Magazines forced to give more as they lose their sex appeal

paul merrillThe line between editorial and advertorial has never been more blurred as brands try to get more bang for their buck. While magazines aren’t alone, they suffer most, says Paul Merrill.

When I started in magazines nearly 20 years ago, the flatplan was very simple: there were editorial pages and display pages. 

All very neat and tidy. Editorial integrity was sacrosanct. Like oil and water, the two types of page never met.

These days, it’s a blur. No advertiser worth their salt would buy space unless they had ‘added value’. It’s a bit like a shop selling a cake for $2.

The customer is asked for the cash, but then instead of handing it over, asks what else he is getting for his money. “Well, you’re getting a cake,” he’s told.

But that’s not good enough. Now he wants more, or else he’s going to the much more obliging baker down the road.

Of course this isn’t unique to magazines, but we do suffer more than most because, put simply, we ain’t as sexy as online or TV. In this age, advertisers love instant interaction and flashy things that go beep. And magazine pages can be a bit… static.

Too often, mags completely kowtow and make it difficult to tell whether a page is editorial or advertorial. This is manna from heaven for the advertiser, but suicide for a publisher. There are even some hideous cases where this happens on the cover.

So what’s the answer? A few weeks back, my old mag Zoo had Sophie Monk as their cover girl. If you waved your iPhone over the top, she came to life and started playing with her balls (long story) and endorsing Lynx deodorant.

Augmented reality ads had been promised for ages, now they’re here. Also, magazines are making more use of experiential agencies who work to bring advertiser’s brands to life using imaginative events, stunts and sampling with the magazine still at the heart of the campaign.

And all that’s just about the print version. Add in digital and the dowdy old magazine starts to look a little more with it. Maybe we can buy our cake and eat it too.

Paul Merrill’s book, A Polar Bear Ate My Head, is on sale now.


  1. Good moron
    29 Aug 12
    1:32 pm

  2. I’d say this blur is worse in all forms of digital than in print magazines.

  3. Jenna
    29 Aug 12
    2:02 pm

  4. As a trade magazine editor it’s certainly getting more difficult. None more so than when one of the large four banks starts trying to get more “value for money”. Dealing with that has been interesting to say the least.

  5. Muttonman
    29 Aug 12
    3:46 pm

  6. Blurring the lines of advertising? You mean like writing a half-arsed article with little actual substance to promote your book?

  7. Wayne
    29 Aug 12
    8:33 pm

  8. Paul, I’m not really sure your monthly highlighting of problems of a sunset industry everybody has known about for a decade offers anything conducive to the debate; with all due respect. Apparently there’s this thing called the internet; as pesky as it is.

  9. Andrew
    30 Aug 12
    12:24 pm

  10. I’d say you’re spot on to say that mags have got to wake up to digital more than they have to date and to work harder to persuade advertisers not to abandon the sector. When magazine brands widen to other media, it’ll be interesting to see how the ad revenues are affected long term. Also very true that some mags give in to advertisers and compromise their brand far too much. Interesting debate.

  11. Ciaran J
    30 Aug 12
    2:18 pm

  12. I think the whole point of the article is that mags aren’t a sunset industry because they are finally getting up to speed, and that’s a point well made. There will always be a places for good content, but selling straight ads against it is ever more complicated.

  13. Bob
    31 Aug 12
    10:05 am

  14. Or maybe the ad people have woken up to the realisation that those glossy $10K ads in magazines don’t really work?

  15. Wayne
    3 Sep 12
    3:29 pm

  16. @ Ciaran J… media will always chase the advertising stream. And that stream no longer flows to magazines. That’s why the sun is fast setting.

  17. Tiffany
    5 Sep 12
    11:27 am

  18. Ditto Muttoman!

  19. Dale
    7 Sep 12
    6:01 pm

  20. Put all the whistles and bells you want into the package for advertisers but none of it matters if no one is buying the mag. Show the advertisers a healthy readership and they would be crazy to ignore that just because they can’t get their little bit of cream on top. Having said that, I love the cross platform Sophie Monk type setup.