MEDIA: STRATEGY OF THE WEEK - MAXIM. Maxim's new ad campaign may be a tiny bit too subtle to work. Glen Mutel reports

You probably don't know this, but Maxim is a little more mature than its rival men's magazines.

The reason you probably don't know this is because Maxim's front covers carry the same amount of naked, female, celebrity flesh per square inch as the others.

To change this would be commercial suicide, so Dennis Publishing decided it would convey Maxim's subtle points of difference by turning to above-the-line advertising.

And with a relatively small budget, it has had to be pretty canny about it. Fortunately, up stepped Naked Communications, which Dennis enlisted primarily as a brand strategist and subsequently as media planner.

After consulting Naked, Dennis decided not to fritter away its £3 million budget on FHM-style TV commercials, but instead to use an eclectic mix of media.

Its new set of ads feature images of hungover young men who have wound up in embarrassing situations after a night's hard drinking. Rather than condoning this behaviour the ads ask consumers if they are "Ashamed?", before urging them to "Grow up ... a bit."

These ads will appear as Underground, rail, fly, washroom and bar posters, radio spots, virals and ambient campaigns in big cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester. Media buying is through Manning Gottlieb OMD.

Naked and Dennis deliberately focused on media that would target men in environments where they could talk about the ads. The hope is that the campaign will have an in-built viral factor.

"We wanted very much to get into their world," the Naked strategist Amelia Hibbs explains. "Reading magazines is a personal experience but it can also be a shared male experience."

Sarah Thorne, the Dennis group marketing manager, consumer division, adds: "When looking at the planning, we wanted to get to blokes in areas where they could talk about the ads."

With Naked being brought in at such an early stage, media was a crucial factor in the appoint-ment of a creative outfit. Instead of opting for a traditional agency, Dennis brought in Point Blank Design, which, through its campaigns for MTV and Universal Pictures, has experience of working in non-traditional media.

"We wanted to present the consumer with the antics you'd asso-ciate with an FHM or Loaded reader, but then reverse it by asking them 'isn't it time to grow up ... a bit'," Steve Wallington, Point Blank's creative director, says.

"But 'a bit' is the important part of this message, as we've all still got it in us to behave like that," Wallington adds.

The mature juvenile is quite a specifically defined target market, but one Thorne insists is right for Maxim. She points to the "schoolboy's crush" section of the mag as evidence that its readership is older than that of FHM and Loaded.

The marketing push coincides with changes to the magazine's content. These alterations are described as editorial tightening rather than a total overhaul.

"We're celebrating our 100th issue," Thorne says, "and we wanted to give the magazine a push after strengthening its content. If you want to do well you need a USP and we've been working on the product to ensure that it's sufficiently different to the others."

Which brings us neatly back to the original problem - the actual difference between Maxim and its rivals. While regular readers may have accepted Maxim's USP, it may still prove too subtle to register with prospective purchasers. The cover of this month's edition features the cast of the film Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle in their underwear. It's not likely to leap off the newsstand as the obvious mature choice.

All of which makes it increasingly vital that consumers take the time to read the ads, rather than just see the visual and assume they're part of a campaign for a typical lads' mag.

And if Naked's choice of media is vindicated and the work does prompt discussion among the male herds, then Maxim's new strategy will have proved to be cost effective and prudent. Mature, indeed.