The decision to bring back the topless model on Page 3 of the Sun has been hailed as both a successful publicity campaign and a grotesque PR stunt.
So which was it?
The #NoMorePage3 campaigners had barely finished their celebratory glasses of bubbly when news broke that the decision to replace the now-famous “Page 3 model” with TV actresses in bikinis (which to my mind wasn’t exactly a victory for feminism) was being reversed.
I’m not a fan of the campaign, although I can appreciate the oft-brilliant tactics they have used to get this far. I must admit I did feel for them when it became obvious they had been lured into a PR-stunt-shaped trap. But it’s not like we didn’t see it coming -
- The news was apparently first broken by The Sun’s “sister” title; The Times (hmm fishy)
- Publisher News UK have never agreed with the campaign and didn’t do any “soft U-turns” in the run up to the decision. Granted 5 days had passed since a glamour model had appeared on Page 3, but they often don’t feature these days, particularly in weekend editions of the paper. And Rupert Murdoch’s promising tweets of the past were always quickly retracted:
- Their PR man (like him or loathe him) almost courted publicity as he warned people not to read into it on Twitter
- A media storm ensued and yet News UK remained deafly silent, as though a corporation that size would make a monumental decision and not have a comms plan to back it up
- The Sun was in need of some Marketing First Aid…
Probably unknown to most people who don’t read the Financial Times or keep abreast of business news, it had been reported that the paper’s hard copy readers were not following them into online subscriptions as audiences moved increasingly onto digital platforms.
When you look at the fact that it didn’t actually “remove” Page 3 it simply “moved” it to the online version, the publicity plan makes perfect sense. Sure that’s where they wanted readers to go so actually it was a win-win for them, driving online traffic with press speculation and social media discussion providing the cherry-on-top publicity.
The campaigners did a good job of saving face in the aftermath, and in fairness they did benefit from the publicity too. But while the newspaper moves closer to meeting its online subscription targets will the campaigners ever win their battle? Probably. But it’ll be on News UK’s terms - because Page 3 is outdated and not useful to them commercially - and not, disappointingly, because the campaign won the PR game.
I might not always agree with the game or the players, but it was one mighty fine show of tactics to watch.