The Economist's advertising is traditionally discussed only in tones of solemnity and reverence. And with good reason. Its classic "white-out-of-red" 48-sheet poster campaign, first set in motion as far back as 1988 by the legendary David Abbott of Abbott Mead Vickers fame, is uncompromising, clever, humorous, consistent, long-running and, above all, successful.
Of all the Abbott executions (he passed on the creative baton many years ago), perhaps the best known is the very first one to run ("I never read The Economist." Management Trainee. Aged 42). But there have been scores of similarly challenging copylines since. Each year, the campaign wins more awards; each year, The Economist's circulation rises. That's what is known as a symbiotic relationship.
The Economist campaign is peerless and immortal, without a doubt. So who would ever attempt to improve on it? Well, actually, The Economist would. AMV's latest campaign, launched on 22 September, is something of a departure.
The classic campaign has always played on a sophisticated form of reverse psychology. By emphasising how exclusive and elitist the magazine is, it succeeded in making itself a strange object of desire to an audience beyond a true business elite. Its most recent UK circulation, for instance, was 172,842.
But now it wants to broaden its horizons even more. In the short term, it has no concrete circulation targets, but the notion is to shift perceptions of the magazine in the belief that this will, in the long run, help to sell more copies.
The problem identified by The Economist's in-house research is that many potential readers believe it is primarily a business and finance title and therefore not for them. They also view it as a title for testosterone-fuelled politicians and captains of industry.
The Economist wants to convey the message that it is actually a journal for anyone curious about major world events - and, of course, it wants to do that without alienating existing readers, not least the senior advertising and media types who tend to cite The Economist as their favourite magazine in Campaign's The A List.
1. The genesis of the white-out-of-red campaign was the perfect example of creative and media evolving in a completely inseparable fashion - Abbott's start-point was the realisation that the magazine's red-and-white masthead had exactly the same aspect ratio as a 48-sheet poster. So he decided to give this masthead a loud and sophisticated voice on the nation's billboards - and the campaign has dominated UK outdoor advertising awards since 1988.
2. There have also been two TV campaigns along the way: the first, featuring the former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, in 1996; and the second, recounting how Nelson Mandela was allowed to read the magazine while incarcerated on Robben Island, in 2001.
3. In 1988, The Economist's UK circulation was 85,517. In 1995, it was 104,091 and, by 2005, it had reached 158,142. Worldwide (the red-and-white campaign has run globally), circulation has leapt from 360,393 in 1988 to 1,260,457 in the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures.
4. The new, UK-only campaign will run in the national press, in lifestyle and news environments online. There will be an out-of-home dimension - but no 48-sheets. Smaller, more-intimate outdoor formats have been chosen. In the UK (except at Heathrow), the classic white-out-of-red creative work will be sidelined, at least until the end of 2007, but will continue to be used internationally.
5. Economist sources emphasise the importance of con- tinuity between the classic Abbott-inspired campaign and the new approach - particularly in what they refer to as the iconic use of red as a thematic colour.
Jacqui Kean, The Economist's brand marketing director, explains. "Although the look is different (to the classic white-out-of-red campaign), the tone is similar and the use of red continues to signify the benefits of The Economist," she says.
"In the UK, we have no problem of awareness - but people assume they know what the magazine is all about. They quite often get that wrong - so the aim is to get them to reappraise. The goal is to broaden the magazine's footprint. We don't have any particular demographic (target) in mind, more a psychographic. We're after people who are curious and want to make a global connection."
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- A gamble. Not a major one, but a gamble nonetheless. Economist sources emphasise the elements of continuity present within the new strategy. They say that there's a thematic continuity between the new campaign and the old - and in any case, the white-out-of-red campaign will probably return at some stage.
- But, with minimalist graphics and wacky typefaces, it plumps for a very different emotional space. That will only be amplified by some of the more ambient options on the media schedule - for instance, black-cab tip-ups and Coffee Republic tabletops.
- The danger as always is that older elements in the magazine's UK audience will start entertaining doubts about the solidity of the brand. On the other hand, the UK circulation is only slightly more than a tenth of the total global sale.
- On the commercial side, The Economist's ad sales team will hope that a more rounded audience will help it to take its fair share of luxury goods advertising in addition to the airlines, hotels and IT sectors that have always been its forte.
- "It has always carried a lot less of the lifestyle advertising than, for instance, The Times, The Telegraph and even the Financial Times carry," Paul Thomas, the investment director, publishing, at MindShare, says. "There's only a limited range of advertising categories that any magazine can legitimately aim for, obviously, but even if it makes its readership slightly more rounded in profile, then, yes, it can hope to take more in the luxury sector."