Australian tabloids be warned, print in the mother country is setting a “sorry” precedent.

British tabloid the London Evening Standard launched a unique campaign Monday apologising to readers for its “previous behaviour”.

The electronic billboard campaign on buses and at train stations by American marketing giant McCann Erickson, includes the slogans sorry for losing touch, for being negative, for taking you for granted, for being complacent and for being predictable:

Watch footage of the billboard at Canary Wharf here.

The advertisements do not depict the Evening Standard masthead, instead using their Eros logo.

Polling commissioned by the paper suggested that the Standard’s diminishing circulation was based on waning public interest in content.

Roy Greenslade outlined the aims of the campaign in his Guardian blog, saying newly-appointed editor Geordie Greig is seeking to “shut the door” on the newspaper’s sensationalist history through a series of messages beginning with the word “sorry” and a relaunch of the title itself next week.

As Greenslade put it, “The market research evidently discovered that Londoners considered the paper to be too negative, not celebratory enough and guilty of failing to cater for the capital’s needs.”

“Greig’s response to the findings was to deal with them head on. He takes the view that the only possible way to win back readers who have deserted, and attract new ones, is to be honest and admit to previous failings.”

Commentators have tipped the paper to head in a less politically biased and more locally focused direction.

How successful the campaign will be for the ailing paper is yet to be determined, but, three days on, advertising commentators and agencies are giving McCann Erickson’s work mixed reviews.

Today’s Guardian reports the apology might do more harm than good, with Mark Hunter, the outgoing executive creative director at News International’s former ad agency Euro RSCG, arguing that many readers may not have realised there was any problem at all with the Standard‘s content.

“I think they may have created a problem that doesn’t exist. I read the Standard and I don’t think people generally have a low opinion of the editorial of the paper,” Hunter said.

The Evening Standard came to international attention earlier this year when it was purchased by Russian billionaire and former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev for one pound on January 21.

Lebedev has consistently said he would not be dictating editorial content or the paper’s political stance. Last month he told the London Financial Times he wanted to watch the paper’s rebranding but not take part directly.

Lebedev said, “It’s an interesting challenge which I will be watching very intensely — I don’t think I could be of any use myself, but I am just interested — whether you can, not relaunch, but reshape it in such a way that it becomes much more interesting and attractive in coping with life in one of the most huge and culturally important cities in the world.”

Greenslade says the sorry messages are likely to offend previous Standard editor Veronica Wadley, who was replaced by Greig in February after seven years at the tabloid’s helm.

“She will view it as an attack on her editorial approach,” Greenslade said.

Peter Fray

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