NEW YORK, United States — For decades now, magazine covers have been pop culture icons, synonymous with shifts in attitude and societal desires, transmitting our fears and fascinations. For magazines, it is what is on the outside that is remembered for posterity. Editors have placed the cover image above every other constituent element of a magazine, leading to countless iterations of ‘the cover’, be they shocking, scintillating or scandalous.
However, as the cachet and impact of imagery is diluted by its ubiquity online, and as both consumer brands and media brands race to feed the digital sphere’s insatiable appetite for new content, the role of the magazine cover, and its possible use, may be changing.
The US edition of Marie Claire has been rethinking its covers altogether, creating a new advertising format in the process that is experiential, surprising and novel. Ad pages at Marie Claire were roughly even in the first six months of this year versus 2013.
In May’s beauty issue, the magazine opened with a five-page ‘origami’ cover, sponsored by Maybelline, reaching Marie Claire’s entire 950,000 readership. This week, 800,000 subscribers are unzipping the magazine’s August denim issue, sponsored by Guess, by pulling on a perforated ‘zipper’ to reveal a second cover underneath.
“In August, a lot of fashion magazines did 'denim' issues, but when ours hit, it changed the conversation and created a different experience,” said Nancy Cardone, the magazine's chief revenue officer, vice president and publisher in an interview with BoF.
“My original idea was real denim on the cover of the magazine, but real denim [on] 800,000 copies wasn’t feasible. The zipper idea came about through a zipper on an old Rolling Stones album cover,” she said. “Not only did they shoot real denim for it, if you look at it, the Marie Claire logo and ‘The Denim Issue’ [are] actually embroidered into the denim and then photographed.”
The insertion of experiential elements takes covers into a whole new realm, not unlike the idea of ‘retail theatre’ that is transforming physical stores. “We are creating an experience for our readers that allows us to take advantage of the benefits of print so that when their Marie Claire issue comes in, they feel like it is an interactive experience,” she explained.
“You can have things pop out, you can play with textures, you can play with scent. You can’t do that in digital; you only can do that on the printed page. We can ideate around print in different ways than you can around other media experiences. So that idea of unfolding something, opening something, a zipper — it keeps our juices going, and for advertisers, it has really set an appetite for them,” said Cardone.
“What we hear everyday from clients is, ‘We want to do something new, we want to do something that is innovative, we want to break through.' [It] has really brought us a new way to think about real estate in Marie Claire, the cover being one important piece of that real estate. There have been cover impact units, gatefolds and things like that, for a long time, but I think what this does is it takes it to the next step,” she added.
Paul Marciano, chief executive and chief creative director of Guess, seems to agree. “In every sense of the word, innovation is crucial to any brand, any industry. And print advertising too must continue to delight its readers or risk becoming irrelevant,” he told BoF.
But what do the readers think?
“We do our own proprietary research asking them words or phrases that best describe the unit, and a lot of the words we got are words you hope to hear: opening a present, creative, memorable, innovative, informative,” said Ms Cardone. “At the end of the day, we want to help move an advertiser's product through that buying process – to get our audience to consider it, buy it, talk about it, do something as a result.”
Like any good experience, the covers do represent a meaningful increase in cost to execute. “The origami cover folded out four times. It required a completely different paper size, in order to create it. Depending on how original and unique it is and what is required, [that is what] is really going to [determine] the price tag. It could be four times the cost of what their traditional cover unit cost, and of course there is a premium on those cover positions anyway.”
AdAge reported that the price tag of the denim advertising execution cost Guess a figure in the “mid six figures,” citing Ms Cardone.
Cardone did not commit to an interactive cover every month. “I am not forcing the issue by saying I am going to do this every single month. I think it takes away the effectiveness. I think it is better to surprise and get people talking about it.”
“If it is a good enough idea, the budgets are there,” she added.