WORLD: MEDIUM OF THE WEEK - Eastweek makes a comeback by replicating rival

The gossip title's relaunch strategy left many readers confused, Jo Bowman says.

When the Hong Kong celebrity gossip magazine Eastweek relaunched in September after almost a year out of print, it was with a strangely familiar look, and with one of the strangest promotions the city has seen in years.

Readers were encouraged to buy Eastweek's rival, Next Magazine, and deface it by tearing off the cover. When they handed in the cover at their newsagent, they would be given a free copy of the first issue of the new Eastweek, published on 3 September.

Urging punters to buy the competition was a novel strategy that was lost on many Hong Kong media watchers. But Eastweek's media agency, Universal McCann, believed that there was method in this madness.

Universal's media director, Pauline Chu, says the promotion, called "You give us face, we give you money", played on the deeply entrenched Chinese concept of losing face, or showing disrespect.

Eastweek's previous incarnation stopped publishing last October after being declared unfit for sale by Hong Kong's Obscene Articles Tribunal.

It had run a photo of a semi-naked actress on its cover that had been taken during her kidnapping more than ten years earlier, prompting a huge public outcry.

The magazine was bought earlier this year by Global China Group Holdings - which also publishes the Chinese-language newspaper Sing Tao Daily and its English-language stablemate, The Standard.

With the new owner comes what management says is a new, more considered approach to covering celebrity news, and a design that is almost an exact replica of Next's.

The colours and fonts - and even design tools such as arrows in front-page headlines - are so similar that many readers have difficulty telling the titles apart.

Almost all of Eastweek's editorial staff have been poached from Next.

Eastweek's publisher, Morris Ho, was formerly the executive director of Next's parent company, Next Media. He was also the deputy editor-in-chief of Next Magazine from 1990 to 1999.

An Eastweek ad campaign ahead of launch had pictures of the Next boss, Jimmy Lai, on top of bus shelters in Hong Kong's central business district saying: "I'm waiting." A TV ad also ran on Cable TV.

Ho has said publicly that Eastweek's copycat strategy is an attempt to snatch share from Next by stealing its winning formula. Next has been the market leader in the sector for more than a decade.

Global China is hoping for Eastweek sales of between 60,000 and 80,000 copies per issue, and to break even within two years. Eastweek comes out each Wednesday, a day ahead of Next.

Editorially, the focus is as much on celebrities as it ever was. The inaugural issue featured an interview with Carina Lau, the actress whose picture caused the old Eastweek to shut down.

Readers says that content-wise, it is hard to distinguish between Eastweek and Next, and between the old and new Eastweek. But Eastweek insists it is going about its news gathering in a less intrusive way than its rival.

Advertising in Eastweek is considerably cheaper than in Next, and Eastweek is reported to have turned away 30 advertisers who wanted slots in its first issue, which carried 180 pages of ads.

Publisher: Global China Group Holdings

Frequency: Weekly, every Wednesday

Cover price: HK$20 (about £1.60)

Advertisers: Sony, Pfizer, FILA, Samsung mobile, Metro newspapers

Full-page colour ad rate: HK$45,000 (about £3,600)

Direct rivals: Next Magazine

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