News conversion therapy: Newshub converts a 1 News follower in latest campaign

Chris Jennings has been a 1 News man all his life, a habit he inherited from his father when he was growing up. It was forged as an evening tradition with the family quietening down so that his father could get a handle on what had happened during the day.

In this context, it’s quite unusual to see Jennings appear as the face of a new campaign for the sworn enemy of his father’s chosen news provider, Newshub.

The primary spot in the campaign tells the story of how Jennings agreed to participate in a social experiment, which would require him to watch Newshub rather than 1 News for a week to see if it could perhaps persuade him to shift his viewing habits.

MediaWorks creative director Ant Farac says he wanted to do something different from the standard self-gratifying promo reel that often accompanies news shows.  

“We could’ve gone come out with another promo saying, ‘We’re the best, we do the best news, we have the best journalists’ and all that sort of stuff, but I think stories resonate more with people,” Farac says.

Farac openly admits that the approach could’ve backfired—and he must’ve been nervous of things going pear-shaped early on given that Jennings didn’t exactly embrace the channel from day one.   

As Jennings says during the two-minute clip: “After day one, was it working? No. After day two, was it working? No.”

What’s interesting is that these negative moments aren’t edited out; they’re left in the video seemingly to remind viewers that they shouldn’t judge the channel on first experiences. 

In fact, it was only after day three that Jennings says he started to find the content relatable enough to enjoy.

MediaWorks marketing manager Rebecca Saunders says this gets to the core of what the new campaign is trying to achieve.

She says it isn’t enough to just get people to switch over once, it’s about ensuring that they don’t revert to the viewing habits they have formed over years or even decades.

Farac elaborates on this point by saying that changing entrenched consumer behaviour is particularly difficult when you don’t have a price to lure them in.  

“With banking or insurance or anything like that, it’s always easier to get people to try something if you offer them a lower price point or a lower interest rate, but in our business it’s more difficult to do that.”

People also tend to be a lot more protective of their attention than their money. Something as simple as a cheese on a toothpick continues to have the power to persuade a consumer to hand over hard-earned cash for a block of ridiculously over-priced cheddar they haven’t bought before. But the same rule doesn’t apply when it comes to how people spend their time.       

“The dial is stuck for a lot of people,” says Farac. “They go, ‘this is what we do, this is what we’ve always done.’ All the people we spoke to had a very similar pattern. In fact, one funny thing that Chris said was that when he started watching, he felt like he had his dad in the room, saying ‘What are you doing? Why are watching Newshub? Turn it back over.’ There was a guilt factor to his viewing as well, which is a bit weird.”

This weirdness is a staple of the human psyche and is core to writer Daniel Kahneman’s theory that many of our decisions are made on an unconscious rather than rational level. 

We might think that we’re choosing to watch a certain show because it’s objectively better than another, but quite often it’s simply because of any of a number of social pressures that have pushed us in a certain direction. Chances are that quite a few of us have a father (or mother or sibling) sitting in the back of our minds recommending what we watch.

Newshub will hope that as the new campaign rolls out across television, digital, radio and outdoor, a few viewers will be pulled out of their inherited inertia and flick the switch to Newshub. But even if they do, will they last the three days to break the habit?

Real numbers or hyperbole?      

The campaign concludes with a promotional statement that Newshub is “New Zealand’s number one news source”.

Asked to justify this statement, Saunders says it’s derived from 3 million people Newshub reaches across all its channels, including TV, digital and radio.

Television and digital stats certainly do provide an indication of how many people are engaging with Newshub given that the viewership stats in these channels are based on which specific programmes are being watched. But the same cannot be said of radio. The radio stats are based on which station is being listened to, which means the engagement is measured in terms of the Newshub segments that punctuate the radio shows across the MediaWorks portfolio.  

This 3 million claim was further accentuated in a promotional trade email, which goes into further specifics detailing that 47 percent of the Newshub TV audience were in the 25-54 demographic compared to only 25 percent for the opposition.

TVNZ head of news and current affairs John Gillespie expressed his frustration at this interpretation of the numbers, saying that they amount to “fake news”.

“Newshub is selectively cherry picking audience statistics to flatter its news performance,” Gillespie says.

“Newshub claims a higher proportion of 25- to 54-year-old viewers than 1 News, but conveniently ignores the fact that 1 News’ average daily reach among this same age group is 37 percent higher. When it comes to total viewers, the 1 News average daily 6pm audience is 946,000 vs 420,000 for Newshub.”

Gillespie’s argument is that that the use of percentages rather than actual audience numbers creates the perception that Newshub’s television audience in the key demographic dwarfs that of TVNZ.

“The only redeeming aspect of Newshub’s marketing claim is that it loosely correlates with its TV audience performance – half the truth and half the audience,” he says.  

“It’s one thing to gild the lily via its reality TV shows, but to extend this approach to news brings Newshub’s credibility into question.”

NZME has also been approached for comment. 

It would appear that there’s still some bite left in the news hounds across the commercial divide.     

Campaign Credits:

Creative/Director: Ant Farac
DOP: Hamish Wilson
Marketing Manager: Rebecca Saunders
Brand Manager: Rachel Langford
Photographer: Stephen Tilley
Graphic Designer: Kristina Payapaya
Post Production: Mikee Carpinter
Producer: Natalie Wilson 

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