How Trome’s ladder brand strategy made it the world’s largest Spanish-language newspaper


A bar graph of Circulation of Trome, 2001-2013
A bar graph of Circulation of Trome, 2001-2013

In much of the INMA network worldwide, the focus is on big news brands producing life-changing, business-building journalism that transforms democracies and speaks truth to power.

Yet among the other 99% of news publishers worldwide, the challenge is simply how to connect relevant content with relevant audiences being disrupted by digital technology.

In my recent travels, I got to know about a newspaper that didn’t exist 12 years ago but today is the largest Spanish-language daily newspaper in the world at 702,000 circulation.

The newspaper is Trome, a popular tabloid newspaper in Peru that has connected an emerging lower middle class with a brand that speaks its language and exudes its vibe.

As a product, Trome might not translate well to an international audience. The content is tame, local, family-oriented, and conservative – maybe even safe, as many local community newspapers can be.

Three magazine covers published by Trome.
Three magazine covers published by Trome.

Yet what does translate is how a newspaper that struggled out of the gate found its footing and created a new reader market of enough scale to break the unwritten rule that advertisers don’t want C and D demographic audiences.

Lima is a fast-growing city, with a population rising from 4.8 million in 1980 to nearly 9 million today, mainly driven by a rural-to-urban migration. The Lima I knew from the mid-1990s, with machine gun-armed security guards and crammed 1950s school buses masquerading as public transportation, is mostly gone today. It has been replaced by shopping malls, flashy hotels and casinos, and more. Chaotic Lima is still there, but the rise in financial fortunes can be seen everywhere.

Three seperate images of families reading Trome publications.
Three seperate images of families reading Trome publications.

Three notches below the glitz are the first, second, and third generations of migrants who are traditionalist in mindset, have money for the first time, and are still getting accustomed to their new urban surroundings.

Grupo El Comercio launched Trome and its stable of popular newspapers in 2001 as a reaction to the dominance in this slice of the market by EPENSA. In its first four years, Trome struggled to find its voice, as defensively launched products often do.

In most parts of the world, a “popular” tabloid means a product that features nudity, sex, blood, crime, and other titillating features that connect with working-class people – especially men. The Peruvians call this genre of newspaper “chichas.”

Yet a bit like the Daily Sun in South Africa and the “quality popular” newspapers in Brazil in the past decade, Trome became the right product at the right time, connecting to an emerging demographic and re-defining the market. Whereas most markets are calcified, the stories in South Africa, Brazil, and Peru are similar in that market leaders took advantage of the market’s fluidity, seeing trends before others did.

What clicked with Trome, over time, was that success in the rapidly rising social classes of Lima and Peru was the role of women in buying and engaging with the newspaper. It had to be “popular yet familiar.”

In Peru today, 80% of newspapers are bought by men, yet 90% of households are run by women. So if you can’t bring the newspaper into your house, then the woman won’t ask for it.

In their formative years, Trome executives stumbled on data showing content such as beauty and health started making Trome “more wanted” by women. In turn, their female audience wanted their kids reading Trome and, more specifically, that means help with homework and not games.

In 2001, Trome’s content pillars were shows, entertainment, sports, and local news. In 2013, it has added sections for family and school.

All of these insights did not happen overnight. They emerged from relentless research by Trome, a cultural commitment from a company that is otherwise a lean operator.

Cover of a Trome publication advertisement in Spanish.
Cover of a Trome publication advertisement in Spanish.
Trome became more and more aggressive with promotions that targeted the low-C/high-D demographics:

  • Its biggest success has been a “Winner Phone Call” promotion, in which a code appears in the newspaper, the reader calls in to register, and US$200 in cash is given out per day. Trome generates 60,000 calls per day with this promotion.

  • A coupon promotion requires readers to fill out coupons included in the newspaper to one of 40 drop boxes throughout Lima for the opportunity to get a kitchen, refrigerator, blender, and other household goods. Keys here: This demographic didn’t have a kitchen seven years ago, so this bleeds into the aspirational aspect of the brand and the idea that the woman runs the household.

  • The prizes in all of Trome’s promotions are evolving with the times. It’s not enough to give away DVDs and plasma TVs, as most people have these. Now Trome is offering to “pimp up your house” by giving away bricks and cement. In the C and D demographics to which Trome aims, people build their own homes and neighbours help!

In short, the ethos is “Trome: It only costs 50 cents, but it gives you so much more.”

In Peruvian culture, corruption is rampant. People know this instinctively. It’s so pervasive that most believe you don’t get what was promised. So every winner of cash or prizes is photographed at Trome (they must come to the office to claim their prize) – money in hand, proof that Trome’s word is solid.

Augmented by family-friendly events and parties, Trome has become a low-cost (US$0.20), value-for-money, trusted brand for a rapidly rising demographic riding the wave of Peru’s economic surge the past decade.

Two pictures of crowds at Trome events.
Two pictures of crowds at Trome events.
I would even go so far as to say that Trome is a ladder brand. The brand itself serves as a ladder for D demographic people to reach C demographics … and C demographic people to aim higher. Maybe, in a second generation of readers, they graduate to the mother brand quality daily El Comercio – but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

While 80% of Trome’s readers are CDE demographics, 20% of readers are in the AB demographic, so perhaps the idea of “graduating” isn’t so likely.

And now advertisers are jumping on the bandwagon. Whereas my experience with popular tabloids worldwide is a business model of 30% advertising and 70% circulation, Trome gets 53% of its revenue from advertising. This is a relatively recent phenomenon, as a leading supermarket, bank, and home center have helped make it cool within the agency community to advertise in Trome.

Trome executives see upside in the brand despite the sky-high numbers. Circulating 501,000 copies in Lima today, they could see 20% headroom. Meantime, there is upside to today’s 201,000 circulation outside of Lima, but that is tougher to quantify.

This is a long way from Trome’s first-year circulation of 49,000 and even its Year 7 circulation of 245,000, after which executives found their formula and connected with their C and D audiences, both in Lima and Peru’s provinces, to get to today’s 702,000 circulation figure.

As for the inevitable question about Trome’s digital strategy, Peru’s reality in 2013 is almost all about print – especially in the demographic to which the brand aims. Yet that is starting to melt, with 85% growth to in the past year, albeit from a low base.

If I were to simplify Trome’s success, based on many conversations during my visit, it would be this:

  1. This is a story about syncing an audience to a brand.

  2. Content is an important part of the story, but the shaping of the brand values and voice is more important.

  3. In this case, promotions really matter in the conveyance of brand values relative to Peruvian society.

  4. An intense commitment to research revealed the essence of working class households and the vast sway of women in interactions with Trome. That insight drove strategy.

Trome’s journey to becoming the world’s largest-circulation Spanish-language daily newspaper took it past Clarín in Argentina and El País in Spain, which are very different publishers with very different brands for very different markets.

Connecting the right audience with the right brand conveying the right vibe at the right moment is publishing nirvana. Trome found that formula in Peru.

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