Reap What You Sow -- UK Papers Will Be Hit Hardest By Brexit Ad Slump

The newspapers that backed Brexit vehemently have been making a lot of noise over the past week about how this shows the continued power of the press. While they have a point, I fear they might actually realise that this is a double-edged sword. No channel stands to lose more in the coming months than print.

Although we have yet to see the four horsemen of the Apocalypse ride in to the UK, as so-called Project Fear appeared to predict, the financial markets have been unstable enough to cause widespread unease. It would be easy to say that this always happens when they get a shock and point out that Britain is not due to leave the EU for at least two years.

However, forget rational cool thinking. This is advertising, and it's always the first thing to go. Marketing Week has published YouGov figures this morning which show that in the first few days after the Brexit result was announced, consumer confidence slumped. Mind you, the reaction to the first few days of meltdown only takes us back to levels of confidence last seen in 2013. So we're not talking catastrophe and it's likely that confidence was inspired by the doom in the national news. 

Nevertheless, we now have a perfect excuse for brands to cut back and they likely will, fearful that fews cars, homes, flights, pensions, tvs and vacuum cleaners are going to be sold over the next quarter, and possibly beyond. Anyone else notice how many brands are having summer sales right now? I'm reliably informed by my head of designer clothes shops bargain hunting -- my better half -- that it's a bonanza time for anyone who wants to stock up on some top branded frocks at everyday high street prices. Whether the credit card bill will confirm this optimism remains to be seen but it's clearly evident; brands are concerned, and they're holding sales far earlier in the summer season than you would normally expect.

Which brings us to the thorny issue of ad cutbacks. Obviously the sectors that will be hardest hit are discretionary spend on big-ticket items. People will arguably be more likely to decide in the coming months that a weekend in Prague isn't at the top of the priority list and the sofa's got another year or so of wear in it. Just look at the shares most heavily hit -- travel, luxury brands, personal finance, construction and property.

I'm going to hang my neck out here, though, and say that digital probably has the least to fear. When you're the guys who can track user behaviour, serve the most relevant ad at the right time and then account for the success of that campaign, it's unlikely that you'll be first in line for cuts. There's huge momentum behind the move into video advertising and consumers switching attention to mobile. So, digital marketing has to be in the strongest position of all channels.

Television is far more likely to be ahead of digital simply because it's so expensive. However, the channel that will really get it in the neck has to be print, doesn't it? It's already been looking like it has lead boots on, as spend plummets through a switch into digital, and the looming recession -- or at least time of unease -- will only add to that. The phrase that you should be careful what you wish for seems particularly relevant. 

Low print sales have already prompted one national to ditch paper. Could further cutbacks prompt another to follow suit? Unlikely in the short term for a national, although highly likely for more local papers that are already being closed down at an alarming rate. The irony, of course, is that the big hitters among the tabloids, The Sun and the Daily Mail, called relentlessly for Brexit. One wonders what they'll think when reporting third-quarter figures later on in the year.

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