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14/05/2009 - par Mark Tungate (tungateinparis@hotmail.com)

I have been keeping a close eye on the Evening Standard – London's evening newspaper – ever since Russian oligarch and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev bought it in January. As you may have heard, Lebedev became an admirer of the paper when he worked at the Soviet Embassy in London in the late 1980s. One of his jobs as an espionage agent was to analyse the British press. As the new owner of the Standard, he promised not to influence its editorial direction.

But I wonder whether he has anything to do with its advertising? If so, he has an apologetic streak. Because the newspaper has just launched a new ad campaign apologising to its readers. Apparently based on a readership survey, the poster ads created by McCann Erickson include phrases such as: «Sorry for being predictable», «Sorry for taking you for granted», «Sorry for being negative» and «Sorry for losing touch». (How English, you may think.) There's no illustration other than a picture of Eros, the famous statue in Piccadilly Circus that is also the paper's logo.

The newspaper's new editor, Georgie Craig, is said to have commissioned the survey that led to the ads. With newspaper sales falling and consumers cuddling up to blogs and social networking sites, the Standard clearly feels it needs show readers that it cares. It wants to get closer to them. And when your new owner is a Russian billionaire, that's probably a good idea.

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