"There are no grades of vanity, there are only grades of ability in concealing it"
Mark Twain (American Humorist, Writer and Lecturer. 1835-1910)
You, Too, Can Grace a National Magazine's Cover
By CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH
IN the old days - say, maybe a month ago - a "customized" magazine meant that it had ads tailored to your age group or articles about your region. Now, it seems, it has your picture on the cover, too.
A personalized version of the July issue of Wired magazine.
In its April issue, Wired magazine, in partnership with Xerox, invited subscribers to upload their photographs to Wired.com. The first 5,000 who did so are now receiving their July issue with themselves as the cover art.
Not coincidentally, the editorial theme of the issue is the growing personalization of all things in cyberspace, and the headline over the photo is "You are here."
Wired, which is owned by Condé Nast, publicized the promotion to its subscribers via e-mail, magazine inserts and on its Web site. And while the Xerox name is not on the covers themselves, the promotions and Web site made clear that the project depended on software from Xerox and the company's iGen3 110 digital production press.
Neither Xerox nor Condé Nast would disclose costs, but since neither had to farm tasks out to third parties, both say it was not very expensive.
"We didn't make money on this, but it really didn't cost anything," said Drew Schutte, vice president and publishing director of Wired Media.
Which was probably a good thing, since neither company expects to get an immediate rush of sales from the do-it-yourself cover. Wired aimed its promotion entirely at people who already subscribe. And those people tend to be "younger, male and affluent," according to Mr. Schutte, which means they have probably not risen high enough in the corporate ranks to where they can authorize purchases of expensive equipment.
But new sales were not the immediate goal for either Wired or Xerox. Both companies are looking to update their images.
In Wired's case, that meant integrating - or rather, re-integrating - the way it markets itself. In 1998, five years after Wired first started publishing, Condé Nast bought the magazine and Lycos bought the Web site. Lycos, and thus Wired.com, has been through a series of ownership changes since then.
Last July, Condé Nast bought the Web site from Daum Communications, its last owner. It created Wired Media and gave Mr. Schutte responsibility for integrating all of Wired's offerings.
Wired will sponsor a science show on public television this fall, and it is working with a homebuilder in Los Angeles to build a green "wired" home. And, of course, it is trying to draw more traffic to its Web site.
"We're going to give our advertisers the integrated, turnkey solutions that they want," Mr. Schutte said. "But if we're going to create buzz for an advertiser, we want to create buzz for ourselves as well."
So the Wired marketers suggested the collaboration to Xerox. Xerox had done 70,000 personalized covers for the December 2006 issue of Graphic Arts Monthly, in which it printed subscribers' first names as stars against a night sky, and their companies' names on a rocket ship. But that cover used the Graphic Arts database; a reader-generated cover represented uncharted territory.
"We jumped at it, we loved it, it clicked immediately," said Joanna Havlin, a partner in Media Edge: Cia, the media planning and buying unit of WPP that represents Xerox. "It was a way to showcase Xerox as an innovator, a technology leader and a document solutions provider."
It could also help Xerox bury a stereotype. What was once its greatest blessing is now a lingering curse - the name Xerox was so linked to stand-alone copier machines that a whole generation of people used it as a lowercase verb.
These days Xerox sells all sorts of copiers and printers that can be connected to networks, as well as software and services that allow publishers to print books on demand, banks to personalize bills inserts - or, of course, magazines with personalized covers. But the Xerox name is not at all synonymous with those activities.
With this promotion, "Xerox will get to demonstrative an inventive, fresh technology, and it will get a halo effect just by linking itself to a young, edgy brand like Wired," said Allen P. Adamson, managing director for the brand consulting firm Landor Associates.
Granted, few Wired subscribers are likely customers for an iGen3 production printer, a heavy-duty piece of business equipment. But that does not bother Xerox. Indeed, Xerox has been a regular advertiser on Wired.com for more than two years and for even longer in the magazine. For the July issue, it bought the back cover on all the issues; in the 5,000 customized ones, it took the inside front and inside back covers, too.
"The Wired audience is savvy and forward thinking, and even if they are not yet buyers, they are influencers," said Barbara Basney, director of global advertising at Xerox.
Xerox and Wired are also doing some direct influencing themselves. At the March convention of TED - the annual Technology, Entertainment and Design conference attended by high-ranking executives in the advertising and printing world - they set up a booth at which attendees could have their pictures taken. Each will receive a personalized July issue of Wired. They also printed covers for David Letterman, Katie Couric and other television celebrities who could possible mention it on their shows.
And, of course, they reached out to reporters at business publications that reach a wider audience than Wired. "One reason to do an inventive campaign is to get the press interested, since they will write stories that reach the people who make the buying decisions," said Ran Kivetz, a professor of marketing at the Columbia Business School.
Nor is the promotion over when the last July issue is sent. For another two months, anyone can upload a photo to Wired.com, write a headline, and print a personalized cover at home (or e-mail it to friends or post it on blogs or MySpace pages). Xerox, meanwhile, is already working out details with Time magazine's Canadian edition to gives its subscribers a chance to get their September issue with a personalized cover wrapped around the regular one.
All of which raises a question that even the smartest brand specialists or technophiles cannot yet answer. If your cover is on a national magazine, but only on the issue you receive, does that qualify as your 15 minutes of fame?