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Sex, sports, beer, gadgets, clothes, fitness: Six words that rocked the men's magazine world. Those simple words top every cover of Maxim.

"If you are ever confused about a guy's priorities, just consult our cover," says Publisher Lance Ford.

But Maxim's marketing plan has been anything but simple, relying on stealth marketing techniques that depend on the most fickle of all tools at a magazine's disposal: media buzz. Maxim's outrageous stance that it's OK to be a guy has caught the popular fancy as well as the popular press.

"A major attribute of the Maxim brand is that its very reader driven," says President Stephen Colvin. "Our great word-of-mouth comes from that."

It doesn't hurt that a buxom beauty appears on every cover. Not to mention the plugs in gossip doyenne Liz Smith's column, and the New York Post's Page Six, and the regular gig its editor had on New York's WNEW-FM one afternoon a week.

Mr. Colvin, 36, in another attention-getting stunt, approached "Seinfeld" landmark Tom's Restaurant in January and booked it for his "birthday" party the night of the "Must See TV" show's last episode. He finally came clean that it was a Maxim party after Tom's management was besieged with requests from NBC and others to cancel Mr. Colvin's birthday party in their favor.

Maxim's latest attention-getting stunt was a "Circus Maximus" Hollywood party featuring June cover girl Shannen Doherty as hostess. Besides the gossip column coverage, the marketing goal was clear: Establish relationships with those who

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