The Atlantic’s New Clothes: Rebranded, Redesigned, Ready to Fight

By Matt Van Hoven 

The Atlantic is no longer a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In the words of Editor James Bennet, when the magazine was created in 1857, the writers behind it “wanted to entertain readers on the one hand and, on the other, to advance the radical cause of abolition.” The weeks-old redesign seeks to encapsulate that mission, while simultaneously re-outfitting the look and revamping its Web component.

The new design, guided by EuroRSCG and Pentagram (and designer Michael Bierut) aims to get people to think. again. A microsite hosts vignettes in which random folks are asked deep questions &#151 on the kinds of issues you’d likely see in the mag. It’s an intelligent melding of engagement and advertising; two subjects that aren’t easily mixed (though every agency and their motha will tell you they’re old pros at it…to you, we call bullshit).

Publisher Jay Lauf, who came to the mag from Wired in April, said part of the redesign was meant to align the look with the envelope-pushing content &#151 provided by a muy edgy group of writers. Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens, James Fallows and a host of others are a Twainian dream-team of sorts; each has an unmistakable sense of “right” about the world, which TA’s audience responds to.

Practically speaking, the redesign aims give the magazine a relevant presence in the digital space &#151 a much needed element in light of the print world’s current…how do I put this…situation.

And though TA is challenging its readers to think, the same was its dilemma; to think about how to enter the digital space without losing the critical part of what it does (and has historically done) best; longform.

More after the jump.

A key element is the Web site, theatlantic dot com. By adding a blog network and providing content not found in the magazine (as well as content you will find in the mag.), TA offers its audience (of 450,000 35 to 49 y/os) a smart, sexy alternative to whatever the hell else they’re reading when they should be working. At the same time, they continue to do the long-form.

From a cultural perspective, the redesign couldn’t have come at a better time. With recent cameos in both Gossip Girl and Mad Men (which were not product placements, according to Lauf), TA has reached two saavy audiences in a very positive way.

Juxtapose that with Bravo’s Project Runway, which has caused enormous problems for (and positive/negative press and sales of) Elle magazine &#151 and you’ve got two prominent publications that are crossing the divide, and without saying so admitting that they need multimedia executions in order to stay afloat. Eh hem, Conde Nast.

Add to that the 8 billion (we made that number up, read: many) indistinguishable mags offered to us in grocery stores and on news stands and well, you’ve got yourself a stand-out brand whose content you’re sure you can trust and enjoy. It’s like watching The Daily Show and Anderson Cooper combined, said Lauf; smart, thoughtful, sardonic, witty content with a simple agenda &#151 to ask important questions.

It’s as if they’re saying, “here’s what we think. We challenge you to a duel.”

And so the conversation goes. But what of dwindling ad sales in the print market? Answer: the Web site. Online ad space is a hotter commodity than print (generally) these days. And though there will always be a need for glossy paper, Lauf said he thinks the online space is great for specific content &#151 the kind of material people want immediate access to. On the other hand, there’s the magazine, which (in our opinion, as a medium) is irreplaceable (because long form doesn’t work on the Web i.e. this article). There’s just something about sitting down on a plane, on the beach, the front porch, the john, et cetera that you can’t get with a screen.