Wingoism and Zingoism are rampant in the Big Apple.
This city's tabloid arch rivals, The New York Post and Daily News, are locked in a circulation war being fought with bingo-like weapons.
The Post calls its contest Wingo, and some days this week fully half of the front page has been used to hype its game. One day a red-tinted headline proclaimed "WINGO FEVER!" while the News had a black-and-white banner across the front page saying "THIS WEEK WIN $50,000, PLAY SUPER ZINGO."
The Wingo-Zingo rivalry is just the latest of a series of confrontations between the two papers that began in 1976 when Australian publisher Rupert Murdoch bought the Post.
Mirroring the type of journalism practiced by his other successful newspapers in England and Australia, Murdoch's Post features girls, crime and scandal. Now the Post's front page boasts that it is "America's fastest-growing newspaper" with average daily sales of in excess of 800,000.
The Post strategy is to challenge the News on every front. When, for example, the News made the unfortunate mistake of hiring hundreds of new employes and gearing up a whole new organization to publish an afternoon paper called Tonight, the Post simply came out with morning editions. (After Tonight folded last month, the Post quietly dispensed with the final edition with the stock market closing prices.) And while the new, more-sober-minded News has de-emphasized its center picture spread that used to present slices of urban life with an ample share of female pulchritude, the Post has filled the breech with picture features such as last year's citywide search for a "perfect 10" woman.
Similarly, the Post's Wingo is only a single letter away from the News' Zingo.
The Wingo-Zingo feud had its origins last November when The Daily News, its circulation already slipping, sought to soften the effect of a 25-cent price boost for the Sunday paper by introducing a cash game called Zingo.
Murdoch apparently admired his rival's idea. He started a similar circulation-boosting game at his papers in Sidney and London.
According to Post circulation director Martin Fischbein, The London Sun's game is called Bingo and has raised circulation at the world's largest tabloid from 3 1/2 million to 4.3 million during its 13 weeks. (A New York state law prohibits the use of the word "bingo" for a contest.)
In August, after a 40-week run with an estimated average of 200,000 players a week, the News dropped Zingo. But then, according to the News' vice president and marketing director, Les Bridges, "We learned that Rupert was hurrying into New York with Wingo."
Zingo was quickly revived, and the News got a week's beat on the Post, which introduced Wingo this past Sunday.
Both games are similar to bingo. The News comes out with a new game every week with playing cards published in the Sunday paper. The Post, on the other hand, did a single mailing of 6.1 million Wingo cards "to virtually every household within a 50-mile-radius of Columbus Circle" in midtown Manhattan, according to Fischbein.
In New York City, about 10 percent of the contest cards never reached their destinations. "Some were bootlegged," sighed Fischbein, who added, "but then, New York's New York."
The News offers $75,000 in prizes each week, including a single prize of $50,000. The Post publicity emphasizes the total jackpot of $1 million if the contest lasts the full 28 weeks, with weekly total payoffs of $50,000.
Both papers claim the contests have greatly increased their circulations, but it's still too soon to get verifiable figures.
The Post hopes that Wingo will produce such an impressive spurt in street sales that quality retail advertisers -- most of whom have stayed away from the Post because of its emphasis on the sensational and the bizarre -- will find the publication irresistible. "The advertising people are beginning to talk about it," allows Fischbein.