Updated: ASME Weighs In on Ad Cover Gimmicks

Look out for more gimmicky ad treatments from magazines in the coming months as publishers hunt for revenue in a dismal ad market.

Sources said Esquire is pitching ads that would jump off the page when the magazine is held up to a computer’s Webcam. The augmented reality technology, which has become a popular marketing scheme, would enhance its December Best & Brightest issue focusing on innovation.

Bonnier Corp.’s Popular Science used the technique on its July cover, which when activated, made windmills spin in 3-D.

Hearst-owned Esquire declined to comment on plans for the issue but has told potential advertisers it would be the first editorial-driven use of augmented reality. To advertisers, it described having the cover subject greet readers, who will then see the cover image be built. Inside, augmented reality could be used to play videos of story subjects and a runway show accompanying a fashion story.

The growing use of such gimmicks has raised concerns about the traditional line between ads and editorial. The American Society of Magazine Editors’ guidelines call for clear separation of the two to protect the magazines’ editorial integrity.

Esquire, which has produced a number of tricked-out covers lately, stirred debate with its February cover, which contained a window that opened to reveal an ad opposite editorial content.

Scholastic Parent & Child, which directly flouted ASME guidelines when it put ads on the bottom of its covers this year, is getting ready to run another provocative ad, in October and November. The ad for Campbell Soup bookends an editorial spread and is joined by creative (in this case, a very long noodle) that interrupts the editorial. Mediaedge:cia and BBDO handled the ad.

Sid Holt, chief executive of ASME, wrote in an e-mail that while the Scholastic ad isn’t addressed by ASME’s guidelines, it “violates the relationship between reader and magazine.”
“I can’t imagine that journalists—and readers—would welcome this kind of intrusion on editorial copy any more than an advertiser would welcome editorial commentary on their creative,” he wrote.

Risa Crandall, vp and publisher, said when Scholastic tested the ad with its reader panel, 93 percent approved of the unit. “We feel very confident that our readers are open [to] and approve it,” she said. Still, she said she would limit such interruptions to three per issue.

Meanwhile, Time Inc. is pitching more technology enhanced ads on the heels of a video-playing ad for CBS and PepsiCo. running in Entertainment Weekly next month. One proposed unit would play audio on a reader’s wireless device, using Bluetooth technology, sources said.

“You’re going to see further penetration of things like video [in] print technology that’s going to show movement and color and three dimensions,” Paul Caine, president and group publisher, Time Inc.’s Style and Entertainment Group.

And another Hearst title, Food Network Magazine, will publish a triple-step cover for its November issue, in which the top two covers will be cut away to reveal the cover beneath it. Publisher Vicki Wellington believes the execution is a first for the U.S. Cargill’s Truvia bought all three covers, with Universal McCann facilitating. Ann Clark Tucker, director of marketing and communications for Truvia, said she saw the ad as a way to stand out at a time when people are “bombarded with messages everywhere.” Wellington said Truvia paid a premium for the triple cover.

The exact benefits of such schemes aren’t always clear cut, though.

At Scholastic, Crandall said the new ad formats have paid off in revenue and engagement. Campbell paid a “significant premium” over its volume discount for its interruption ad, while the cover ads boosted 2009 ad revenue by 10 percent, Crandall said.

Parent & Child’s June cover ad, meanwhile, in testing by Affinity’s Vista’s ad measurement service, had a 73 percent reader recall, versus an average recall score of 62 percent for the issue. Intent to take action was 69 percent for the ad versus 64 percent average for the issue.

But unusual covers haven’t always paid off on newsstand. Popular Science’s 3-D July issue has been selling 5 percent above average at Barnes & Noble. And Esquire’s February window issue and its May mix-and-match issue sold 99,950 and 97,971 copies on the newsstand respectively, about average for the period (97,713).

Steve Lanzano, chief operating officer of MPG, gives magazines credit for trying to change their perception through tech-enhanced ads, but said their purpose should be clear.

“The big question is, what is the price-value relationship of that?” he said. “Is there going to be greater attention to the ad, greater reader involvement, or is it just a novelty? How does that drive greater interest, consideration and ultimately, purchase intent? And once somebody does it, does anyone want to do it again? It drives buzz, but then something else comes along.”

High-production value ads tend to add to the client’s cost, but don’t put extra revenue in the publisher’s pockets. Still, Caine said buzz counts: “Impact is measured by consumer connection or buzz.”