LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- While "going Hollywood" could be considered a derisive expression about trendiness, for Hachette Filipacchi's Elle magazine, the move has proved to be something of a trend-buster.
Elle has a rich history in branded entertainment, the touchstone being "Project Runway," which Elle publisher Carol Smith helped start in 2004 with Bravo and the Weinstein Co. as a vehicle to sell advertisers on more than just ad pages. Four years and five seasons later, Elle went from No. 6 in a six-book fashion category to No. 2 by the time it left the show prior to "Runway's" switch to Lifetime. Since then, the magazine has created its own fully branded reality competition, CW's "Stylista," which lasted one poorly rated 13-episode season, and can currently be seen integrated into the second season of MTV's "The City," which has scored series-high ratings since Elle came on board.
So it's understandable that Elle would be so bold as to finish the year with one of its riskiest endeavors yet, "Make Better," a multiplatform initiative encompassing fitness and nutrition content that will include a themed January issue, a dedicated website (ElleMakeBetter.com) and a three-DVD set, out on Amazon.com and on HSN Dec. 8, hosted by model Brooklyn Decker. The program will be sponsored at launch by Reebok, which will integrate its fitness apparel and Easy Tone technology into the DVDs and custom advertorials in the January issue.
"Make Better" marks the first major program Elle has executed through its new relationship with Creative Artists Agency, which has been helping the magazine brand broker new relationships with content partners since the summer.
Brent Allen, VP-brand development, said the various brand extensions are ultimately designed to boost overall ad revenue, but the additional exposure that comes from shows such as "Stylista" and "The City" can have a positive and occasionally measurable impact on brand awareness and newsstand sales.
Case in point: As some titles saw September ad pages shrink as much as 54%, Elle held on to more pages than its Conde Nast competitors, sliding 21% year-over-year vs. Glamour's 25%, Allure's 28% and Vogue's 30%. It's likely that 2009 will mark the first year Elle will finish ahead of Vogue in total ad pages, having run 1,842 pages in its issues from January through November, down 21% from the year prior, vs. Vogue's 1,807 pages during the same period, down 32%, according to the Media Industry Newsletter.
"The magazine is always at the core of everything we do, but the more we can find we're integrating other media it gets more interesting in terms of what we can offer to advertisers," she said. "We're looking at programs that really are truly integrated, whether it's mobile, web or print. An ad page is not an ad page anymore. We're trying to be strategic partners with our clients."
Ms. Allen noted that "Make Better" could already be considered a success at launch because Elle had already offset its production costs by signing up Reebok as an integrated sponsor. "We're walking out at break even before we've sold a single DVD," she said.
Working with CAA's clients
To illustrate the concept of "Make Better," a more positive take on "makeover," Ms. Allen and the team at CAA Marketing turned to Ms. Decker to be the face and body of their new initiative, which Reebok helped secure through its relationship with Ms. Decker's husband, tennis star Andy Roddick.
"She's not just a beautiful model who happens to be quite athletic, but she's also at a place in popular culture where Elle readers would be especially interested in someone like her," said Jae Goodman, CAA's chief creative officer. "Our timing was in a lot of ways lucky."
The DVDs feature Ms. Decker leading a workout that incorporates everything from yoga to cardio to a trapeze, courtesy of Reebok's partnership with Cirque de Soleil's JukariFit to Fly exercise program. The exercises vary in length so viewers can do more intensive workouts, or quick five-minute activities if they're on-the-go.
"A lot of us get so consumed with having kids and a home to upkeep, we wanted a DVD that would be easy for women to just pop in but also fit into their stylish, chic superwomen lifestyles," Ms. Decker told Ad Age.
Dianne Hayes, Reebok's head of global entertainment marketing, said "Make Better" represented an "aggressive advertising spend" on the brand's part in terms of investing the bulk of its apparel marketing dollars in the program during the time period. "We certainly changed our media mix to accommodate it. The Easy Tone story fits in well, and Brooklyn's a great face for us. Who wouldn't want [Elle creative director] Joe Zee to style your products and have them worn by Brooklyn?"