No Need to Reinvent the Wheel: Magazines and Digital Advertising

Mags are already masters of integrated ads

You have to hand it to print magazine publishers — they are naturals when it comes to clever integrated advertising campaigns that engage readers. I remember flipping through a print magazine by Condé Nast when a series of interviews with bar owners in New York talking about their favorite vodka cocktails caught my attention. And on the page preceding the interviews, there it was – a well-positioned ad for a bottle of Smirnoff Orange Twist. 

This combination of advertising and real content reaffirmed my appreciation for the smart thinking behind integrated ads. The feature wasn’t just about giving readers new drink ideas, nor was it just an ad for vodka – it was the perfect balance of interesting content to draw the reader into the story and subtle advertising that delivered the brand’s message. 

Cosmetics and fragrance companies have been partnering with magazine publishers in a similar fashion, and doing it well, for as long as I can remember. It’s almost impossible to make it through a style magazine without coming across a free sample of perfume or cologne next to beauty and fashion advice. Even foodie publishers have seen the monetization opportunities of incorporating leading condiment brands into their barbeque or salad recipes. 

This type of advertising is inherently attractive to advertisers because the brand can simply sponsor existing editorial content and connect to the magazine’s known audience interests, without having to build ads from scratch. And it doesn’t seem to bother even the paying subscribers much, considering how long this type of advertising has been around. Across the vertical spectrum, you’ll find that integrated ads have an established home in print magazines.

Unfortunately, print magazine advertisements are reaching fewer eyes lately. In 2011, online advertising was up $207 million year-over-year while print advertising was down $2.1 billion, according to Newspaper Association of America statistics. With the decline of print media, magazine publishers have had to quickly adapt their business models to incorporate digital, and many are still struggling to find innovative ways to advertise to a mobile audience. 

With the technology available today, audiences expect digital magazines to have quick load times, a high level of functionality and interactive capabilities, and user-friendly formatting. Instead of the long-form editorial you would find in print, digital content must marry the rich-media elements that digital audiences have come to expect – namely video. 

Success Is Sweet

Luckily, when a magazine publisher gets it right, they’ll find that their audience is tuned in. Research by GfK MRI Starch Digital shows that 55% of digital magazine readers have read a digital advertisement on their tablet or e-reader, and among that percentage, 52% have interacted with the ad. 

Just because digital is a new medium for magazines, it doesn’t mean publishers have to completely reinvent their advertising strategies and abandon the concepts that were successful in print. Integrated advertising, for example, has been successful for many brands and has proven it can deliver engaging, non-intrusive experiences to audiences; its elements only need to be adapted to the digital medium. 

For example, Steve Madden could be highlighted in an article about the latest in winter boots fashion and offer opportunities for the audience to learn more about the new styles through engaging videos. An automotive magazine could feature a Goodyear-sponsored tutorial on how to winterize your car, with a section focusing on the importance snow tires (Goodyear’s snow tires, of course) and a video showcasing the safety features of its tires during a snowstorm. 

Integrated advertising in digital requires a creative mindset to complement editorial content with rich media elements, but when it’s done right, brands will end up creating less content and marry themselves seamlessly to relevant editorial. Audiences, in turn, will forget they are interacting with an ad and engage with the branded content for its own value. 

Wedding specialist The Knot and home design and decoration magazine House Beautiful are solid examples of magazine publishers who have realized the value of incorporating integrated advertising into their digital platforms. The Knot and Chase’s Blueprint recently partnered for an integrated ad that probably got many readers to interact with Chase without even thinking about the company as an advertiser. 

Chase was successful in promoting its authority on financial responsibility by combining its branding with real money-saving advice from The Knot’s experts on choosing discount flowers, affordable color schemes, and saving on the biggest purchase of all – the wedding dress. And because they already had the reader thinking about paying for one of life’s most expensive events, the ability to sign up for a Chase credit card through the article was not far from reach. 

House Beautiful and paint brand Glidden took the model to an even deeper level with a print-to-digital campaign, in which House Beautiful introduced a Glidden paint integrated advertising experience in its February 2012 print issue that carried over to Select editorial features throughout the magazine were enhanced with digital watermarking technology, which enabled readers to use their smartphones to scan a picture in the magazine. Readers were then taken to a landing page on where they could watch a video about painting tips sponsored by Glidden and learn about Glidden’s new color expert blogger portal, 

Creating a campaign that ran across its print and digital outlets allowed the publisher to provide a fully immersive experience for its readers and instantly connected Glidden to engaged audiences that the brand wouldn’t have had the same level of access to in print alone.

Your Move, Pubs

These examples are just the beginning. Some companies, such as Time Inc., have taken their advertising and editorial integration to a whole new level – selling branded products, such as REAL SIMPLE Solutions available at Bed Bath and Beyond. Getting readers to engage and even transact with their advertising clients’ messages is the ultimate goal for magazine publishers because this is where their revenue lies. 

Although publishers are still gaining foothold in the digital medium, integrated advertising offers the opportunity for quick success with very little learning curve. Bringing integrated video ads to digital magazines will require outside-of-the-box thinking both editorially and technically, but the fundamental concept stays the same, and with the right video technologies, it’s very feasible. 

Audiences will engage with the content for its own value without feeling like they are being advertised to; it’s up to the magazine publishers to make the first move.