The Biz: 'EW' rolls out branding effort

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"Jar Jar Binks took us through a year and a half," recalls Mark Harris, assistant managing editor of Entertainment Weekly, with tenderness and fondness.

By which he means the repellent "Star Wars: Episode One-The Phantom Menace" character's shelf-life as whipping-boy-cum-running-joke outlasted even John Travolta's notorious 2000 vanity project, "Battlefield Earth," recipient of reams of reviews reveling in its overweening awfulness.

But sometimes a title needs more to keep the ball rolling, which is why this week Entertainment Weekly, the 12-year old Time Inc. title, launches a branding campaign in print and broadcast that in part touches on the snarkiness embodied in Harris' remarks. The title's hoping for an adolescent growth spurt.

Monica Ray, EW's VP-consumer marketing, said EW wants to become a "top 10" title in terms of ad pages. (Last year it ranked #26 with 1,830.1, according to Publishers Information Bureau; to crack the top 10 would have required roughly another 1,000 pages.) "A long-term goal," said EW President John Squires. To reach it, he adds, the title needs to win more business from non-endemic categories.

Ad spending for the campaign is around $10 million, say its executives, although barter-style arrangements are part of the media plan. Squires conceded "we've been able to use our relationships and create cash and other kinds of considerations to help us extend the campaign," without elaborating, though he denied any outright ads-for-ads deals.

The print and broadcast ads' tagline is "There's nothing more entertaining than Entertainment Weekly." The TV ads focus on the safe-harbor-and commonality-that pop culture offers in conversation, in part by showing a number of social faux pas or uncomfortable situations-like one set on a crowded bus where two acquaintances, after exchanging a few banal pleasantries, hit a conversational wall and lapse into a queasy silence. The print ads, done up in marquee-style lettering, similarly show a bit of cheek. One proclaims "Film Lovers. Not Ass Kissers." The TV ads will run on ABC, CBS, and NBC as well as a host of cable channels, and will appear at Loews Cineplex theaters. Creative comes from StreetSmart Advertising, New York.

time is ripe

"I wanted to do this four years ago," said Squires about the campaign, referring to when he took on his position at EW. Given changes coming at Wenner Media's Rolling Stone courtesy of new Managing Editor Ed Needham, late of Emap's FHM, and the recent entrance of Dennis Publishing's music magazine Blender, though, the timing is ripe right now.

Unlike many magazines, EW's ad pages were up slightly though May of this year-1.7%, to 722.1. But that uptick comes after two consecutive years in which the title posted overall declines-including a 7.5% drop in the ad-mad year of '00. (The title was hit hard by the pullback of cigarette advertising, which began in '00.) Its circulation for the last half of last year was up 0.4% to 1.5 million.

"They have changed with the times fluidly," said Eric Blankfein, Horizon Media, New York. "I enjoy the book."

By any measure it's an industry staple, but perhaps the most ink the title garnered all year came from the saga of Managing Editor James Seymore, who's been expected to take another post at Time Inc. for some time. Neither Squires nor Seymore would comment on the matter.

EW's effort is the first major TV campaign for a print property since Conde Nast Publications took to the airwaves to promote the launch of Lucky in March of last year.

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