Toronto Star

Helping a progressive icon re-establish their voice

Brand Strategy
Positioning and promotion

The Toronto Star is a lot of things to a lot of people. But this ‘big tent’ strategy of catering to all interests and segments became less effective in the subscription era, as high-quality free alternatives like the CBC began to reinvest in their news desks and occupy the middle. Instead of going after centrist readers the Star needed to double down on a younger progressive base.


The Toronto Star is undergoing a multi-year transformation, from a primarily print based publication funded by advertising, to a multi-platform news destination, supported by digital subscriptions. Across the industry, the key challenge is getting people used to paying for digital news. For decades digital content was given away for free, ensuring readers became accustomed to seeing news as a commodity. When paywalls went up, users migrated en masse from paid to high quality free sources like the CBC. In a mature category with less than 1% growth in the past 15 years, modern paid publishers must differentiate their version of news against many free alternatives.



What made the Star unique? Last click data on the articles that preceded a subscription, showed that it was topics that aligned with the Atkinson principles - social justice, watchdog journalism, standing up for the rights and dignities of those on the margins - that were driving subscriptions. We also learned that is was younger, more diverse and urban segments that were subscribing the most.

Instead of going after everyone, our strategy was to double down on the base. We would distill and articulate the Star’s Atkinson Principles in a fresh and relevant way; for a new generation younger and new Canadians. That meant purposefully avoiding ‘journalism’ speak - language that often alienated and kept younger readers out.


Perspectives from
every part of town

Toronto. A working experiment in how different beliefs, lifestyles, and backgrounds can live together, not apart. No other publication in the country understands it like us. We put more reporters on the beat. We bring more perspectives to bear. Through our news coverage, we capture the different images, sounds, tensions and flavours that makes this city what it is.


Bringing the public into the debate

Most politics are designed to keep people out. That’s why, from City Hall to Rideau Hall, we bring our readers inside the corridors of power. We help them understand the facts, factors and competing factions that shape the policy decisions that effect us all. Our dispatches are digestible, readable and jargon-free, so more Canadians can engage in the politics that will shape our cities and country.


Strong views on the
day’s most pressing issues

Opinion columns at the Star serve three purposes. First they make sense of the news, helping our readers understand not just what happened but why. Second, they critique and they challenge the powerful, holding politicians, organisations and companies to account. Finally, they often take a stand; advocating for an ideal, striking out against injustice and fighting for the lot of others.


Exposing the institutions
and systems that cause harm

Investigations at the Star uncover stories that serve the public interest. This means bringing new facts to lights. Facts that are often hidden - intentionally. These stories take time, resources and journalists who follow the trail wherever it leads and wherever it takes. Many of these stories have, through the outrage of our readers, led to enduring change in our community.


Dispatches from the city’s affordable housing crisis

There are two competing visions for the city of Toronto. One, is a place where people from all backgrounds live, work and play together. The other is a city of have’s and have nots, where people increasingly live apart. The Star’s housing coverage recognises the severity of the crisis we are in. Our reporting gives a voice to the people fighting on the front lines for more affordable and liveable spaces and to the people who are effected by it the most.


Frontline coverage from the battle for fair work

For over 130 years, The Star has fought for better workplaces, wages, and workers’ rights. Our reporting has exposed unfair working conditions; our investigations have uncovered exploitation; sometimes, as with unemployment insurance, our unwavering coverage has inspired reform. Our reporting will continue to fight for fair work and find solutions that work for the many, not the few.


Once we had codified the strengths of the brand, we applied those themes and messages across the key areas of coverage. This ensured that while the topics might vary, we were reinforcing a consistent set of themes across every customer encounter.


Our new positioning placed themes like inclusion and social justice back at the heart of the Toronto Star brand.

Getting closer to truth
Our hero spot reminded reeaders of our journalists dogged committment to get closer to the truth. Wherever it leads, whatever it takes.

Asking tough questions
Star journalists uncover stories that serve the public interest. Our new messaging highlighted these stories, asking tough questions about our priorities as Canadians.

Just turn to the Star
In the initial days of the pandemic, our messaging sought to reassure our readers. Later we drew    their attention to the long-stanndinng social inequities the pandemic exposed.


“Creative Business played a vital role in helping our teams think more strategically about protecting and promoting the Star brand across our various touchpoints and channels. A pleasure to work with, they served as a critical ally on our transformation journey. Faisal Siddiqui especially has been a true partner who showed passion for our brand and always remained open to our needs”

VP, Marketing, Toronto Star

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