Dissatisfied with the medium's own measurement systems, the Big 3-General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp.-have developed their own proprietary evaluation methods.
At GM and Ford, the new evaluation method seems to have translated to a general move from spread ads to single pages this year.
Ford's Lincoln and Mercury brands also moved from spreads in the 1998 model year. Now spreads are only about a third of the two brands' magazine buys.
SINGLE LIST OF MAGAZINES
American Honda Motor Co., on the other hand, isn't walking away from spreads. But the carmaker, for the first time, formulated a single companywide magazine list to be used by all its brands.
The goal is to maximize Honda's buying clout and avoid multiple brands in the same books, says Eric Conn, senior manager of national advertising for the Honda brand who also oversees Acura's strategy.
Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif., which buys media for Honda, and Western International Media, West Hollywood, Calif., Acura's media buyer, negotiated together with the books this fall, he says. The buy included Honda corporate, motorsports and environmental advertising, divided between the two agencies.
The new corporate magazine list adds some new magazines and drops a few other books, but Mr. Conn would not identify them.
"Before, either Rubin or Western would negotiate two or three different times," he says. "Now there's just a single negotiation for the entire corporation."
GM LAUNCHES AN EXCEPTION
While GM has questioned the effectiveness of spreads over single units, it hasn't abandoned spreads completely. It still uses them for key launches.
Ford switched to mostly single pages for the carmaker's biggest-volume unit in September, says Janet Klug, who joined Ford Division this summer as marketing communications manager.
Books got a double-whammy this year from GM. In the first quarter, the auto giant significantly cut magazine spending in favor of TV. Then, during two crippling strikes this summer, GM dramatically scaled back all advertising to reduce costs.
CHRYSLER CUTS DEEP
Chrysler deeply cut magazine spending this year for its Plymouth brand, which had no dramatically different 1998 or '99 models. But the marketer shifted those dollars to new vehicle launches-in the spring for Chrysler's 300M, Concorde and LHS cars and to the recent launch of the '99 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
"We found print a more effective medium for us to tell the larger story during periods of time when we're launching or relaunching vehicles," says Jim Julow, general manager of Dodge. But, he adds, "I look at the cost of magazines as a business, and I say how can you not assume some new paradigm of change is coming. . . in the cost it takes to deliver the product."
All three carmakers have been slashing their overall budgets for years, primarily with manufacturing suppliers. Agency executives say it was only a matter of time before the multibillion-dollar global cuts at each company moved to the soft-industry suppliers.
SOME BOOKS SEE 50% CUT
According to Competitive Media Reporting, GM spent $588.3 million in magazines last year, while Ford spent $284.8 million and Chrysler put out $327.8 million.
Ford Division's changes this fall resulted in many books experiencing a 50% cut in total pages, according to sales representatives. But several publishers of consumer magazines say Ford made up for the spread cuts by buying more single page units, which offset losses.
Michael Clinton, VP-corporate ad sales of Hearst Magazines, says Ford's move was affecting its business, but declined to discuss it.
"There is softness in the truck business due to the creative switch from spreads to single pages, which is impacting our men's books," he says. "Some of our books are doing very well, like Redbook and Victoria."
He predicts Hearst would have a "very good 1999 fiscal year with Ford" because planning was still in the works for Ford's Jaguar Cars North America subsidiary and Mazda North American Operations, of which Ford owns about a third.
There seem to be some winners in the midst of the shifts.
Ford and its dedicated buying agency, Ford Motor Media, Detroit, recently signed multimedia, multiyear contracts with Time Inc. and Hachette Filipacchi Magazines for all its brands. Ford locked in rates for the duration of the contracts in exchange for guaranteed ad page volume.
The automaker also inked a deal for its brands to be the sole sponsor of Entertainment Weekly's special "Seinfeld" edition in May, marking a first for the book.