Sensory Overload: Publishers Stuffing Magazines with Sights, Smells, Sounds
To compete with Web, executives must 'be clever or die.'
Readers of the latest issue of People magazine may have been startled to open to a bulky page in the middle and hear Natasha Bedingfield’s latest pop song start playing out loud. It was courtesy of a large ad for Verizon Wireless’s music download service—and a tiny sound board and speaker wedged within the pages of the magazine.
Or perhaps readers have gotten used to such sensory affronts from their reading material. With blinking lights, pop-up ads, kiss-on lipstick samples, scratch-off scents, melt-in-your-mouth taste strips—even pocket squares—advertisers are stuffing magazines full of just about anything to make their advertisements stand out.
One reason for the phenomenon is better technology, which makes it less expensive to put unusual objects in magazines and which helps advertisers create more sophisticated inserts. Improvements, say, in hiding fragrance samples under peel-off strips has also reduced the backlash from people with allergies.
But there is another dynamic at work: with so much of the publishing industry shifting toward the Web, magazine executives are trying to use their print products as a tactical advantage. Not only are they reminding advertisers that magazines are good places to attach things, but they are also seeking out and conceiving of these projects.
"For us, it’s be clever or die," said Peter Hunsinger, the publisher of GQ, which tucked fabric pocket squares into 19,000 April issues for a Lexus promotion.
And advertisers are looking for concrete returns on these creative ads, many of which use coupons or other incentives to drive consumers to Web sites or stores, where the effectiveness of the ad can be measured.
"The days of just trying to be creative and doing these without a serious commitment to marketing results are gone," said Mike Maguire, the chief executive of Structural Graphics, a company that produces three-dimensional ads, like pop-up panties for a Fruit of the Loom advertisement.
Advertisers have been trying to stand out from the pack since the perfume strip was invented in 1979, when the scent was "so strong that "you could kind of smell it before you even opened the magazine," recalled Diane Crecca, vice president of sales, marketing and business development at Arcade Marketing, which invented the scent strip.
The technology for shampoos or lotions was not much better. "They would sometimes burst inside the magazine," said Agnes Landau, senior vice president for global makeup marketing at Clinique. "There was a little bit of a backlash from the customers at that point because they didn’t want the magazine being damaged."
The advertisers also were not thrilled, because the samples they included were subject to an extra fee from the Post Office. Arcade Marketing executives studied what the Post Office’s definition of a "sample" was. By 1997, it had devised a thumb-size packet that could withstand pressure without bursting, so could offer advertisers sampling without the excess charge.
More technology advances on the chemical side, like being able to affix face powder to a piece of paper, led to powder, lipstick, and even nail-polish samples. Perfume samples now can be contained beneath seals and wrapped in little packages, a relief to allergy sufferers.
But how much more can magazines take? "The biggest issue for editors and, of course, publishers, is how many there are," said John Fennell, associate professor of magazine journalism and Meredith chair in service journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism. "They break up the editorial in the book—you’re paging through the book and you have big, stiff cardboard things in the middle. So as much as they make money, there’s a sense of, how many can be put in the book without their being an overload."
The beauty business has led the charge on free samples in magazines. More than 1,000 department-store fragrances and 800 eye shadow shades have been introduced in the past five years, according to NPD Group, a market-research firm, and their manufacturers are eager to make their ads stand out.
"In addition to giving consumers a chance to use your product, it’s an arresting, cut-through the clutter advertisement," said Katie Devine, product director for Aveeno Facial Care at Johnson Johnson Beauty Care. Devine said that Aveeno offers samples in magazines of "essentially any product that’s a big marketing focus for us," and that coupons with samples have two to three times the redemption rate of those without.
Allure, a women’s magazine that focuses on beauty, has seen a 20 percent increase in product-samples-as-inserts over the last two years, according to publisher Nancy Cardone. "It’s become so dramatically effective in beauty that two years ago we developed an issue that we promote as our sampling issue," Cardone said.
But many of the more unusual inserts are coming from outside the beauty industry. Scratch ‘n’ sniff has given way to scented ink. Batteries have become small enough that an advertisement can light up or carry a sound chip. And taste, which had no place in magazines until recently, has been conquered by First Flavor, a company in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, that packages dissolving taste strips. Welch’s Grape Juice ran an ad in People in February with the strips, and Jay Minkoff, the chief executive of First Flavor, said that the company was working on several more food-category advertisements.
Taste strips and musical ads come with a relatively big price tag, another reason publishers are seeking them so aggressively. For Clinique, the cost of an insert with a sample is three times that of a normal ad, according to Landau. The cost of a flavor-strip insert, which typically includes First Flavor’s production costs, special printing, and an advertising-insertion charge, said Minkoff, "roughly doubles the cost" of a single-page advertisement in a national magazine.
Because of the revenue potential, publishers are going to great lengths to attract elaborate campaigns. The publisher of Cosmopolitan, Donna Kalajian Lagani, bought special equipment that could affix product samples directly to a magazine page, rather than to a card insert—a big cost for Cosmopolitan, but a money saver for advertisers.
"Clients are looking to us to come up with solutions on how to communicate to our readers," Lagani said. "We’ve really changed the way we go to market."Despite the expense, advertisers seem to be trying to outdo one another in the complexity of their inserts. Take the MasterCard "Priceless Search" campaign, which is running in several Condé Nast magazines’ April issues. The ads, conceived by MasterCard and McCann Erickson, feature a sealed envelope with an instant-win game piece inside, on heavy paper stock. MasterCard ran 12 million of the advertisements. "We’ve done inserts before, but never to this level of sophistication and complexity," said Chris Jogis, vice-president of United States brand marketing for MasterCard.
It took MasterCard two years to pull off the project. The assembly process required the ad to be printed, the envelopes to be printed, and the envelope inserts to be printed, then the whole piece assembled, before the ads were sent to the magazines’ binding plants. The instant-win program, too, required several security measures, including a team of overseers at the magazine-binding plant to make sure the three winning pieces were distributed randomly. All the printing had to be done in accordance with Condé Nast’s equipment.
All the work was meant to drive traffic to MasterCard’s "Priceless" Web site, where MasterCard could offer more information to its visitors, and Jogis said the company was seeing good results so far.
And the media director at Lexus, Andrea Lim, said she was happy to see that the pocket square promotion in GQ had driven traffic to Lexus’s Web site. Lexus made an the extra 2,000 pocket squares available online, which were claimed in 30 hours after the ads hit.
"We’re not finished—that’s for starters," Lim said. "We liked this idea so much that in the first meeting, after we decided it’s going to be the pocket square, we’re like, then next year it’s going to be x. We just keep trying to raise the bar."