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BUENOS AIRES-"In every society there exists the need for regular citizens to place their dreams in famous people," said Jorge Fontevecchia, 41, CEO of Editorial Perfil, Argentina's largest magazine publisher.

That's why Caras (Faces), the celebrity weekly Perfil launched in October 1992, has become Argentina's hottest must-read.

"We had been trying for 10 years to get into this market," launching flops in 1983 and 1986, he said. "Only after a persistent search did we find a formula we considered perfect."

The effort paid off. With an initial investment of $15 million, Caras sold 300,000 copies of its first issue, breaking even in two months. It now sells 14 million copies annually in Argentina, raking in a $5 million annual profit on sales of $50 million. Mr. Fontevecchia expects a total of 2,115 ad pages this year.

Caras looks suspiciously like Spain's celebrity-loving Hola! and its U.K. cousin, Hello. Unlike those markets, Argentina has no royalty-but it does have a society obsessed with showing off.

Caras' Argentine success led Mr. Fontevecchia and Editorial Perfil to launch a Brazilian version in November 1993 in a joint venture with Brazil's largest publisher, Editora Abril. It now sells 300,000 copies weekly, 1,162 ad pages a year.

A Portuguese edition, launched in August as an insert in Lisbon's Sunday Expreso newspaper, is now a free-standing weekly that may make Caras a trans-Atlantic smash. At 150,000 copies a week, it is Portugal's top-selling magazine, he said.

How has a magazine whose content is, well, fluffy become a multinational phenomenon?

"Think globally, edit locally," Mr. Fontevecchia said. Each independent edition chases local notoriety.

Perfil reinvests as much as 15% of the title's revenue in advertising and promotion. Argentine ads by Young & Rubicam give Caras a heavy TV and outdoor presence, while in-magazine compact discs, videotapes and raffles keep readers coming back.

Caras' three editions pull in ads from multinational marketers of cosmetics, clothing, cars and credit cards.

While Mexico's financial crisis has put expansion plans there on hold and no other launches are imminent, Mr. Fontevecchia thinks his magazine could be a hit anywhere.

Caras' continuing growth in its existing markets will keep its profits reflecting its editorial mission: "No bad news."

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