Sunday, October 05, 2008

Magazines Get Clever with their Advertising

Magazines Get Clever with their Advertising
By Stuart Elliott
NEW YORK: A financial crisis, two wars, a presidential election - when there is so much for readers to think about, how do magazines aimed at thoughtful readers attract their attention?

In a new U.S. marketing push, one such magazine, The Economist, is spoofing the game Twister, distributing pizza boxes that improbably bear its name and sponsoring a performance of political satire.

Another such magazine, The Atlantic, plans to advertise on the muffin displays in New York City convenience stores, on restaurant menu boards and on the shampoo shelves of drugstores.

The Atlantic is also producing video clips that show what happens when people on city streets are invited to answer questions like "Is Google making us stupid?" and "Why do presidents lie?" - questions that, to make them stand out, have also been reproduced as neon signs.

In seeking readers and advertisers, publications like The Atlantic and The Economist - alongside competitors like Harper's, Mother Jones, The Nation, The New Republic and The New Yorker - have long tried to make up in cleverness what they lacked in wallet power.

The campaign for The Atlantic, with a budget estimated at $1.5 million, carries the theme "Think. Again." The campaign, which will also include a section of the magazine's Web site (, is to begin Monday.

The campaign for The Economist is arriving this week in Philadelphia after stopping in eight other markets, including Boston and Washington. The campaign, with an estimated budget of $5 million, carries the theme "Get a world view."

Both campaigns are indicative of the increasingly unusual efforts by the traditional media to catch the wandering eyes of younger readers as well as younger employees of media agencies who help decide where marketers buy ads.

The theory is that they "should be jolted," said Justin Smith, president for consumer media at Atlantic Media in Washington. "We felt there was a great opportunity, right now, to further inspire our readers and advertisers."

His counterpart at The Economist, Paul Rossi, who is based in New York, echoed Smith's decision to seize the moment, fraught as it might be with uncertainty. "I think it's the best possible time" for a campaign, said Rossi, executive vice president and managing director for the Americas at The Economist. "What we have to say has never been more relevant. We write about the world, about connections between business and politics."

The questions appearing in the campaign for The Atlantic are from articles published in the magazine.

The ads are meant to reach media buyers where they eat, buy takeout food and shop. Those are "places where people's brains are most at rest," said Michael Fanuele, managing director for strategy at the magazine's creative agency, Euro RSCG Worldwide in New York, part of Havas.

The video clips, aimed at readers as well as advertisers, will be available on the Think Again section of The Atlantic Web site, and plans call for additional content to be added monthly.

Previews of the clips offer a variety of responses from the passers-by on the streets. On the question "Why do presidents lie?" the replies ranged from "Why do we let them?" to "There'd be more problems if we told the truth."

The neon signs, which also appear in print ads and posters, will decorate events sponsored by The Atlantic and eventually end up at the magazine's offices. "We hope to keep one or two for ourselves," said Jose Cabaco, chief creative officer for North America at Euro RSCG.

Other agencies working on the campaign for The Atlantic are Cleverworks, for media buying, and the Rosen Group, for public relations.

Several agencies are working on the campaign for The Economist: BBDO Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group, for the creative content; PHD, also part of Omnicom, for media buying; Kinetic, a unit of the WPP Group, for outdoor ads; and Tentpole N.Y. for public relations and events like the satire performance, by the Second City theatrical troupe.

"It's always a good time to read The Economist," said Andrew Robertson, chief executive at BBDO, "but if there ever was a good time to be reading The Economist, it's now."

Originally, the ads run by The Economist in the United States were adapted from a popular campaign for the magazine created in London by the Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO unit of BBDO. Headlines from that campaign - called the "white-on-red campaign" for its color scheme, borrowed from the logo of The Economist - include "Great minds like a think" and Robertson's favorite, "Would you like to sit next to you at dinner?"

The idea behind the British campaign "is that if you read it, you'd be better informed, and therefore more successful," he said, "which evolved into, you'd be better informed, and therefore more interesting."

The new ads with the Twister parody and the like are from the BBDO office in New York, so they will more directly address American sensibilities, Robertson said, and provide "a more specific explanation of what you'll get from reading The Economist."

"If you look at some of the titles that compete with The Economist, their perspective is from the U.S. looking at the world," he added, "whereas with The Economist, the focus is the world view."