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.


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