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Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, September 28, 2004 9:08 AM
In Search of the Right Formula for Selling Stuff
Anita Sharpe on Business

What's happening in today's publishing world reminds me of food and furniture polish: we buy drinks and desserts with 'lemon flavor' and cleaning products with 'real lemon.'

Likewise, some of the hottest magazines on the newsstands today are essentially catalogs such as Lucky and Cargo. So what are real catalogs doing to stand out? Turning themselves into magazines, of course, with big feature spreads and paid advertising.

Saks, Hermes, Bloomingdale's and Bergdorf Goodman are among the first of what may soon be a crowded -- and confusing -- field of retailer/publishers. Kim Mac Leod, a managing director of the investment banking firm DeSilva & Phillips, told the New York Times today: 'At a time when stores are struggling to define who they are, my sense is that we're going to see more of them.'


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Troy Worman - 9/29/2004 12:20:53 AM
Anita, I think your sense is spot-on. The line between advertising and information and entertainment will continue to blur...advertising embedded in entertainment, information embedded in advertising, entertainment embedded in information...
Robert - 9/28/2004 6:19:19 PM
It's always interesting (and risky) when one group (in this case, fashion folks) invades the turf of another (magazine producers). While relatively new in fashion retail, developing magazines for marketing purposes is an older strategy with mass retailers such as Target, as well as other types of marketers like financial and automotive, sometimes in partnership with companies that produce traditional magazines.

Let's hope for some fresh, entertaining publications coming from the fashion folks, who have proven creativity. A few might even produce more interesting 'magazines' than some people who do the real ones for a living. However, to your point about about potential confusion, there's a risk that readers will mistakely think they are looking at the work of objective editors and researchers trying to serve reader interests rather than the stylized product of a biased team of marketing folks trying to sell their stuff. There's lots written on this dangerous camoflauge, but it's less clear who is or should be out there policing it all.

The trend might also be a reaction to 'why rent, when you can buy?' Fashion marketers still remain heavily dependent on the culture of buying a page or two in three-inch thick, 700-page fashion magazines, but relying too heavily on that kind of promotion is limiting. So I have to give some credit to those who are looking at the idea of a magazine in a different way. At a time when 'information' is being distributed more rapidly and in innovative new channels and formats, it is encouraging to see serious marketing businesses recognize and validate the power of an experienced, proven medium like a well-crafted magazine, delivered quietly into our friendly old mail slots.

And kudos to our friends outside the U.S., as American retailers such as Saks and Bloomies are trying to match the marketing creativity of stores such as Selfridges in Britain (often recognized as the leader in selling and redefining upscale retail as a consumer destination 'experience'), perhaps contributing to the experimentation beyond traditional advertising.

All that said, in its current 50th anniversary issue, Sports Illustrated (to its credit) describes organized sports in a way which might apply to fashion -- 'the perfection of the unnecessary. The goal of which is to do something that doesn't need doing better than someone else can do it.' There's merit in the argument that more noise from the fashion and 'shopping' industry doesn't meaningfully benefit readers and consumers, but that's not a 'problem' we can expect Bloomingdale's and Hermes to solve for us.


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