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Creative format: premium impact

PPA has launched a research guide, designed to help advertisers and agencies get more out of magazine advertising by leveraging the creative capabilities of the medium. Dylan Griffiths investigates.

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Traditional magazine advertising works - it has been proved to do so. However publishers are constantly working to get closer to the reader and are developing new, non-traditional ways of communicating with target audiences. PPA’s new research, Creative format: Premium impact - a rough guide to more effective magazine advertising, aims to maximise the opportunities presented by creative formats like gatefolds, sponsored supplements and advertisement features. The study was conducted in 2003 by Lawes Consulting and uses ‘semiotic analysis’, a formal method for analysing communication, drawing on experience and techniques from psychology, anthropology, history and cultural studies. This semiotic analysis, together with qualitative work has provided fresh understanding of the reader-magazine-advertiser relationship.

The two-part study initially used semiotic techniques to analyse more than 100 different creative executions in areas such as page geography, formal composition and speaker-recipient relationships. The findings from the first phase drove the second part of the study, a series of qualitative discussion groups.

According to the study, advertisers benefit from the close bond between readers and their magazines because they are involved in a triangular three-way relationship with the title (personified by its editor) and the magazine reader. However, this relationship is not fixed. Readers may believe that the advertiser operates independently of the title, resulting in a distant relationship. But in certain circumstances this relationship can be brought much closer, enabling the advertiser to get much closer to the reader.

The benefits to advertisers of exploiting this potential through creative ad formats are obvious. The closer the advertiser can get to the reader, the greater the communication potential. As part of the magazine, ads tend to be viewed by readers with the attributes of the title; this means positive qualities of trust, empathy, expectation and belief. When an advertiser moves closer to the magazine it is vital that the strong identity of the advertiser’s brand is not obscured. Indeed, many brands will be looking for methods within magazines to keep their distance in order to convey their own particular values. Therefore advertisers can use specific ad formats in magazines to meet specific marketing objectives and to control the relationship triangle.

The report looks at some of the principle creative ad format options and provides advice on how to approach them and make them work harder. The first area covered is page geography and how readers view ad formats of different size, shape and complexity.The semiotic analysis tells us that things we are already familiar with or which seem natural or every-day, sit more comfortably for us on the left-hand side of an open magazine, whereas the new, the special and the unfamiliar should reside on the right. Therefore left-hand placement is more suitable if the objective is to remind the reader of an established brand, while right-hand placement is more suitable for the launch of something new.

In a similar way, some things are more suited to page tops and others to page bottoms. The study tells us that we tend to regard the upper part of a page as a place for fantasy, aspiration and emotion, while the lower part of a page is better suited to matter-of-fact. For example, the image of a dream car goes better at the top of a page while the details about performance sit better at the bottom.

According to the study the wider space of double page spreads is ideal for telling a story and is well suited to ads with a strong aspirational element, as well as for prestige and luxury brands. The format also implies that the ad is a bit special. Gatefolds take this process a step further, but they also add something else too: because of their physical nature, they demand reader interaction and tend to stand out more. The wider space also lends itself very well to telling a story or narrative. Butterfly, or double gatefolds take the opportunity to showcase high-profile news or surprises a step further. A member of one of the discussion groups commented: "I like the idea of a butterfly for a secret because it’s revealing. Opening the box."

Paper, textures, print technologies, sampling and gifts are other ways an advertiser can stand out from the crowd and enhance their appeal according to the report. The use of different weights and qualities of paper, embossing and die cutting are all effective ways of delivering greater impact though encouraging reader interaction. The qualitative study strongly suggests that this kind of approach can also win prestige and elevate brands, as readers perceive these forms of advertising expensive. One discussion group member said: "It’s a better class of advert. It’s not a tacky advert so it’s obviously not tacky goods. So you think it’s a better class of product. And I want the best."

Sampling is an effective means of mutating the three-way relationship triangle by drawing the reader closer to the advertiser, but note necessarily away from the magazine.

Advertisement features enable the advertiser to squeeze the triangle and get very close to the magazine and take on its values. The benefits of this intimate relationship are obvious, the advertiser gains by an implied editorial endorsement and the reader appreciates the extra material to read. The study found that the best approach is to steer clear of a hard sell. Readers were found to be more receptive if a feature includes interesting information relevant to them or provided them with a form of interaction such as a quiz or a survey.

Another way of massaging the relationship triangle is through sponsorship. The study found that there was a difference between how an advertiser presents their involvement. For example, ‘sponsored by,’ suggests something of editorial origin but which the advertiser subsequently endorses, while "in association with," indicates that the advertiser is working more with the magazine. Nevertheless, both suggest that the editorial endorses the advertiser and vice versa.

While there is a good deal of research into both the effectiveness of the magazine medium and the reader-magazine relationship, there has been, until now, little to help us navigate through the ad format options available. Creative format: Premium impact provides a rough guide where previously instinct rather than research had tended to drive our thinking and decision-making.

To read the PDF in full, click on the link below. Adobe Acrobat Reader required. This is a large file, and may take time to download.

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