MEDIA: BEHIND THE HYPE - Roost risks overstating Carat's consumer insight

New magazine shoots itself in the foot by not reflecting real life, Alasdair Reid says.

According to Carat, people live in houses. No, really. That's the unmistakable conclusion you come to after prolonged and attentive study of the agency's new publication, Roost, which was launched last week.

And, yes, launched is absolutely the right word to use here - because this isn't any old promotional brochure destined only to see the light of day on a brief excursion between the envelope it arrived in and the office wastepaper bin.

Although it will be sent to clients, Roost also has a public existence as a newsstand magazine available from suitable retail outlets in Soho and Covent Garden. Produced by the customer magazine publisher Deeper Media, it has a print run of 5,000 and a cover price of £4.95.

It aims to demonstrate the agency's consumer insight. In doing so, it aspires to the "designs for living" territory frequented by the likes of magazines such as Blueprint or Wallpaper. And it tries conspicuously hard to impress - an X-ray image of a building on the front cover, for instance, and a "wavey-davey" trim to the page edges.

It's hard to know how seriously to take Roost. Is it a piece of stunt marketing or a serious long-term publishing venture conceived and designed to engage with a broader reading public?

And it's easy to be sceptical. After all, it's only available in the West End, which is arguably not exactly where you find members of the broader reading public (or clients, come to that). If Roost is about life, it's life as a handful of design-literate people in London would like it to be lived. Let's hear it for the Loftcube, for instance, which you deposit on the top of the skyscraper of your choice until you get tired of the view, at which point you move your living cube to the top of another tall building somewhere. Whatever will they think of next? Houses that people carry about on their backs?

Do rival agencies feel threatened by this launch? Not entirely, it has to be said. One agency source comments: "The newsstand thing is Carat desperately trying to tell the advertising community: 'Hey, we're really clever, actually.' The one thing that you don't say if you're really clever is: 'Hey, I'm actually very clever.' In fact, we have spent years telling our rivals how stupid we are. They still can't understand why we beat them at pitches."

Another rival agency source says: "It's interesting that Carat is still down this particular cul-de-sac where you tell clients that you understand everything about the way people live their lives, therefore you understand how people react to their brands. No, you don't. That's a huge fallacy and clients no longer buy it. Clients want you to understand how people react during that very brief portion of their lives when they are exposed to their brands. That's the hard part."

Unfortunately, Roost also undercuts one of its main messages ("we understand the way people live now") by saving its greatest enthusiasm for predictable articles on the way we won't be living in the future; which, as always in Designerland, turns out to be a Japanese suburb of Gadget City where the kettle in your kitchen is controlled by HAL - the dysfunctional computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey - and the fridge talks to itself.

But Graham Bednash, the managing partner of Michaelides & Bednash, an agency not scared of the odd oblique strategy designed to make people think they were touched by genius, says that we shouldn't be tempted to take cheap shots. "It's easy to be cynical about this sort of thing. Actually, you have to admire their balls," he states.

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