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Gimmicky Magazine Ads Aim to Grab Page Flippers

Next month, Rolling Stone and Us Weekly magazines will feature a new ad from the WB network that readers will have a hard time ignoring. Headlights on an illustration of a car will flicker as music plays and characters from "Supernatural," a new drama on the WB, offer sound bites about the spooky program. The ad represents "something that is not just going to sit on your coffee table," says Lew Goldstein, co-president of marketing for the Time Warner Inc. network.

Readers have long been able to shun magazine ads by simply turning the page. But advertisers are seeking more ways to command busy consumers' attention in the digital age. "Ink on paper really doesn't cut it when everyone has cellphones, Game Boys and Internet interactivity," says Tim Clegg, chief executive of Americhip, a Torrance, Calif., company that helped to devise the WB inserts.

Advertisers are increasingly creating print promotions designed to stop readers in their tracks. A recent issue of Time Warner's People arrived in mailboxes featuring a replica of a bottle of PepsiCo's recently introduced Aquafina sparkling water constructed partly out of bubble wrap. "Bubbles are more fun," read the ad, crafted by Omnicom Group's BBDO.

Other promotional inserts have included a sound device that played music to tout "The Sopranos" in Time Warner's Entertainment Weekly. The August issue of Lucky, a shopping magazine from Advance Publications' Condé Nast Publications, contains a page of stickers presented by DaimlerChrysler's Jeep, that say "Yes!" and "Maybe?" Readers can use them to tag items while they shop. Foldout posters from McDonald's and cardboard coasters from Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light have also appeared on magazine pages recently, as have promotional CD-ROMs for programs such as "Over There" on News Corp.'s FX.

"We can't afford to have people just flip the pages and keep on flipping," says Robert Schulman, a senior vice president of Cheil Communications America, Samsung Electronics's ad agency. If advertisers can conceive something that causes readers to pause, he says, "it makes a huge difference."

Magazine readers have long had to contend with subscription cards and perfume strips, and even the occasional pop-up ad or giveaway. But this new spate of ads, which must be inserted into the magazine during the printing and binding process, lends a more active sheen to the typically passive magazine ad.

The bulky ads are being encouraged by magazine publishers eager to show advertisers that old media can compete with new media as a showcase for their products.

At Premiere, the movie magazine owned by Lagardère SCA's Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., publisher Paul Turcotte says he is open to the idea of including a small bag of bite-size candies or popcorn kernels with an issue. The effort would give more value to readers, Mr. Turcotte says, like "a prize inside a box of Cracker Jacks."

To accommodate these new ads, magazines are steadily putting more pressure on their production staffs and printers. "When you get into real three-dimensional products, that's when you start scratching your head," says Eric Blohm, director of direct marketing for closely held Quad Graphics. The commercial printer once turned down a request to include a small vial of baby oil in a run of magazines. If the vial had cracked during printing or shipping, the reader would have ended up with a soggy periodical.

"It just gets more difficult as these things get funkier and funkier," says Mike Riley, executive vice president, sales, at printer Quebecor World.

Some hurdles are inevitable. While newspapers can be bundled with food and other bulky product samples because they are often hand delivered, magazines are sent through the U.S. Postal Service, subjecting them to more restrictions.

For example, Cheil developed a magazine insert ad for Samsung televisions aiming to show a life-like TV picture of the outdoors. When the reader opened the ad, a powerful pine smell wafted through the air. The smell was "just a little too strong on the evergreen," says Tony Catalano, vice president and national sales director for Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. The postal service informed Hachette that the scent's strength exceeded regulations, so all parties had to "dial back" the aroma before the ad appeared in subscriber issues of Premiere and Elle Decor.

Extra printing and postage costs are usually part of the equation for such advertising, and publishers say they pass those off to advertisers. The total cost of a particular ad varies widely, depending on the project's complexity, weight, assembly requirements and other factors. The most stunning tricks can run advertisers as much as a few extra million dollars, says Paul Caine, People's publisher. In some cases, advertisers limit their costs by distributing the promotions only to subscribers, or even subscribers in certain geographic regions.

Magazine owners and advertisers have to consider whether a CD tucked into a binding might crack, or whether a new piece of advertising will cause slowdowns on the printing line. At Entertainment Weekly, which has put pieces of rope and a tea bag into its magazines as parts of ads, director of production Carol Mazzarella gives insert ads "as much stress testing as possible." Staffers will hurl a bundle of magazines from a high roost onto the floor to make sure something won't break, she says. It's also important to make certain a magazine will still fit into a mailbox.

Such obstacles don't seem to curb magazine publishers' appetite for the new gimmicks. "One of the key people on our staff goes out virtually every day to advertisers with two suitcases of samples of product that we would love to get into a magazine -- like flip books," says Paul Caine, publisher of People.

Despite the challenges, there isn't much room for error. "When you are talking about a product that is distributed en masse, then stacked, then shipped, then restacked and then sold, brought home, opened and read, it has to be a perfect consumer experience every time," he says.


Brian Steinberg, The Wall Street Journal. August 8, 2005

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