Reading Ads

The reason the magazine business has been in a funk may not be what you think

Magazines were not only supported by the desire of admen to show off their stuff (as well as to sell their products), but elevated by the sheer quality of the ads.

I have a year’s worth of Playboy’s from 1971 beside my bed—and I read them for the ads.

What happened here is, of course, the ever escalating power and budgets of television; the triumph of moving picture directors over copywriters and art directors; the visualization of everything; the loss of cigarette advertising, whose terrific profitability anchored print departments (subsiding large creative staffs); and, perhaps, a change in the DNA of magazines themselves.

A year or so before he died, Jay Chiat, who did as much as anyone to make television the coolest advertising medium, was baiting me about the hopelessness of magazines. He argued that the problem with magazine people is that they all really wanted to be movie and television people and so had turned magazines into a swamp of images, which made it impossible to have an ad stand out. We’d out-huckstered the hucksters.

And then the Internet—where we cool boys went, creating a vastly deeper swamp of image and distraction.

Which, in the countercyclical ways of media, where everything old is eventually new, could be an opportunity for magazines and their traditional turn-the-page proscenium. In the world of failing advertising productivity and ever-falling CPMs, there is no larger issue than how to make display ads work again: how to create a compelling interactive relationship between consumer and ad.

How about getting people to read them?