Milk, the Magazine

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Building strong teeth, bones, and sales is important to a coalition of America's milk producers, and their latest partner, Nickelodeon.

There's only so much milk any human being can reasonably consume in a given week. For most of us, a gallon should suffice perfectly well.

So how to explain the unusual burst in "incremental gallon sales" (to use dairy-industry argot) over a two-day period last fall? Some 9 million extra gallons of milk poured out of stores nationwide.

Nine million: That represented about a 10 percent boost in overall gallon sales for one week. In any mature industry, a 1 percent boost would be considered good news. In the milk business - staid, reliable, unaccustomed to dramatic leaps in market share - a 10 percent burst is virtually unheard of.

To whom do America's dairy men, women, and bovines, owe their gratitude? A modest little magazine entitled The Best of Nickelodeon that appeared in stores across the country last October. Some 4.5 million copies of the custom magazine, packed with the usual assortment of games, puzzles, and articles - and nothing but ads for milk - also came wrapped with a belly band that read "Buy Two Gallons of Milk, Get This Magazine Free." Just do the math.

Peter Gardiner, senior partner and media director at Bozell New York and architect of myriad integrated marketing plans for the Dairy Management and Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), sponsored by the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, explains, "What happened is that people would see the display in stores and say, `Oh my gosh, I forgot to buy milk.'"

And voila! Nine million extra gallons swept through checkouts nationwide.

With marketing success stories like this one, it's not too hard to see why custom publishing has become one of the fastest-growing segments of the magazine industry. According to a survey by Wilkofsky Gruen Associates for the Magazine Publishers of America released in September, advertisers spent about $1 billion on customized publishing in 1998 - $655 million on magazines alone.

"Customize and they will come," wrote Simon Kelly, cochair of the Custom Publishing Council, in - what else? - a custom magazine on custom publishing for the MPA. He may be right: The business has come out of nowhere in just five years and, by Kelly's estimates, will be a $2 billion business by 2002.

Wilkofsky Gruen reported that sponsorship clients pay publishers about $535,000 per title. Gardiner won't reveal exactly what MilkPEP paid for The Best of Nickelodeon, but if it's in this range, the promotion was not only successful, but remarkably efficient. And high efficiency is mother's milk to all advertisers.

But custom publishing is a mere corner of the overall integrated marketing projects now in vogue at many major agencies (although long a part of the core media philosophy at Bozell, where Gardiner is considered one of the industry's leading integrated marketing specialists).

Integrated marketing is a highly detailed, multilayered approach to reaching consumers, proponents say, that involves a number of media plans, particularly point-of-purchase and customized media on TV and in print. If well executed, an integrated marketing scheme ideally cuts through the ad clutter that has swamped TV and print. (If poorly executed, of course, it only adds to that clutter.) But proponents also say this is a way of speaking directly to their best prospects and customers. There's no wasted circulation, no fat.

"It's not just about buying spots or pages," says Gardiner. "It's everything from running ads to developing new media, to creating custom media, licensing, promotion, sweepstakes, direct - every aspect of communicating to consumers."

Why is this a big deal circa 2000? Because people and their buying patterns have never been segmented so precisely before. Most marketers today know a lot about the individual man, woman, or child buying their products, and custom media is considered the best way to talk to them.

Gardiner got the gospel at Time Inc. in the early '90s. Shortly after Warner Communications bought Time Inc., he took on the controversial job of creating marketing "synergy" between Time's stable of magazines and units within the Warner empire, like cable TV and music. His efforts were only partly successful, but he became an expert in integrated marketing.

Since joining Bozell in 1995, it would become a critical skill for Gardiner, particularly with MilkPEP. The dairy industry's ad budget more than doubled in 1996 (currently about $165 million in annual billings, $110 for MilkPEP), and along with it the number of demographic groups to be targeted. Gardiner created teams of target-market specialists whose jobs were to understand specific groups of consumers (moms, kids, teens) and how they used media.

Nickelodeon, which probably has a tighter bond with its audience than any other television network (with the possible exception of MTV), would become a crucial partner in MilkPEP's plans. "Kids," says Gardiner, "are arguably one of our most important targets and we use virtually every media product that Nick has - from Nick Jr. all the way up to Nick at Nite, and everything in between. We've done very complicated, elaborate deals with those guys."

One tenet of integrated marketing: Use the media your customers use. "In most households," says Gardiner, "the woman is still the primary purchaser of groceries. The brand is very well known among young parents, who trust it, and it's got unbelievable power with kids. It's a no-brainer."

Says Cyma Zarghami, executive vice president and general manager of Nickelodeon, "The first thing about the Nick audience, which is why it is most appropriate for [MilkPEP], is that we were conceived as the home base for all kids...It's this relationship and dialogue that we've built with these kids that makes the difference."

Custom magazines, says Gardiner, have been used some ten times for MilkPEP over the past two years in wholly or partially sponsored versions of Life, Family Circle, Us and even customized recipe books from Meredith Publishing. (Another campaign this year will be tied to People Weekly's popular "Celebrity Factfinder" feature.)

And yes, at least two more Nickelodeon custom magazines are planned this year, as well. Which begs the question: Why not do more?

That brings up another fundamental tenet of integrated marketing. "There's only so much you can `incentive' somebody," says Gardiner. "If you had one [magazine] in there all the time, they'd be hauling out too much milk. You don't want them wasting that milk."

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