal Crawford has responded to the criticism from his competitors with the following statement: "The beauty of Newshub is that it's truly multi-platform. People listen to Newshub on radio, they watch Newshub on TV and read Newshub online. That combined reach is real. We are publishing and broadcasting news under one umbrella, and the brand unity makes a difference."