Mags can take on TV

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Call it a lack of ambition. As advertisers audition for media-mix, magazines skulk in the cellar. Magazines leave the big hunt for TV-to fight for the scraps they already own. The only rivals magazines seem to notice are fellow publishers.

Their pitch is "Buy Conde Nast not Hearst." It isn't "Buy print not TV."

That's odd. Print has never been in a better position to compete for TV dollars. Look at the facts. The job of a medium is to deliver audience to message. That cost-value balance has shifted from TV to print-dramatically. This season saw another 12% TV price increase. Advertisers know the litany: CPMs up; ratings down; clutter at every break.

Not so with print.

Media-mix is front and center. It's a pleasant way of saying "use less TV." But magazines don't step forward. And agencies do not push them. Despite its wisdom and its urgency, media-mix is not happening. TV dollars are not moving to magazines. The question is "Why?" And the answer, I think, is deeply rooted in the way print is sold, bought and planned.

editor vs. publisher

Top of the list is print's editor vs. publisher problem. This is the confusion between the magazine as a "product" that consumers buy, read and relate to, and the magazine as a "medium" advertisers hire to carry messages to consumer markets. These are very different functions.

The primary job of the magazine as a magazine is to attract and involve the reader. Without that, there is no magazine and no audience to sell. The primary job of the magazine as an advertising medium is to deliver brand messages to consumer markets.

But many magazines have a different view. They don't claim to reach markets for advertisers; they claim to define markets for advertisers.

The publisher's pitch is "buy my magazine to reach its audience," suggesting it is unique. They sell their readers against the readers of other magazines-as if there is no duplication, no reach extension and no good reason to buy more than one. This narrow sell inevitably makes magazines less than a mass medium. And less than a mass medium cannot compete with TV.

The difference is not semantic. "Buy this magazine to reach its audience" is not "buy these programs to reach your market." No advertiser is ever asked to buy 13 episodes to reach the viewers of "Friends".

Print's obsession with freezing out competing titles also leads to measures of reader attentiveness, involvement and receptivity and there is something self-destructive about them. The idea that print ads need the magazine to intercede with readers suggests that a print ad by itself isn't very effective.

Would TV ever suggest that?

To compete with TV, print needs to understand TV, especially how it's planned to sell products, and follow that lead. A few examples:

We plan TV by weekly gross rating points. We plan magazines by insertions. That is the classic difference between the media and how they perform. Insertion planning ignores the dynamics of the market. It does not consider, or even report, the week-by-week flow of message-delivery, which is critical since ads influence brand choice and people buy every week.

reach or discounts?

We tend to art direct magazines rather than plan them. We flowchart insertions by publication interval. Monthlies fill in four weeks; weeklies fill in one-as if all the readers see the ads that week or that month.

On the flowchart, 100 insertions looks like a big print campaign. But insertions tell you nothing about the number of messages delivered. If we flowcharted TV by insertion, a modest TV campaign would blanket the flowchart with 1,000 spots.

We plan TV mostly for reach. We plan magazines mostly for discounts. To get higher discounts, we run more insertions in fewer titles. But reach is key to advertising response, and magazine schedules build reach by using many titles-just as TV planning uses many programs.

"Recency" planning highlights the weakness of print plans. Recency says advertising works mostly with consumers who are ready to buy. This requires running enough weight each week to build significant levels of reach each week.

In TV, that's 60 to 80 target points a week to generate a 35 to 40 reach. Careful testing by many consumer-packaged-goods brands shows it works.

A heavy magazine schedule delivers an uneven average of 20 points a week. No wonder sales response is disappointing. Twenty points won't show sales for TV either.

TV dollars are not moving to print. The usual explanation is magazines don't have the impact or immediacy of TV. For decades, major agencies have indexed magazine effectiveness at 60% to 70% of TV.

But TV price increases, fragmentation and clutter have more than eliminated that level of advantage. Today's return-on-advertising-investment models most often show greater payback to magazines than TV.

Yet print remains passive. It's more than puzzling.

Erwin Ephron is a partner at Ephron, Papazian & Ephron, New York.

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