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The magazine industry is like the Republican party -- it's always on the defensive.

The Republicans actually are a much sadder case. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, former Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady said President Bush paved the way for our current robust economy, but he said "our greatest failure was not adequately explaining to the American people" how the administration's "common-sense" actions tied together as a policy.

Not only do Republicans have a difficult time defending their own economic policies, they are completely inarticulate when it comes to telling us why Democratic initiatives won't work. When President Clinton proposes a major expansion of daycare facilities or that people under 65 be allowed to buy into Medicare, the Republicans seem unable to muster any convincing arguments against the plans without sounding (as usual) as if they're unsympathetic toward the plight of the poor and downtrodden, or even the average hard-working family. They are forever destined to be tarred as the party of the fat-cats, and even their one constant initiative, tax cuts, can easily be branded as a sop to the rich.

I think President Clinton enjoys announcing his grandiose and costly schemes just to watch the hapless Republicans squirm.

The magazine people share the Republicans' penchant for always being on the defensive. I don't hear a constant drumbeat from advertisers and agencies for other media to prove that they work, but I hear incessant demands that magazines show their worth.

What's more, I find it incredible that advertisers are finding it difficult to get their agencies to come up with acceptable creative work for their magazine ads.

Clairol executives complained about this sad state of affairs at a Magazine Publishers of America conference last fall, and now the biggest magazine advertiser of them all, General Motors Corp., is cutting back on its magazine ad spending this year at least partly because it can't get good creative. As we reported the other week, GM wants its marketing divisions and ad agencies to do more rigorous testing of print ads to improve creative and increase effectiveness. The car company doesn't even know if multipage units are more effective than page ads, and it's going to make the divisions defend their use of the splashier insertions.

While GM demands ever more proof that magazine ads deliver the goods, Lincoln is willing to bet the ranch on a onetime custom-publishing magazine to introduce some new models. If car companies are giving magazines a hard time about their ads in regularly published issues of well-known and respected publications, why would they spend good money on an unsolicited magazine that recipients don't pay for and that will have absolutely no proof of readership? Go figure.

People buy their favorite magazines and read them avidly; if the stories are read, the ads will get read. That's easy to defend. What's not so easy, however, is magazines' continuing use of sweepstakes promotions.

The TV newsmagazine shows have put the spotlight on this sleazy practice, where such operations as American Family Publishers and Publishers Clearing House send out millions of those oversize envelopes giving the distinct impression that the recipient is the big winner.

Are magazines: (A.) so hard up for subscriptions that they need to resort to these tactics, and (B.) won't the kind of subscribers these sweepstakes dredge up come under intensive scrutiny from an already skeptical advertiser?

And (C.) aren't these readers -- one poor lady subscribed to Fortune because she wanted to read about how to invest her newly won million-dollar prize -- as phony as the viewers that the TV networks and local stations attract during their own sweeps?

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