As many will have read, that New Yorker issue had only one advertiser. Retail giant Target, abetted by Hayworth Marketing & Media and Peterson Milla Hooks, bought every ad site in the issue and populated those spaces with exclusive images fashioned by world-renowned illustrators. The idea was that the works could have been in the magazine on artistic merit alone, but all incorporated the Target bull's-eye in one way or another, giving the retailer ownership of the issue.
On a simple, immediate level, the campaign worked because it is sufficiently unusual to have the disruptive, first-mover advantage that is central to many of today's best campaigns. The smartest marketers have realized that if their ad makes a unique statement, either in content or placement, it will spark a media and water-cooler conversation whose value will be tens or even hundreds of times the cost of the media buy.
You think Dove hatched "Campaign for Real Beauty" because it cares about women's self-esteem? No, it simply wanted to play to the pack-following newsrooms all over the country that it knew would give the campaign more media coverage than it could have bought with a decade's worth of marketing dollars. And Target was doing the same, scoring pieces in Slate, The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle among a host of others. (As journalists we insist on church and state, but the best marketers make pawns of us without paying our publishers a dime.)
Even without the media coverage, the Target takeover was a better use of $1 million than a series of buys across different magazines, because it recognized the need to engage rather than chalk up meaningless numbers of eyeballs. While many media buyers are still paid to tick reach and frequency boxes, such metrics look increasingly pathetic in today's media world because they tell marketers so little about whether they're connecting with consumers.
The Media Kitchen CEO Paul Woolmington says: "Magazines are still bought on average issue readership, with an acceptance that maybe half of the advertising is wasted. The truth is it's probably way more than that. We need to deconstruct the measurements and create a new vernacular that focuses on engagement." That is exactly what Target did, focusing on depth and duration of engagement of The New Yorker reader and measuring its success based on striking up a relationship with this audience.
Even more importantly in today's consumer-controlled, ad-savvy world, the presenting-sponsor arrangement makes the marketer's presence helpful rather than irritating: a media waiter delivering a choice morsel rather than a fly in the soup. And, in being an integral part of a positive experience, the marketer piggybacks on that media outlet's relationship with consumers to become a brand they regard as "one of theirs."
Finally, a fringe benefit: Presenting sponsors can remind consumers that advertising supports much of their entertainment. Coke recently bought up all the slots for several weeks on Jack FM in L.A., and ran brief commercials for Coke Zero and Minute Maid Fruit Punch. The creative: A Jack announcer comes on and says: "The people at Minute Maid Fruit Punch paid us lots of cash so you could listen to music, not ads." Not that sophisticated maybe, but wouldn't you rather hear that than a spot that interrupts your favorite show to share the news that some 20-something wants the world to chill? I'll take the presenting sponsor every time.