Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Commentary - Prostitution Is Legal

"Asked how he became a writer: In the same way that a woman becomes a prostitute. First I did it to please myself, then I did it to please my friends, and finally I did it for money."
Ferenc Molnar

Prostitution Is Legal
BY Atoosa Rubenstein

Atoosa Rubenstein

Several years ago, during my editor days, I let my American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) membership expire. I had a magazine to turn around and didn't want mom's rules to get between my team and our audience.

I realized the implications of my decision when the press tried to cook up a mini-scandal connecting my withdrawal from ASME to a "back to school" fashion issue where I'd mentioned several of our readers' favorite retailers by name on the cover (implying this was an advertiser-driven move).

The decision was purely editorial (what teenager isn't loyal to certain stores?), but they suggested I was pimping the magazine out. In truth, no money was exchanged. I felt like I'd gotten in trouble from mom--for something I didn't even do.

The puritans should be aware, though, that today this kind of prostitution is legal. Martha Stewart says it's OK--and whom do we trust more than Martha? As has been previously reported, advertisers who buy at least $250,000 of 30-second spots--hers cost an average of $10,000 compared with Oprah's $100,000--get a branded segment with America's favorite homemaker.

Yes, you heard right, you can essentially buy a segment with Martha! But Martha sleeps with the companies Martha wants to sleep with, thank-you-very-much. She claims to only promote products she truly believes in, which puts her at the top of the corporate prostitution pyramid: a woman in charge of her own affairs.

At the bottom of the corporate prostitution pyramid? Magazine beauty editors. (Not all, just most.) These well-paid, well-heeled ladies are shuttled from press event to press event in Town Cars provided by the advertisers (yes, of course I miss it!) to chartered planes to exotic locations - - wined and dined, fluffed and buffed while their corporate pimps look away. Sure, all the fun comes at a cost: Beauty editors just have to put out a little . . . a credit here, a mention there. Though awards await the ones who put out a lot.

The FIFI Award (for the best Fragrance Editorial), the most fabulous prize of them all, is presented at a beautiful gala in front of the entire industry. But even the smaller ones are nice. Every year at the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association convention in Boca Raton, Fla., Revlon (nyse: REV - news - people ) always gives an award to the magazine at each publishing company that gave them the biggest editorial mention of the year.

How's that for treating your girl right? They may not be raking in the dollars like Martha, but positive reinforcement and perks work well at the bottom of the pyramid.

These special relations aren't just taking place in traditional media. Lonelygirl15, as you may know, is a popular video blog. The world initially thought it was the work of a real teenager named Bree, but it was discovered to be a professional production. Well, "Bree" has just jumped into bed with an advertiser: Neutrogena.

And so Bree will introduce a new "friend" to her cast of characters: a scientist from the skin care company. If Bree were a real teen, she'd probably like Neutrogena products. So it's not like she's shilling something random. That would be even dirtier than the already dirty thought of a teenager in bed with a corporate giant. Luckily in reality they're all adults . . . at least the ones performing.

Now meet someone who is taking product placement to the next level: Robert Verdi, a lively television personality who has hosted a variety of fashion and interior design shows such as "Surprise by Design" on Discovery, which was the network's highest-rated daytime show.

At first, Mr. Verdi cashed in on his cache by building alliances with a slew of brands from Panasonic to Oral B. But he saw opportunities to service his high-end clients beyond the television screen. Enter Luxe Laboratory, Robert's new venture.

This will be a luxurious real life (a beautiful 5,000-square-foot space on West 30th Street) and virtual "brothel" for product placements. Robert has created a chic salon where his most stylish friends can meet his biggest, sexiest clients.

It's a place where the participating brands (like Kohler and Smith & Hawken) can entertain editors, celebrities and other style makers--a place to show them new products and seduce them in the comfort of their own bachelor pad . . . Robert's bachelor pad. Lots of brands were turned away. "I only wanted stuff I would put in my own home." He chooses his bedmates, like Martha.

Listen, I don't stand in judgment. I can appreciate the Martha/Robert model. Only sleep with who you like. So perhaps the advice to the bottom of the triangle is raise your standards when you drop your drawers (but perhaps I'm just mad that I bought a mascara mentioned in a magazine that doesn't work very well) or jump into bed with your consumers and you'll see that advertisers will once again pay you, and pay you what you're worth. After all, as cute as you are, they don't like you in that way . . . they're after your audience.

Now that I'm off the street, I'm mostly spending quality time with my audience: smaller, intimate gatherings. Though there's plenty of prostitution in the online world, I don't want to play that game. I don't want to over-promise on my numbers to compete with the traditional world and their inflated numbers and end up working the streets again. I want to organically build a brand by being true to my Alpha Kitties.

The advertising folks have pushed the editorial door in so far that the audience (myself as a viewer/reader included) have fewer and fewer trusted sources. My girls don't necessarily know that prostitution is legal, and like ASME, I guess I want to try to protect them from that reality. You know what they say - - we all eventually turn into our mothers.

Atoosa Rubenstein left the job of editor in chief of Seventeen magazine to start her own digital business and blogs to the delight of her legion of fans at www.myspace.com/atoosaspage. She has also started a consultancy advising companies how to speak to the teen market . Her own digital network, Atoosa.com, will be coming soon.

No comments: