The Failure Of Print Planning: Focus Should Be On Response, Not Readership, To Attract Advertisers

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Bankruptcy court in London is on Carey Street. Publishers in the U.K. are fond of saying, "The way to Carey Street is paved with broken rate cards."

Not true in the U.S. Here publishers don't need a stainless-steel rate card to make it. They need at least two: The real one for the P&L and the public one for the discounting.

U.S. magazines seem to have a death wish and ad agencies are the Dr. Kervorkians. Print has been maneuvered into price negotiation -- like TV -- without the limited inventories or strong demand that makes negotiated pricing work for TV.

Magazine inventories are plastic because they can add or delete pages. Demand is sluggish because print does not compete for the bulk of advertising dollars reserved for TV. With cost-per-thousand-readers the only accepted standard of value, magazines spend their energies bad-mouthing, price-cutting and bitching about missing readers. It is the worst of possible worlds.

Magazines need a tonic: convincing proof that print advertising, like TV advertising, can have an immediate effect on brand sales. This would help magazines compete for TV dollars.

It may be a tired argument, but it has a steely logic. Price competition works best when more buyers are buying.


Despite brave talk, print has not done well this decade. In 1986, national advertisers spent $16.2 billion in TV, $5.6 billion in magazines. A 3 to 1 ratio. The magazine share of the $22 billion TV/magazine pie was 26%. In 1996, the pie was up to $38 billion; the magazine share was down to 24%.

It is significant that print's share decreased even as the media case for TV weakened. Network prime-time ratings are down 40% since 1986 and CPMs are up 70%. Advertisers know they are getting far less for their TV dollars than they did a few years back.

In contrast, major magazine readership, according to Mediamark Research Inc., is down only 2% since 1986. And CPM increases have been nominal. Remember, magazine price-negotiation began in earnest in 1987 and worked its way through the pricing system over the next few years.

Magazines are beating TV programs at their own ratings game. Today, magazines are unquestionably the high-reach media vehicles. If they qualified, along with TV programs, for the Nielsen adult "Top 10" list, only "ER" and "Seinfeld" would make the cut, placing eighth and 10th. The top seven would be Parade, Reader's Digest, TV Guide, USA Weekend, Better Homes & Gardens, National Geographic and Good Housekeeping.


The job of a medium is to deliver audience to message, and there is considerable evidence that the cost-value balance in doing this is shifting from TV to print. But dollars have not followed, simply because advertisers do not believe magazines can substitute for TV in producing a sales response.

Their perception is magazines work slowly to build brand awareness. This is based on many years of experience with TV and print. And yet it may be quite wrong. The problem may be the way we measure and plan print.

We plan TV for reach, magazines for continuity -- a cheap way to fill in the spaces between flights of heavy TV. Because of rate card discounts and negotiation, we use many insertions in few magazines. Six times in a monthly, 13 times in a weekly -- when fewer insertions in more magazines is the way to buy reach.

We show reach and frequencies for the total schedule, not the average week, even though we know there is a significant difference. We flow-chart insertions by publication interval. A monthly fill in a whole month, a weekly fill in a week. The graphic message of our print flow charts is many weeks of concentrated message-weight, which isn't true. Everything we do tends to exaggerate the strength of magazine schedules. If we approached TV the way we do print, we'd be flow-charting 3,000 spots for an average schedule.

The new "recency" planning reveals the weakness of print plans. Recency says advertising works most with consumers who are ready to buy. This focuses us on running enough TV weight each week to build significant levels of reach each week. There is a minimum weight threshold in TV -- about 60 to 100 target points. We know from experience it takes at least 50 points a week in TV to see sales effects in-market. A heavy magazine schedule delivers 20 points a week. Twenty points will not work with TV either.


The few recent cases where print was used at TV weight-levels in the U.S. are tantalizing. In 1991, Family Circle tracked magazine and product purchase using the Citicorp consumer scanner panel and showed magazine advertising can immediately increase short-term sales. It also demonstrated the importance of higher Targeted Rating Point (demographic rating point) levels.

Since the "test" ads were exposed in actual magazine schedules running in several women's magazines -- and the Family Circle purchaser is a heavy magazine reader -- the Family Circle purchaser households (the test group in which brand purchase was measured) received considerably more print advertising weight than the brand plan called for. The research design had the effect of tripling the print weight received by the test group to TV weight-levels.

It worked. Duncan Hines frosting, for example. Sales were up 29% as a result of print advertising. The brand ran 94 W18+ TRPs in Family Circle, but the test group women actually received closer to 262 points when other magazines carrying the campaign were included in the analysis. Those are TV weight-levels.

Nabisco Harvest Crisps. Sales were up 39% as a result of print advertising. Test group women received 225 TRPs over a few weeks. Those are TV weight-levels.


Fifteen test brands showed sales increases as the result of print advertising. The average test group print weight was 185 TRPs a month. That is equal to a light, but acceptable, TV schedule.

Another celebrated example is the "milk mustache" campaign, out of Bozell. Magazine advertising alone increased sales in the billion-dollar whole milk category. The 1995 introduction spent $39 million in 48 magazines, delivering 60 weeks at 95 TRPs. The average weekly reach was a 40. Those are TV weight-levels.


Advertisers certainly don't think magazine effects are strong or rapid enough to introduce a new product. For that you need TV.

Not always. In 1992, Coty launched Vanilla Fields, a new-product introduction using magazines exclusively. Thirteen weeks of advertising at 65 target points a week. By the end of the holiday season, Vanilla Fields was the No. 1 mass fragrance brand.

There is agreement that the primary purpose of advertising in mature markets is to protect and increase share. The usual reason it does, or doesn't, is the strength of the message and the reach of the schedule. Scanner data clearly show the selling effects of strong messages widely delivered are immediate and evident. This means advertisers can know whether a campaign is working before all the money is spent.

The use of short-term sales effects to predict long-term success is redefining the traditional advertiser/agency relationship.

Sophisticated package-goods advertisers are using scanner panel data to evaluate campaign performance in-market, quickly. Giant advertisers in highly competitive categories -- McDonald's Corp., Miller Brewing Co., Coca-Cola Co. -- are giving creative assignments to competing agencies in the hope of getting campaigns that "work."

But these innovations focus entirely on TV. Magazines do not seem relevant when short-term sales response is the goal. Today, "optimization" is the prize. No one seems anxious to optimize print.

Magazines need to focus on measuring response, not just readership, to get the attention of advertisers.

Print effectiveness is not a parochial issue. The perception that print works slowly is bad for magazines and worse for advertising. TV audiences will continue to fragment and costs will continue to increase. Advertisers must find effective new ways to reach consumers.

A more intelligent and robust use of print should be the early option.

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