More bang for buck: Auto industry pushes print's creative limits

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The auto industry is jacking up its print presence with bold magazine inserts and big-block buys aimed at cutting through the clutter.

Even though ad pages in magazines slid 1% last year, the auto category lifted pages 9.4%, according to the Publishers' Information Bureau. Whether it's because they see print as more flexible, better targeted and less expensive than TV, or because readers may spend more time with print ads, a growing number of automakers are viewing magazines as an opportunity to make a bigger creative splash.

Nissan North America's Infiniti Division is running three-page inserts that mimic materials from the QX56's interior of brushed aluminum, wood-grain and leather. Mini Cooper is running an ad that's a keepsake motoring game while Chevrolet is running an ad that doubles as a fold-out poster for its Colorado pickup.

more inserts

David Carey, publisher of The New Yorker, said his staff has done more different kinds of insert configurations in the past year than in its entire history. He's had to beef up his staff of estimators to price the pieces and his production staff has been working overtime. "People are looking to stand out and do something that's never been done before," he said.

"We are always challenging our agency to come up with creative ways to communicate in print," said Scott Fessenden, marketing director of Infiniti. The result-an ad for its first full-size sport utility, created by TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif.-runs in four April automotive buff books and 18 consumer titles. The idea for the campaign "was to show the vehicle from the inside out," said Tor Myhren, creative director on the account at the Omnicom Group agency. The entire blitz, which includes three upcoming TV spots starting April 1, as well as outdoor and online ads, focus on the SUV's luxurious cabin after consumer research revealed the interior posed a competitive edge.

"The target audience is very specific for this SUV and they're hard to reach, so you've got to be very specific in targeting," Mr. Fessenden said. Infiniti's target customer reads more magazines and watches less TV than the general population, he added.

Infiniti spent $56 million in magazines through November 2003 vs. $44 million in all of 2002, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

BMW's Mini Cooper unit, which nearly doubled magazine spending in 2003 to $13 million through November vs. $7 million in calendar 2002, breaks its single-page "Motoring Scorecard" insert in April issues. Five scorecards are attached to the insert and are to be passed out to friends to play as a driving game. Also due this month from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, is a half-page spread showing how technology has allowed powerful machines to get smaller, including cameras, cellphones-and the Mini.

going beyond print

Consumers pull out and keep the ads, giving them "life beyond the printed page," said Kerri Martin, marketing communications manager at Mini. The brand's print ads, which some owners are collecting and are found on eBay, "are part of our plan to surprise and delight people and do things differently."

Kim Kosak said one of her main objectives for the launch of Chevrolet's new "American Revolution" umbrella brand campaign was "terrific breakthrough" to showcase the biggest new-product blitz in the brand's history. "The media, like the creative, needed to feel like an American Revolution," said the general director-advertising and promotions at the General Motors Corp. division.

It's solution is multi-page, big-impact units to showcase new models, like the double-spread gatefold that opens to a poster size in several January publications for the Colorado, said Andrea Wells, the exec VP who heads the account at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich. She said there's a "ton of clutter in print, which makes it challenging to stand out." But Chevrolet's spreads "jump right off the pages" as you flip through the magazines. "We are kind of going for it in print."

All of this is good news for the Magazines Publishers of America, which completed a first-of-its kind magazine effectiveness study last year with an unnamed major automaker that looked at three of its models over three years. Working with the Hudson River Group, the MPA found an average 2.2% gain in total sales volume for each of the models was driven by magazine ads vs. an industry average of 1.9%. The return on investment for the automaker was higher than the overall industry average of $1.33 per every dollar invested in magazine ads.

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