Leicester City’s football team recently went from being 5,000-to-one outsiders to the winners of the Premier League. The victory captured the hearts of fans and non-fans alike, providing “fairytale newspaper coverage” for a “fairytale victory,” according to Roy Greenslade in the Guardian.

Alongside the exultant headlines, there were some very clever and funny ads in the following morning’s newspapers. Walkers (rebranded as Winners “Salt and Victory”) played on Gary Lineker’s pledge — made early in the season — that he’d present Match of the Day in his underwear if Leicester won the league.

Captain Morgan declared that for the day there was #OnlyOneCaptainMorgan, with Wes Morgan (in full pirate garb) posing with a football on the rum bottle’s label.

Virgin Media simply declared: “Leicester. Proof the best football isn’t the most expensive.”

Several brands aligned advertising messages with the Leicester City league win.
Several brands aligned advertising messages with the Leicester City league win.

As these examples show, newspapers give brands the opportunity to align their product or messaging with headline news, creating relevant and tactical advertisements, which capitalise on topicality.

Presenting a case study on Scottish Widows at Shift North last October, 101’s Laurence Green verbalised this succinctly. Although not deliberate, Scottish Widows’ campaign happened to be running in newspapers at the same time as changes to pension legislation was occupying headlines.

As Green explained: “Our brand was already where the national conversation was playing out … it was playing out in the national press, especially in weekend newspapers.”

While this was a “completely accidental upside,” there are countless cases of brands intentionally aligning themselves with a national story to great effect.

Take the Queen’s 90th birthday, a story to which some newspapers dedicated numerous pages and pull-outs.

DFS, a brand that has long promoted its British heritage, executed a simple but effective ad, reading “One deserves a sit down,” positioned alongside a retrospective of the Queen’s reign. It was a well-placed and timely ad with a relevant message, aligning DFS with a national event that aligns with its brand identity.

DFS took advantage of the Queen's birthday to place a relevant advertisement.
DFS took advantage of the Queen's birthday to place a relevant advertisement.

From monarchy to mobiles, network Three published a long copy ad last week when the newspapers reported that data roaming charges in the EU are set to be slashed.

Three, which has not charged its customers to use their phones abroad since 2013, ran ads informing readers that a number of network providers will still be charging in some countries. Headed up with “#notcool,” the ad’s clean layout and simple font was contextually suited to a newspaper and allowed Three’s take on the story to be at the news source.

Alternatively, Persil used a press ad to extend the impact of a story that had grabbed headlines a few weeks previously. At the end of March, many news outlets reported that prisoners in the United Kingdom spend more time out of doors than three-quarters of the country’s children. The news was based on a nationally representative sample of 2,000 parents of 5-12 year olds, with the poll funded by Persil as part of its “Dirt is Good” campaign.

A few weeks later, the headline findings were once again in the newspapers, but this time in the form of a Persil ad. It’s a smart example of how a brand can effectively extend a campaign’s presence over a period of time.

Although very different campaigns, all of the above used newspapers to position themselves around a topical story and, in doing so, made themselves part of the conversation.