A Mini becomes a Playboy centerfold. A Mustang convertible muscles in on Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue.
Automakers increasingly are tailoring the form and content of their print advertisements to the magazines in which they appear.
The trend is part of a move by car companies away from mass marketing and in favor of messages designed to reach particular audiences. The customized approach is also evident in the shift in automotive ad spending from broadcast TV to more specialized cable networks.
The auto industry lags other retail industries in customizing magazine ads, publishing executives say. But because automotive ads account for 15 percent of all advertising in consumer magazines, the industry's heightened efforts to grab the attention of specific readers are attracting notice.
"It's just struggling to be relevant and make sure you're staying on top of things," says Liz Vanzura, Hummer's marketing director.
The General Motors brand is an industry leader in tailoring its magazine ads to targeted audiences.
In music magazines such as Spin and Rolling Stone, for example, Hummer told readers the H2 "only looks like this because it's badass."
And readers of Food & Wine and Wine Spectator saw the H2 described as "New vintage, same grape."
Case studies of the launch of BMW's Mini brand in the United States in 2002 show that Mini's distinctive magazine ads helped drive sales, says Ellen Oppenheim, executive vice president of Magazine Publishers of America, a New York trade group.
Kerri Martin, Mini's former marketing communications manager, says Mini dealers routinely encounter buyers who say they came to the showroom because a clever magazine ad piqued their curiosity.
Martin, who last week left Mini to become director of marketing development for Volkswagen of America Inc., said Mini works closely with magazines to convey innovative advertising messages.
"We work hand in hand with magazines to help them understand what Mini's brand objectives are," Martin said. "They come to us with custom-created ideas that will marry the editorial content to the Mini brand."
A Mini ad in Playboy, for example, borrowed so many features of its legendary centerfold that Mini had to get permission from the magazine's founder and publisher, Hugh Hefner.
'Take it all off'
Last fall, a Mini ad in Playboy occupied not only the issue's back cover but also its see-through wrapping. Readers who slid off the plastic wrap found an image of a white-roofed hardtop changed to Mini's new convertible. The ad copy read: "Let's take it off, take it all off."
An ad that appeared in Rolling Stone and AutoWeek, a sister publication of Automotive News, created the illusion of a Mini weaving between a road course composed of orange staples, Martin said. Another ad allowed readers to customize a picture of a Mini with various stickers.
The ad "made you feel like you were hip if you get" a Mini, says Samir Husni, chairman of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi and a specialist in consumer magazines.
The advertising evidently works. Husni says it prompted him to buy a Mini.
Ford Motor Co. says it works with magazines to team conventional ads with softer-sell advertorials designed to look like editorial matter.
Last November's issue of Money, for example, included - in space paid for by Ford - what the magazine called a "special advertising feature" on long-term financial planning. Under the story, which was prepared by the magazine based on Ford's specifications, was an ad showing Ford's vehicle lineup with the tag line: "Driving you into the future."
Blurring the line
The American Society of Magazine Editors has expressed concern about blurring the line between editorial copy and advertising. Many magazine publishers require that advertorials must be labeled clearly as advertising sections and prohibit their editorial staffs from preparing the copy.
Ford also tailors ads to the specific content of a magazine edition. An ad in this year's swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated portrays a yellow Mustang convertible on a beach and a tanned model in a bathing suit.
The ad imitates the format of the magazine's photographs of swimsuit models. The ad copy reads: "Luscious tan made possible by the new Mustang convertible."
|Automakers U.S. ad spending, 2004 vs. 2003|
|Dollars in thousands|
|12 mos. 2004||12 mos. 2003||Percent change|
|Ford Motor Co.||1,334,357.70||13.1|
|Hyundai Automotive Group||489,089.50||27.1|
|Fiat Auto S.p.A.||1,909.20||2,914.50||–34.5|
|Source: TNS Media Intelligence|
"Normally, the model's name and who shot (the photograph) are listed in the swimsuit edition," says Michelle Erwin, Ford Division's marketing communications manager. "We picked up that nomenclature.
"Our goal in our communications is to have seamless brand integration that's relevant to the brand or medium," Erwin says. "You'll see that in a lot of TV shows we support. We're trying to take that to the magazines, too."
The University of Mississippi's Husni says automakers' use of customized magazine ads is "just smart marketing." Automakers always have marketed "based on the demographics," he says.
"Now they are taking it one step further and saying, 'If I'm going to advertise in a pregnancy magazine, maybe I should have an ad for a minivan rather than a sports car,' " Husni says.
Ferrari North America Inc., which sells Ferrari and Maserati vehicles in the United States, has a high-end consumer base. Marketing vice president Marco Mattiacci says the company publishes about 100 ads a year in elite magazines such as The Robb Report, Architectural Digest and Town & Country.
"When Maserati started three years ago (in the United States), there was a very low level of brand awareness," Mattiacci says. "We didn't have a lot of people inquiring about Maserati. Now we have about 1,000 people a month calling for more information."
Most of those callers to the company's 800 number cite a magazine ad, Mattiacci says. More than a third of Maserati buyers say they got information about their car from magazines, he adds.
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. also targets specific magazine audiences with its ads, says Sandra Fox, client services director of Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, Toyota's advertising agency.
One element of the marketing campaign for the redesigned Avalon sedan, which began last month, is aimed at baby boomers. Those ads are running in such magazines as The New Yorker, Golf Digest, Conde Nast Traveler, Vanity Fair and Food & Wine.
Another set of ads that tout the Avalon's performance are running in such "buff books" as AutoWeek, Car and Driver and Motor Trend.
Some automakers are resisting the trend toward tailoring ads to specific magazines. They cite the high cost of such specialization.
"Let's assume we run a Dodge Caravan ad in 50 magazines, and let's assume the average cost of a print ad is $50,000," says Julie Roehm, director of marketing communications for the Chrysler group. "By the time I got done paying for the cost of the production of all those different print ads, I wouldn't have any money left to buy space in any magazines."
Roehm says the Chrysler group creates ads targeted at specific buyer demographics. Then it runs those ads in "buckets" of magazines that reach those audiences, she says.
American Honda Motor Co. Inc. pursues a similar strategy, says spokesman Chuck Schifsky. It is more likely to advertise the Odyssey minivan in Woman's Day or Good Housekeeping, he says, while an ad for the Acura RSX sports coupe would run in Motor Trend.
Steve Keyes, Volkswagen of America's director of corporate communications, says VW is running the same ads for the Phaeton luxury car in such magazines as Vanity Fair, Conde Nast Traveler and Architectural Digest. Readers of those magazines have income and other characteristics that might attract them to the Phaeton, he says. But the magazines have different readerships because of their different subject matter, he adds.
"We lose nothing by showing the same ad in different publications that have the same kind of demographics" Keyes says, "because there isn't much overlap."
You may e-mail Jamie LaReau at [email protected]