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Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue is looking to cash in on its notoriety by positioning itself to advertisers as a print showcase for new campaigns, much as the Super Bowl is used to introduce blockbuster TV commercials.

In an unusual move, the Time Inc. weekly is soliciting ad agency creative teams for swimsuit issue ad ideas through direct mail efforts. The campaigns can play off the issue, but don't have to.

"We started to notice last year that more and more marketers are playing off the idea of the swimsuit issue in their ads," said Michael Dukmejian, sales development director at SI.

Schieffelin & Somerset Co.'s Tanqueray, Seagram Americas' Chivas Regal, Kellogg's Special K and Ford Motor Co.'s Mercury Sable all developed ads playing off the theme for last February's issue. Tommy Hilfiger bought a four-page gatefold and a spread in the middle of the issue, and the designer is back with a gatefold for 1998.

The '97 swimsuit issue carried 109 ad pages, up from 75 the year before.


"I think it's smart. When I think of famous individual issues of magazines, what comes to mind is Time's Man of the Year and Sports Illustrated swimsuit," said Bob Barrie, art director at Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis. "It definitely does not seem contrived. It's a highly anticipated issue."

Ad rates for the swimsuit issue are set at $209,000 for a color page and $142,000 for b&w, as much as 33% above regular rates. Early bird rates, good until Dec. 15, are $183,000 for color and $124,000 for b&w.

The swimsuit issue has a rate base of 4.5 million, higher than the regular weekly rate base of 3.15 million. The total readership of the '97 swimsuit issue was 55 million adults, comparable to a Nielsen TV rating of 28, according to a study SI commissioned from Beta Research.

The issue's female readership, according to the research, more than tripled from the usual estimated 5 million to more than 16 million for the swimsuit issue.

"We wanted to point out to advertisers that this issue reaches more people than 'Seinfeld,' more than the NCAA basketball championship," Mr. Dukmejian said. "It's also a media event. Jay Leno reveals the cover on 'The Tonight Show.' [Cable network] TNT is doing a 1-hour special. Advertisers will benefit from the added exposure this issue gets."


"I can't think of any other publication that generates that much attention and interest.*They have created a sense of excitement and fun around it," said a spokeswoman for Miller Lite. The brand partnered with SI this summer for a "Swimsuit Shoot Sweepstakes." The winners of the sweepstakes go along on location.

The swimsuit brand also is being bolstered by SI's commitment to keeping it as a stand-alone, with upgraded paper stock and perfect binding. The issue gets coverage on the CNN/SI Web site (www.

cnnsi.com), which reveals the cover when Mr. Leno does. Next year, the site will

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