Category Archives: print advertising

Starbucks’ long-form print impression


Centuries from now, if the Internet and all our iPadish digital culture have been destroyed by roving asteroids or neutrinos that heat the Earth’s core, we hope future anthropologists dig up this 28-page mini pocket guide to VIA powdered coffee from Starbucks, because it covers almost all of current Western Civilization. VIA, as you must know, comes in 12-packs of tiny tubes for $9.95 giving Starbucks fans a mobile morning jolt for only 82.9 cents per cup, provided you provide the hot water. This of course is a barrier to entry for coffee aficionados, who are used to dropping about $8 for a fancy java and pastry at the ambient-grooved Starbucks chain. So how can you convince hipsters to get the cheap stuff while not cannibalizing the core?

The pamphlet brilliantly teases with Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced uses for powdered coffee. The Meeting and The Red-Eye for novices (“You think airline food is underwhelming? Try generic airline coffee…”) explain the basics of capitalistic culture. The intermediate Soccer Game, Hotel and Aunt Harriet assess our peripatetic ambulatory relationships. And, our favorite, the advanced Guest Chair on a Late-Night Talk Show (“Wow. You’re culturally relevant enough to be asked…”) shows how we move up Maslow’s pyramid from greedy consumption to book tour self-actualization. It’s humanity writ large, written small. We’re guessing this brochure costs about $1 a pop, but since it’s picked up by only the self-selecting discriminant-yet-cheapo coffee fans standing in line at Starbucks, it’s a solid impression that tempts us to drop $10 on a packet of powdered coffee. Starbucks, all we can say is, nice marketing — and thank you for documenting culture for our children.

Google cancels newspaper print ad program


Here’s a media planning secret: Newspaper advertising is the most difficult, challenging, and time-consuming form of media to plan and place. Most newspapers have unique ad sizes (forcing advertisers who run even regional campaigns to manage 100 different file formats) and rate structures that make the U.S. tax system look simplistic. And deciphering the actual reader demographics has become a nightmare as newspapers try to mask their declining circulations with fuzzy math of passalong readership and “Audience-FAX.

So it’s no wonder Google will shut down its Print Ads program Feb. 28 because sales were not working. Print Ads was a clever idea — in concept, allowing small-time advertisers to place bids on newspaper ads and build simple creative similar to setting up a Google Adwords program. The Google program did not end up achieving a meaningful “new revenue stream” for newspaper partners. Our bet is newspapers fighting falling ad revenues were not interested in giving cut-rate deals to the tiny requests flowing in from Google; Google, on its side, may have found the mind-numbing complexity of newspaper ad buying too problematic for its own powerful systems.

Scientific American’s stunning absence of advertising


It’s hard to believe now but back in 1976 when Rocky came out U.S. moviegoers had never seen film shot with a steadicam. Sylvester Stallone ran up a series of long museum steps in Philadelphia and next to him, behind the lens, the cameraman ran right with him, circling Rocky at the top, swinging the camera fluidly, and audiences gasped. How did they do that?

More recently, filmmakers such as Brian De Palma show off with incredibly long tracking shots, like the 13-minute-2-second opening to Snake Eyes. These flourishes are the film equivalent of an Irish coffee — at first, you don’t notice, and then gradually you smile and get the underlying surprise. Man. That’s a long shot that feels real.

So readers might rejoice to try Scientific American this month. Flip through the first section with ads for ointments and gadgets and suddenly, around page 32, you begin reading great science articles … and articles … that go on for more than 50 pages uninterrupted by advertising. We’re not sure why the magazine would forego so much ad revenue to show off copy. Advertisers would surely pay premium rates to be positioned next to the clutch editorial.

Does blocking off an entire section from ads make the other ads more readable? Do response rates go up in media if readers get a breath of fresh air before the pitches? Dunno. But man. That’s a long shot that feels real.

Reader’s Digest puts on some 2.0 makeup


Reader’s Digest tries to reinvent itself this January as a new, hipper, digital publication. Behold: Cover stories on sex, money and the iPhone.

The current magazine is symbolic of the problems facing traditional print. RD circulation is down to 8 million with an average reader age of 51.7. Its baby boomer core, like those of many other pubs, is gradually moving on to the great physician reading room in the sky.

So new editor-in-chief Peggy Northrop is shaking up the pub in January with revamped sections on health, body, and technology. The editorial redesign still appears to skew to women, who now account for 60% of the RD audience, with “better sex” stories and giveaways such as a year’s supply of free groceries, kitchen remodeling, or a beauty basket. But the January cover shows an iPhone looking all devilish, and come August 2008, RD will actually give an iPhone away. The magazine cover now looks like PC World.

Wonder if kids will buy in … or if moms will just get confused.

SkyMall is the ticket for small inventors


We got a call today from an inventor with an incredible new sports product, but no marketing budget. Our recommendation? SkyMall. You’ve seen the gizmo catalogs on airlines, but what you may not know is SkyMall reaches 1.7 million passengers a day, or 155 million consumers per quarterly issue. And SkyMall seeks “merchandising partners.”

The captive audience is sweet. The demographic profile of passengers flying United Airlines, for example, is 91% college educated (vs. 52% U.S. average), 57% professional or managerial (vs. 23% average), and 77% with HHI greater than $75,000 (vs. 33% average). There are other, more visible ways aboard these planes. Pace Airline Media offers beautiful magazines on United, Delta and U.S. Airways, where advertisers can spend $50,000 to run 1-2 months for about 11 million impressions. But for the small guy starting out, SkyMall is the ticket.

SkyMall screens potential merchandising partners carefully, and offers numerous ways to get in to its web site or airline catalogs. The catch is you have to manage warehousing and fulfillment yourself; Skymall will only run the ad. If you’ve just invented a pop-up hotdog cooker and have limited marketing funds, give SkyMall a ring here.

Newspaper circulations, ad spending continue to fall


More bad news for print. Paid circulation for U.S. newspapers is down 2.6% in the past six months, and Q3 advertising spending in newspapers and their web sites plummeted 7.4%. The trend of consumers abandoning newsprint for web is highest in urban markets, where affluent consumers have greater access to high-speed internet connections. This is somewhat horrific news for advertisers, since the sweetest consumers of all — those with high incomes — are the first off the Print Ship Titanic.

Papers are responding by muddying the metrics, pushing “readership” instead of circulation numbers to try to claim that the average print title reaches 2 to 9 readers. In simple terms, this is a brilliant marketing move … where publishers claim, um, our actual paid circulation is down 10%, but theoretically, those papers are now passed to more people. Uh-huh.

Print is still a viable marketing medium, but the real issue is this: If readers are down, then your ad results will be down, too. The only way to sort through the claims of publishers is to hard-wire measurements from the actual ads. Set up unique 800 numbers for each print ad, track net phone calls, and calculate your cost per inquiry per individual ad. Then, and only then, will you know what is working in your print advertising.

House & Garden magazine folds


In more bad news for print readership, Condé Nast will shut down House & Garden after its December issue. House & Garden was founded back in 1901 by Condé Nast himself, and its demise doesn’t bode well for either shelter magazines or print in general. The magazine targeted women homeowners, and of every audience, women in their 30s and 40s tend to score highest on magazine readership. If Condé has trouble, who else will?

Essence magazine’s 6.8 million invisible readers


Are The New York Times, USA Today, and Essence magazine making up fictional readers? They say it’s not fiction, but simply “pass-along” readership. Critics charge publications are playing with math to try to hide the truth: that many readers are moving online, and as circulations for print fall, pubs will have difficulty defending their ad rates.

Essence magazine is a strong publication and, according to MRI, one of the most popular women’s magazines in the country across ethnicities. A media buy in Essence puts your ad in 1.05 million magazine copies. Which is why we’re disappointed that Essence needs to exaggerate its readership.

The Essence media kit claims that 8 million people read each issue — OK, actually 7.845 million — which is a fantastic concept since Essence only publishes 1.05 million copies. In other words, Essence, to convince advertisers that their money is going further, claims each print issue is read by 7.5 people. To put this in perspective, let’s assume Essence is right. There are 36.6 million African-Americans in the United States. With 8 million readers per issue and 3.2 average people per African-American home, this means that Essence magazine is reaching almost every black adult woman in the United States every month. Nice readership!

Essence is not the only publication to make outrageous claims about pass-along readership. USA Today throws around a total readership number of 5 million, with a circulation of just over 2.2 million (USA Today notes in its fine print that some of the 5 million readers are online. The numbers are hard to parse; USA Today claims 10.6 million unique consumers visit its web site each month, which might break down to 1.4 million readers online per day.)

Most disappointing, even the stalwart, truth-laden New York Times plays with the numbers. NYT has a daily paid circulation of 1.08 million, but claims its readers magically multiply to 4.53 million in total, for a breathtaking pass-along rate of 4.2 readers per copy. Here’s an NYT exec defending such claims during an analyst call in March 2005:

“I think advertisers are becoming better informed in regard to what the circulation analysis means,” Times Chief Executive Janet L. Robinson said. She said it’s important to fully explain to advertisers what circulation numbers mean. “But it’s also very important for us to convert to a readership model as opposed to pure circulation numbers, which we certainly are in the process of doing.”

If all of this smells like fetid equine manure, well, who are we to judge? Sure, newspaper and magazine circulations are off a cliff, but that doesn’t mean that their publishers would stoop to defending impressions by making up a fictional “readership” count, would it? Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. So we propose a fair, mathematically sound solution. Take any print publication’s actual circulation. Multiply it by 5, to factor in all the fictional people who will pass along each copy to their friends. And then divide by 5, to factor out all the people who skip the page where your ad runs.

Google to magazines: You’re dying

Google signaled to the world that print is irrelevant when it announced today that it is unlikely to index the content in magazines. Jens Redmer, director of Google Book Search in Europe, said, “Magazines describe a trend at the time. A historic book has more valuable information…” and cited “technical issues” as making the project a “non-starter.”

Hmm. What does it mean that Google, now driving to index the majority of information in the world, from streets to photos to planets to every book ever published, snubs magazines? You guessed it. If print hardcopy would be here for decades, Google would set up scanning machines and fire away. But these billionaire big-thinkers are betting that any investment in scanning paper is besides the point — because print may go away soon.

Nielsen reports stormy weather for newsprint


Nielsen reported U.S. ad spending for the first six months of 07, and local newsprint took another hit — down -8.0% year over year. Internet ad spending was up 23.2% by comparison. Glossy mags and outdoor had modest gains.

What gives? Analyst John Dvorak writes local newspapers have asked for this punch because they are lazy. The typical small daily has original news on pages 1 and 3, and then pads the rest with AP wire reports.

Years ago, this lazy model worked. The wire services used to provide local papers with a wide range of stories that local editors could use to enliven their news mix. Over time, many newspaper owners saw the savings they could realize from loading up on wire stories while minimizing their original editorial content.

Once the Internet arrived, this model was dead, as the Net revealed that many newspapers weren’t actually contributing anything new or unique. The fact that people all over the country subscribe to the New York Times, rather than to a local paper, says it all.

Our bet is the big dailies and the tiny community weeklies will survive. It’s the mid-sized newspapers in the middle that have the most at risk. Advertisers who use measurement to track responses from daily newsprint ads don’t need to see the circ numbers (or “readership” claims) to make the call — if costs per inquiry continue to climb, they will put their funds into other, more economical media.