Magazines: Beyond the spread

Innovations in print advertising can help bring more adspend into the medium, but media agencies bemoan the lack of creative thinking, Lucy Aitken reports.

Brands are not created by marketing people - they live in people's heads," Rosie Faulkner, the planning director at MindShare, says. So the partnership between marque and magazine can be a particularly potent one. A powerfully expressed brand can be brought to life in an editorial world that is so appealing to consumers that they will part with cash and time to enter it.

In reality, of course, readers flick past pages and pages of magazine ads to reach that recipe, hurry to their horoscope or race to that provocative interview with Scarlett Johansson promised on the cover. If an ad is not compelling enough, why would they stop to look at it? This is why some magazine publishers are experimenting with more innovative ways to package their proposition, and why advertisers and agencies are investigating new means of using the medium more creatively.

Jon Wilkins, the Naked partner, says: "There has been a shift from coverage to engagement. It's all very well saying 'we've reached 80 per cent of people' but you've got to reach your audience with a degree of impact.

The big problem historically with magazines is the high advertising to editorial ratio, which makes it hard for fragrances, fashion or sports brands to stand out, particularly when all their competitors appear in the same issue."

One way for advertisers to side-step this pitfall, Wilkins recommends, is to pick one title that epitomises a brand's personality and go for one high-impact communication rather than six pages that may get lost.

This was the strategy adopted to promote Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in Empire. Its Darth Vader cover incorporated a sound chip that recreated the villain's heavy breathing. Procter & Gamble's Herbal Essences shampoo brand also used sound-chip technology in a special cover with IPC's Marie Claire, which reproduced the orgasmic cries from its TV ads.

Technology is allowing advertisers to make more impact, although still at a prohibitively high price for most brands. Leah Annett, the press group head at Starcom, estimates around 5 per cent of a budget might be devoted to creative solutions and that might incorporate "anything from an interactive insert to an advertorial".

She recognises that advertisers fear dedicating too much of their money to new technologies such as holograms, scratch 'n' sniff and sound chips.

Indeed, one reason why Emap could pull off the Empire Darth Vader cover and a hologram to promote The Matrix Reloaded is because film distributors have substantial budgets.

Media agencies agree that if advertisers opt for an added extra, it should match the rest of their creative, otherwise it comes across as too gimmicky.

Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw's anti-smoking campaign for the Department of Health demonstrated just how powerful this tactic can be when it carried perfume strips that stank of stale smoke. The strips accompanied a model with a "cat's bum" wrinkled mouth, while another execution showed a powder brush resting on an ashtray, again in an ironic twist on traditional beauty advertising.

Andy Nairn, the planning director at Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, admires Absolut's sound chip ad in the fashion and design magazine Citizen K International. The sound chip, which was triggered when the reader came to the Absolut ad, recreated the sound of vodka being poured into a glass of ice. Nairn says: "The Absolut print campaign has been going for decades and has clocked up thousands of executions, but this sound chip simply stopped you dead in your tracks. Tricks like this cost more, but they can be a good idea as they get noticed and people talk about them."

They also generate PR, as MCBD found out when it won the Campaign Direct Grand Prix last year for its Metropolitan Police campaign that ran in music magazines. Fake bullet holes were designed into the magazines, which were left in local barbers as a powerful demonstration of the damage guns can do to communities. "Young guys aren't desperate to hear messages from the Metropolitan Police," Nairn says.

"So this was a great way of using the medium so the Met could communicate its message."

Kim Iwanczyszyn, the associate director at MediaCom, is a big fan of simple ideas that encourage a certain level of interaction from the reader. She cites Levi's presence in the Russian edition of Vogue, which used the brand's distinctive red tab as a means of signaling its ad to readers. She also liked Colgate's US magazine advertising, which used decorated thin, clear plastic that could be ripped out and stuck to a mirror to give children some entertainment when they were brushing their teeth. She advises: "Don't be creative for creativity's sake; it has to be accountable and you have to know that it has worked."

Media owners are beginning to improve their creative capabilities, but some should market themselves better, Iwanczyszyn says. "IPC ignite! offers some amazing opportunities. NME, for instance, is an under-thought-of title, but it offers great scope to get under the skin of geeky, music-obsessed men. If you go to them with a brief, they will come up with an event or a sponsorship deal, but they just don't shout about it."

Conduct a straw poll among media agencies about which magazine publisher is blazing a trail in this area and Emap emerges as the clear frontrunner.

It formed Emap2 in February, an 80-strong creative and strategy division headed by Carrie Barker. The division sits within Emap Advertising and spans Emap's print, radio, TV and online properties.

Barker comments: "We offer advertisers and agencies a single point of contact for their creative conversations because more magazine advertisers are looking for stand-out, original work that really differentiates their product and adds value for the consumer. In the past, we had a cross-media team, but now we feel cross-media is outdated because it's the tail wagging the dog. Now it's about putting the idea first."

One of Emap2's first deals, agreed in March, was through MediaCom, to promote the Audi RS4 in Arena, Empire and Q. Creative by Bartle Bogle Hegarty established the theme, "sinister beauty", but the magazines allowed the campaign to be "less broadcast", Iwanczyszyn says. In Empire, for instance, reviews of films such as Apocalypse Now kicked off the discussion by questioning whether they were sinister or beautiful. The debate got even more heated on Empire's website.

Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Emap Consumer Media, the chairman of Emap Advertising and the chairman of PPA Marketing, says: "Emap2 was born out of a realisation that Emap is not really in the business of selling advertising spots and pages; it's in the business of selling cars, lipstick and financial products. It's about what our clients want to sell and the communication challenges they face."

Sometimes, this can involve coming off the page altogether, as Levi's did when it backed the Elle Style Awards. In a similar vein, Tesco Magazine ran its Mum of The Year awards in 2005. "There was no commercial angle to that at all," Jackie Stevenson, the deputy managing director at Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel, says. "It was a pure give-back from Tesco, culminating in a big awards ceremony at the Waldorf."

Another of Stevenson's favourite examples of magazine advertising is Graham & Brown, which binds samples of its high-quality wallpaper into high-end home titles such as House & Garden, Elle Decoration and Living Etc. "The samples showcase different designs and have fabulous standout because they're textual and visual," she comments.

Stevenson is relieved to see some proper wallpaper as opposed to "wallpaper" advertising in the magazine medium. She describes the sinking feeling that accompanies flicking through seemingly endless boring ads in the front half of a title. "Sometimes you open a magazine and there's so much advertising you have to fight to get to the editorial. There's now a real onus on brands to go beyond the 'wallpaper' and actually engage with readers by giving them something back."

One way this used to happen, of course, was through artfully written long-copy ads. Mark Roalfe, the chairman and executive creative director at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, recalls: "People used to argue the rights and wrongs of their products. Now there is this debate about whether the long-copy ad is dead or not, but who knows? No-one does long-copy ads any more."

Roalfe also regrets magazine advertising is not regarded as such a priority for many brands. "Sainsbury's and BMW used to be landmark magazine advertisers, but now those advertisers have moved out of press, which is sad because it makes it an under-rated medium," he says. "We have seen print ads work fantastically well for Marks & Spencer, where we've often used consecutive pages rather than double-page spreads. The cocaine of a quick fix on TV has meant many advertisers just aren't spending consistently in magazines any more."

Those who work in media can name a handful of highly creative executions that have impressed them, but it is often the same examples that keep cropping up: Darth Vader, the Department of Health and Herbal Essences are consistently cited. This is surprising for two reasons: first, the number of titles in the UK; second, media agencies are starting to dedicate more resources to creative solutions.

So why is there not more creativity? Some media agencies are disappointed with magazine publishers' lack of initiative. Alex Russell, the head of press at Media Planning Group, says: "I sit on the PPA's magazines committee and the lack of creativity is one of my biggest bugbears. I say to publishers: 'For God's sake, guys, show us what you can do!' But when you go to a magazine publisher with a creative brief, they come back with 'here's an advertorial'. Magazine publishers moan about advertisers not putting more money into magazines when they should just pull their finger out."

She continues: "Another factor is that printers have publishers by the short and curlies, so when you look at a creative idea, it's a 'ker-ching' moment for the printers, costing £150,000 for £20,000-worth of media value."

Emap, she concedes, is an exception, because "it sells consumers as opposed to magazines". But, on the whole, she laments: "Magazines as a medium are just not sexy any more."

Technology is helping magazines to sex themselves up with paper technology, special builds, wraparounds, inserts and even covers that can double up as screens. But this is attractive only to a minority of clients. And, as Nairn points out: "Even though technology is getting interesting, there's just no substitute for a great idea."