A little more than a week ago, I spoke as guest of Better Homes and Gardens to a group of marketers and media planners in New York City. For the weeks leading up to this presentation I had been collecting examples of how magazine publishers are adapting to the new world of digital content and meaningful advertising. What I discovered is that despite the predictions that the magazine business is fading, there actually is an incredible rebirth of the medium going on.
First let me call out that this breakfast at Better Homes and Gardens is itself an outstanding example of Marketing with Meaning. Along with my speech, the magazine brought in Robert Levy, who shared insights from his group’s most recent study of consumer habits and attitudes around new products. The magazine provided valuable, free content to the marketers that it works with—in a way, investing in their careers, rather than just giving them cheaper ad space. This is a lesson in B2B marketing that I wrote about several months ago here.
One of the most remarkable examples I discovered was the December 2009 issue of Food Network Magazine. As described in this article at Talk Back Media, much of the advertising in this issue offers added value content. For example, an ad for Hillshire Farm and Hamilton Beach had tear-out recipe cards, and an insert from Viva paper towels included tips for keeping the home clean. These are great examples of Meaningful Solutions.
I also dug into the archive for an example in which Wired magazine partnered with Xerox to create a limited number of magazines with actual subscribers’ faces on the covers. The experience was tied to an issue focused on digital personalization, and allowed Xerox to feature its new small-batch printing equipment. While it was a great opportunity for those who got their own covers, there were a lot of people like me who were disappointed because of the limited number Xerox made.
One of the great lessons here is that some of the best magazine marketing occurs when an advertiser dedicates a significant portion of their budget with the specific title and builds ideas together. This flies in the face of the traditional media approach, in which agencies come up with the ideas, and media buyers seek out many titles and the lowest possible ad rates. With a partnership, the magazines can bring much more creativity into the marketer’s business.
It reminds me of when I was launching the Mr. Clean AutoDry Car Wash business for P&G in 2003. I met with the leadership team of Motor Trend and we put together a deal in which we agreed to a year of back cover ads at a reasonable fee. In return, our product was used and reviewed by its editors, and received a “Motor Trend Approved” endorsement that we used on our package. This helped us get over the main barrier to purchase—that car guys would not believe our product actually allowed a car to dry without spots. I recall many discussion boards around the time of our marketing launch where guys said, “If the people at Motor Trend say it works, then I believe it.”
In the future, smart magazine publishers would be wise to insist that their advertisers be more meaningful, and consult with them to help them succeed. The reason is that the ads are part of the reading experience, and the more valuable the entire reading experience is, the more people will subscribe. It will take a publisher to show some guts for this to happen, though.
Although these examples show that meaningful marketing can find a home in magazines, it is interesting to wonder whether or not market shifts could make advertising a lot less important to content makers like this. Overall, advertising is a “necessary evil” to publishers. Their desire is to make a magazine that people love and choose to subscribe to. Advertising makes up for the difference between subscriptions and the cost to publish the magazine. But what if new devices such as Kindle and the iPad, and new payment schemes that allow a cost-per-article revenue model, end up making the quality of the content the driver of business? Imagine if magazine publishers could get rid of the advertising sales department and just make great content? It might seem like a long way off, but if I were starting a magazine today, I would try to figure out how to build a business that doesn’t even require an advertising model.