Elle and Mirabella are dangling steep discounts and offering to give away ad pages in an attempt to lure an advertiser into the fiercely competitive fashion field that's not been there before, according to a proposal obtained by Advertising Age.
Parent Hachette Filipacchi Magazines confirmed the authenticity of the documents but downplayed their significance. The proposal, developed for Chesebrough-Pond's Mentadent toothpaste brand, was apparently erroneously faxed to the offices of rival Conde Nast Publications.
Although rate negotiation is widespread in the magazine industry, the proposal offers a rare peek at the lengths to which magazines will go to pick up new business. It also underscores the ferocity of the battle between Hachette's fashion magazines and those published by Conde Nast (including flagship Vogue) and Hearst Magazines (Harper's Bazaar).
Dated Dec. 1, the proposal offers Mentadent a package that includes a free ad page in Elle for four pages of paid business. The offer is for the July issue, a period when fashion publishing typically suffers from the summer doldrums. The proposal also offers a free page in Mirabella after purchase of three paid pages.
"Merchandising is generally not allowed to be taken as `free' space," according to the document, "However an exception is being made for Mentadent. . ."
In addition, the proposal offers the advertiser a 21% discount on top of an already discounted rate for Chesebrough-Pond's parent Unilever of $52,377 for a page in Elle. That rate is based on a volume discount earned by the parent company after 36 insertions.
Unilever won't comment on the proposal, although Mentadent has not made a buy in the titles.
"I don't want to get involved with it," said Irene Greico, magazine and spot supervisor for Unilever USA's in-house agency, Unus Media.
Carl Portale, senior VP-group publisher of Elle and Mirabella, said the proposal was accidentally faxed to someone at Conde Nast's Self, although executives at that magazine denied knowledge of the fax being sent there.
Mr. Portale brushed aside the particulars of the proposal, saying Mentadent was only offered such a sweet deal because its parent company is a big advertiser in Elle.
"We gave the [free] page as merchandising," he said. "It was just a perfunctory proposal as part of a global deal. There are 29 editions of Elle worldwide and Unilever does a minimum of $5 million in advertising."
Mr. Portale added, "We don't have any deal with [Mentadent]. They are not advertisers, and we have never had them as advertisers."
Vogue Publisher Ron Galotti took advantage of the controversy to fire a shot at his rival.
"It sounds like something they'd do," Mr. Galotti said. "I did not nickname him Carl `Monty Hall' Portale for nothing," he added, referring to the host of the classic TV game show "Let's Make a Deal."
Conde Nast does not openly discount published rates, but industry executives said the publisher regularly sweetens the pot through merchandising and marketing incentives.
Mentadent may have been targeted because it increased its relatively small ad budget for magazines last year. Through November, Competitive Media Reporting showed the marketer's print spending at $4.7 million, up from $2.8 million for the same period in 1995.
None of the fashion books benefited from that increase, however. According to CMR, the brand did no advertising in the category in either 1995 or 1996.
Copyright January 1997, Crain Communications Inc.