Getting new subscribers – words that matter

I remember the very young girl I was, doing an internship in London in an advertising agency in 2004. The day I turned 18, my father celebrated with me this coming of age and — while eating a greasy fish and chips — told me jokingly about the bad stereotypes advertising suffered from. Better work anywhere than in an ad agency!

Yet I was already too attracted by it, and my interest for the meaning of words and their power has only grown ever since.
As marketers in publishing, we mostly focus on selling subscriptions. And most of our subscription campaigns look like this:

Unlimited access to the website
+ Morning newsletter
+ Available on all devices
+ Newspaper edition available the day before
1$ for the first month

Charming, isn’t it?

Why should we be exempted of looking at words and their meaning? Is our audience so cunning, so clever that we don’t need to think about what we’re selling them? That we don’t need to think about their money’s worth? Why shouldn’t we strive to make our audience dream and build an image that would link their aspirations to the work of editorial boards?

Imagine an ad for Nike trainers that would say — instead of the famous Just Do It:

Trainers in plastic
+ laces
+ soles
+ wrapping cardboard
Can be used to go in or out, to the gym, in the forest
Approximate duration of one year, 89$

Obviously, I took the example of the greatest motto in advertising history. Let’s take an example closer to us: The Economist.

This campaign was launched at the beginning of 2020. I am unaware as to whether the marketing messages available on their website were rewritten at the same time or if both were independent. Anyway, look at the difference it makes to read in a paywall:

  • Subscribe to read the full article and
  • Choose us for news analysis that respects your time and your intelligence.


There is also this great campaign about habits, done for FT Weekends:

Naturally, expensive advertising agencies worked on these concepts and all media companies don’t have the financial means to do this. Yet the lesson here is to think about who you are, what you’re selling, for what purposes and for whom, and thus think about your values and your vision.

The answer isn’t hidden somewhere in a consulting deck — it’s with you, with your journalists, with your founders.

  • Reopen the Wikipedia pages of your title, and remember why the media was created 10 or a 100 years ago
  • Find the editorials of the first issues, and the mottos used at the time
  • Interview your editors-in-chief, and organise brainstormings
  • Launch surveys to understand why your readers have chosen you : what they expect from you, where they find your worth.

You’ll find gems that will help you launch campaigns at the heart of the matter, rather than a simplistic and off-putting list of what a subscription entails.

Lastly, here are three recent campaigns that we liked, because they convey something to their readers – they speak about community, specificity, or identity of the media:

Translation of the image on the left corresponding to GQ magazine. The copy reads “Thanks for all these advantages. It’s a pleasure to be a member of the GQ Club. Claudio”.

The middle image of The New Yorker reads: “Access every story and every cartoon – anytime, anywhere.”

Translation of the image on the right corresponding to the French newspaper, Alternatives Economiques. The copy reads “Alternatives Economiques is one of the very rare media to belong to its employees and readers. Keep up to date with news thanks to a media that belongs to a billionaire to its employees”.


Marion Wyss

Co-fondatrice d'Underlines, Marion a travaillé pendant près de 15 ans pour des éditeurs de presse en ligne, du magazine ELLE à L'Obs. De 2017 à 2019, elle a été Directrice numérique déléguée de l'hebdomadaire économique Challenges, et du mensuel Sciences et Avenir.