Uncoventional Ad Units That Work
Price rules but custom units can open wallets.
Price is the single largest factor in winning new advertising business, according to Dennis Connaughton, general manager at sales rep firm James G. Elliott. âIn terms of closing print sales today, price remains number one,â he says. âIâm sure Iâd get a lot of argument about that from media agency people, but it isnât rare today to get RFPs that request lower rates than the advertiser had last year.â
Most of the print creative that Connaughton sees today are standard size units, pages, fractionals and (âtoo rarely,â he adds) spreads. âIn times of short budgets, clients invariably stick to the basicsâthose that are lowest cost, fit all books and occasions and those that can be most easily negotiated,â he says. âMedia planners/buyers today have never had any training in print production so their ability to negotiate anything other than rate card units is limited.â
Beyond price, however, some publishers are getting into packaging (multi-platform programs) and other custom ideas, sometimes with spectacular results.
The Atlanticâs November issue boasted the most ad pages of any issue in the magazineâs 153-year-history (2010 also shaped up to be the best year in the magazineâs history for print revenue). The magazine finished the year up 27 percent in print ad revenueâout of 11 issues, eight were up double digits over 2009.
Much of that success is attributed to custom packages, according to publisher Jay Lauf. âThere is a long-term trend toward customization from advertisers,â he says. âTheyâre looking for unique ways to speak to an audience and the phrase ânever been done beforeâ is constantly on RFPs and uttered in meetings.â
The editorial of The Atlanticâs November issue revolved around a series of profiles called âBrave Thinkers.â Advertisers could buy in with packages that went beyond the typical page, such as Dow buying multiple cover units. âOur editors talked to me about how it would be cool to do a photo essay on these brave thinkers,â says Lauf. âThe topic lent itself to portraiture. We didnât shop it widely. We approached Dow with the concept of what the editors wanted and how they could marry their messaging to the concept.â
While back-end production didnât vary much, selling the custom units required some advance notice. âUnlike the trend of the last couple of years with advertisers buying monthly, this deal was put together months ahead,â says Lauf. âAdvertisers had to commit in advance and there were logistics to work out with the printer. We werenât going to green light a full-on cover shoot if there wasnât an advertiser supporting it.â
Ad Revenue From Custom Units Up â300 to 400 Percentâ
Lauf says The Atlantic is trying to bring custom capabilities into almost every sales call. âCustomizing doesnât always mean a die cut gatefold unit, it could be something as simple as old fashioned advertorial, or it could manifest itself online,â he adds. âItâs something we discuss on every sales call because itâs a differentiator for us, but not every advertiser can capitalize on it. The actual execution of custom work like this is up 400 percent this year over last year and itâs not like we werenât doing any last year. The amount of revenue that custom packages account for is up between 300 percent and 400 percent.â
Pricing can range dramatically for custom packages and Lauf says publishers need to be clear with advertisers. âSome of these units require hard cost productionâpaper stock, cost of printing, creative,â he adds. âIn some instances, there will be a premium for doing a breakthrough unitâit will have bigger impact than a typical spread will have. I think it comes down to being clear to advertisers what theyâre paying for, what dollars are for.â
Lauf says that he often sees programs that are anchored in digital transfer to print. Right before the table-of-contents in The Atlanticâs âBrave Thinkersâ issue, there is a spread from Cathay Pacific with a left-hand promotional page that talks about China with Atlantic national correspondent James Fallows. âThat is a print execution of what is a digital idea,â says Lauf. âJames has a DVD series on doing business in China and Cathay Pacific sponsored cutting that into video vignettes on a Web site, which in turn manifested itself in print.â
Creating Multi-Million Dollar Programs
Hearst Magazines has done several unconventional ad units this yearâa program for auction site eBay with a half-page vertical ad flap that ran in all 14 Hearst titles (and was customized for each), a campaign for Procter & Gamble Beauty Back-to-School (a multiproduct booklet with a coupon page inside the back cover), Marie Claireâs series of peel-able beauty advertising âclingâ stick-ups, and Kimberly Clark Cottonelle inserts (that were created to look like a roll of toilet tissue rolling out of the magazine) in multiple magazines.
âWith all of these, we customized each ad idea for the client, who is looking for ideas for their specific products,â says Jeff Hamill, senior vice president of Hearst Magazines. âWe worked with both the clients and their ad agencies, but they were all customized concepts designed to promote engagement with the ads and their products.â
Hamill says that about 90 percent of the time, Hearst comes up with specific ideas for specific clients rather than coming up with ideas first and then taking them to market trying to find a buyer.
âWe believe the best engagement comes with the ultimate customization,â he adds. âThe idea has to be rightâand no two client ideas are exactly the same.â
For the Cottonelle campaign, Hearst had to work with the printer to innovate on the production side because the publisher wasnât sure the ideaâwhich featured an ad that looked like a roll of toilet tissue unspooling in the adâwould work.
âCottonelle was multi-million-dollar campaign and, in terms of comparing it to ad pages, it was more expensive than running single-page advertising,â says Hamill. âThe impact and engagement in units like this test very high. Weâve gotten great feedback. One measurement of ad engagement is Vista and we received high scores with the Cottonelle ad specifically. Kimberly Clark was very pleased and nice buzz resulted.â