Link: Not Yet
Target: New Yorker Readers
The American Society of Magazine Editors yesterday criticized The New Yorker for failing to post a notice in the August 22nd issue of the magazine stating that the content of the magazine had not been influenced by the single advertiser for the issue.
This in itself is hardly worth discussing as it falls into the category of warnings like “do not use this hammer on your thumb” which are both obvious and unhelpful, and other advertising blogs including Adrants take it in the proper spirit. If the advertiser influences the content of a journalistic magazine, it hurts the magazine, the consumer and ultimately the advertiser, too. A disclaimer is a silly artifact of a litigious society.
The more interesting question about the Target/New Yorker marriage is whether it was money well spent for brand Target. Given the obscene amount of publicity and blog interest the issue generated, the answer must be yes. And we believe that it is nearly as obvious that the issue was successful for Target on its own merits. The question of whether other advertisers should follow brings us back to why this worked for Target – and that is the most interested question from the brand manager’s point of view.
Why did this single advertiser issue work so well for Target? Here is our take, by the numbers:
- Brand Positioning Match between Advertiser Brand and Media Brand – Target, positioned as design for smart people who don’t want to spend a fortune (which can and does include well-to-do-people who just think high prices are silly) matches up well with the New Yorker’s positioning as news and commentary for the sceptical and sophisticated reader. The brand character of both of these brands is contrarian as they tend to fly a bit against the mainstream of their categories. Target is the anti-Wal-Mart, almost able to make you forget you’re buying 32 rolls of toilet paper with a well-placed teapot by Michael Graves. The New Yorker defines irony the way Dante describes Hell – with such a wide tonal palate that any single issue is bound to both offend and delight.
- A Fair Value Proposition for the Consumer – Target realized that dominating a magazine with its fare could have lead to anger or boredom for the consumer. Imagine the effect of page after page of smiling twenty-somethings in sailor clothes, if you can. Instead, they chose to create art that complimented the unique nature of the magazine and drew the reader in because of the lack of an obvious commercial message.
- Show, Don’t Tell – Most advertisement works the same way as a comedian getting on stage and saying “I’m really funny and if you don’t believe me let me give you three good reasons why you should.” Target goes one better here and shows us that they understand design. This is why the ads work as commercial art – they prove a key part of Target’s brand positioning and do so in a unique, memorable way. It’s hard to argue that Target is not about design when you see these ads.
- Brand Linkage - An easy mistake to make while getting the first three points right would have been to produce a beautiful, artful magazine which had no linkage whatsoever back to Target. However the ubiquity of the Target bullseye logo in the ads – the only commercial message whatsoever in the magazine – was impossible to miss or forget. On the other hand, the logo was so artfully woven into each drawing that it was a core element rather than a brand slap-on.
The danger here is not for Target – which has clearly gotten it right – as much as for other advertisers who may follow and the magazines who will host them. Advertising may be a necessary evil for many news magazine readers, but advertising by a single sponsor is a different issue. To be a fair value exchange for the reader, the single advertiser must add something to the magazine that would not exist without it – and that cannot just be a product message. This reinforces the message in our Commentary post earlier this week – the advertisement must represent a fair value exchange for the consumer as entertainment as well as presenting a value proposition for the brand.
The danger to the magazine is greater, as the ASME was no doubt thinking when they slapped Target on the wrist as a public example. The possibility that a magazine even without overt pressure from a single advertiser might self-censor its content to give no offense to that advertiser is chilling and real. That in itself is enough to suggest that this particular tactic ought to be the provenance of the few advertisers who can play in the big leagues creatively and have the nuanced understanding of the consumer to pull it off.
Branding Bottom Line:
Kudos to Target which gets it right by bringing design to our doorstep.