Mumbai: A full-page ad for beauty soap Dove is the cover of Femina magazine’s 11 March issue. Even though ads that fold into magazine covers are fairly common and sell at a premium, an ad doubling as a glossy cover is rarer.
Perception game: Niche magazines need to be perceived as good brands for advertisers to associate with.
Again, when Harper’s Bazaar launched its India edition this month, the cover featuring actor Kareena Kapoor had an innovation to generate a buzz. Of the 50,000 copies printed in the inaugural run, 20,000 copies had Swarovski crystal-laden mastheads. These were sent as complimentary copies to top clients or premium retail outlets to be sold as limited edition collector pieces, at Rs100 for one.
For an advertiser, these are opportunities to demonstrate another application of their product. “It is yet another innovative use of Swarovski crystals that goes beyond lighting, applications, fashion and accessories,” says Sanjay Sharma, country manager, Crystallized— Swarovski Elements, a unit of Swarovski India Pvt. Ltd.
In a similar spirit of innovation, Pioneer Book Co. Pvt. Ltd sent out samples of the February issue of its Meri Saheli magazine that would sing each time they were flipped open. A pre-recorded audio chip inserted in the centrefold of the magazine played the Meri Saheli theme audio, indicating that advertisers could use the same innovation to better reach consumers. Mint had reported this on 13 February.
As advertising revenues slow, particularly among niche magazines, women’s and fashion magazines are pushing creative frontiers to grab reader and advertiser interest to garner better ad deals. Though such innovations are not new, more publishers are offering advertisers ritzy ad and cover innovations to push up ad rates that have been discounted up to 50% in recent times.
There’s hope that more upscale innovations would drive up flagging ad volumes. Vogue India’s January 2008 issue had about 108 pages of ads, while the January issue this year had 79 such pages—a drop of 27%. According to AdEx India, a division of TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, ad volumes for Elle magazine dropped by 11%, from 9,000 column centimetres, or cm, in the January 2008 issue to 8,000 column cm in the January issue this year. Ad volumes for Femina dropped by 70% from 67,000 column cm in the January 2008 issue to 20,000 column cm in January this year.
There’s another reason why innovations are increasingly being wielded by smaller or niche magazines. Readership in this category does not show in the Indian Readership Survey. Also, the Audit Bureau of Circulations does not certify the circulation of fashion and lifestyle magazines as few titles want their circulation figures audited.
“It’s largely a perception game,” says Chandradeep Mitra, former president, Mudra MAX, specialist media unit of Mudra group. “How do you convince advertisers that you actually have the size and quality of readership you claim you have, without any certified figures? How do you justify high ad rates?”
From the perspective of speciality magazines, there is a particular set of target advertisers. The question, quite simply, is how do you extract funds from these advertisers, says Smita Jha, associate director, entertainment and media practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Niche magazines have limited differentiation and need to cut through the clutter and be perceived as a good brand for advertisers to associate with. This is important, since up to 90% of a fashion or lifestyle magazine’s revenues come from advertising, adds Jha.
Meanwhile, Vogue magazine’s integrated partnership unit—set up primarily to offer key clients more than just vanilla ad deals—is in overdrive these days. Beyond offering clients deals on ad rates, they are also offering advertorials—a mix of advertising and editorial.
“What we are seeing is that a number of advertisers are consolidating spends,” says Oona Dhabhar, marketing director, Conde Nast India Pvt. Ltd, which launched Vogue in India. She says a number of clients are cutting spending on media properties that may not be delivering the goods.
Innovation ultimately is an ongoing process. “Innovation is a function of the marketing strategy,” says Mala Sekhri, chief operating officer, Lifestyle Group, which publishes magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan. She says the group will work closely with advertisers and brands to come up with innovative solutions that bring value to both.