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Ford Motor Co.'s Ford division is changing the way its estimated $140 million magazine budget is spent, and some titles are already feeling the chill.

"We have made some changes in our selection criteria," said Bob Mancini, senior partner/media director at Ford agency J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit. "As a result there are fewer titles. The rationale is to be more focused and more impactful in the primary magazines."

The change in strategy comes as the auto ad market that powered last year's consumer magazine revival is showing its first signs of advertising softness. In April, auto ads in magazines tumbled 2.7% to 2,235.9 compared with the same month a year ago, according to Publishers Information Bureau. In another worrisome sign, 13 Japanese luxury models are being hit with potentially crippling tariffs starting this week.

Ford's buys are expected to be announced within two weeks. But in the first round, big losers included Modern Maturity, Woman's Day, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal. Woman's Day alone is said to have lost $1 million in Ford ads. Some smaller, targeted books like Outside also are out.

About two dozen other titles will be added for the 1996 model year, including George, the John F. Kennedy Jr. start-up. Also, Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated are said to have done very nicely in Ford's new criteria, although executives would not comment on specific plans.

"It's early yet, but I'm optimistic," said Time Publisher Jack Haire.

Although the newsweeklies are still showing positive year-to-date auto business, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report all saw auto ad pages decline in April.

"I really think it's a timing thing-at least I hope it is," said Greg Osberg, Newsweek associate publisher.

JWT is said to be using a proprietary formula that uses data from Simmons Market Research, J.D. Power & Associates, Media Research Inc. and its own database to assess titles. In the initial evaluations, each title is rated on whether its reader profile makes it an appropriate buy for any or all of Ford's models. After the first cut is made, the remaining magazines make price and merchandising proposals. Magazine spending by the division is expected to be about the same as for the 1995 model year.

The changes are being attributed to Jerry Donnelly, former Lincoln-Mercury ad manager who took a similar post at Ford division last December. Mr. Donnelly couldn't be reached for comment.

So far there are conflicting reports about the philosophy guiding Mr. Donnelly's changes at Ford. One media executive said he's emphasizing coverage and reach and de-emphasizing audience composition as it relates to percentage of Ford buyers. But another said that can't be right because if coverage and reach were the keys, then the women's books wouldn't have lost so much. And magazines reps are frustrated because Ford and JWT haven't told them the exact formula for evaluation.

General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. haven't announced any sweeping changes in media buying.

GM, which spent $379 million on magazines in 1994 according to Competitive Media Reporting, budgets on a calendar year and hasn't seriously tackled 1996 yet.

It's too early for Chrysler's 1996 plans as well. The auto marketer this month did step up incentive ads, but used broadcast time it already had rather than shifting money out of magazines, said Theodor Cunningham, exec VP-sales and marketing. Chrysler spent about $149 million on magazines in 1994, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

All of this comes in a year in which total U.S. sales of new cars and trucks have already been disappointing, falling 5.5% in the first four months compared with a year earlier.

A slowdown in automotive sales usually means auto marketers shift funds from magazines to spot TV to promote sales incentives at the expense of national TV and magazine buys, said Tom Healey, partner and director-media and advertising services for J.D. Power & Associates, an Agoura Hills, Calif., market research consultancy.

This year, however, publishers could be spared a worse hit because the TV market is so tight (AA, May 15). Nevertheless, Mazda Motor of America and Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America reallocated some of their print budget to spot TV, according to industry insiders.

Consumer magazines also face some stiff new competition from business-to-business computer titles PC Magazine and PC Computing, which, in a radical departure, are pursuing auto ads for the first time.

The traditional computer books join the new class of consumer business titles from Wired to Computer Life that joined the auto ad hunt last year.

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