The Times lines up stars for £4m umbrella ad activity

LONDON - The Times is to run a £4m star-studded branding campaign featuring Jonny Wilkinson, Gordon Ramsay, Gabby Logan and Jodie Kidd.

The newspaper is ditching its three-year-old strapline "What's important" in favour of "Join the debate", which will act as an umbrella advertising theme for the brand. Until now, the newspaper has used a product-led strategy to promote its individual elements, such as its football supplement The Game and its compact edition.

The campaign, developed by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, consists of seven ads designed to boost the profile of the newspaper's sport, health and entertainment coverage. The executions feature personalities debating topics related to these areas, such as Ramsay and Kidd talking about cosmetic surgery, and Logan and Wilkinson debating the merits of football and rugby.

The campaign is also intended to broaden the newspaper's appeal among 25- to 40-year-olds. At present, the age of the average Times reader is about 42.

"We want to be more welcoming and inclusive and show that we are about more than business and politics," Andrew Mullins, marketing director for Times Newspapers, said.

"We are a fantastic second-choice paper for infrequent readers and want to convert them so that we are the first choice."

The Times -- which spends £11.6m a year on advertising, according to Nielsen Media Research -- is keen to build on its circulation revival. Sales rose 2.8% year on year in July, the fifth month of growth in a row, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

With the exception of The Independent, The Times' main rivals saw circulation falls in July: The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and the Daily Mail were down 1.8%, 3.8% and 1.9% respectively.

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