In “The Catcher in the Rye,” J.D. Salinger’s immortal character Holden Caulfield states, “Certain things, they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”
In the world of advertising media, Holden might have agreed that one of those things throughout the years has been the printed version of Reader’s Digest. During the 1980s, Reader’s Digest was selling 31 million copies worldwide in 17 languages, with more than 100 million readers.
Only the Bible exceeded it in global readership.
Two decades later in 2009, Reader’s Digest’s “big glass case” was beginning to crack and splinter. The publication went from 12 issues a year to 10 and also cut guaranteed circulation from 8 million to 5.5 million. The company even filed for bankruptcy.
We continuously hear of the ever-changing digital age and predictions now and then, of doom and gloom within the newspaper, magazine, radio and outdoor media marketplaces, among others.
Forward-thinking marketers and media executives, however, continually find ways to adapt, evolve and reinvent traditional communication platforms. As advertisers, we need not stand still to learn from these long-standing bastions.
Reader’s Digest has not stood still and has begun to address past challenges with a greater focus on social media and mobile applications. Two weeks ago, Editor-in-Chief Liz Vaccariello announced Reader’s Digest is slated to sell 211,000 digital issues in December, thus eclipsing newsstand sales of the printed version for the first time in its history. While this news seemed to indicate the glass case had completely shattered via the perception of continued diminishing significance regarding the long-standing magazine franchise, nothing could be further from the truth.
In January, the print version plans to return to a frequency of 12 issues a year. And while this number is not expected to hinder continued online expansion efforts at Reader’s Digest, it does demonstrate a strategic commitment to the role that print, online and all communication contacts play in connecting with the Reader’s Digest audience and perhaps more importantly, an understanding and dedication to doing what’s right for the customer. This objective is likely to be accomplished despite a cost increase that comes with adding print issues.
Need a little more proof or a few case studies? How about NBC Television’s “America’s Got Talent”? From 1948 to 1971, “The Ed Sullivan Show” was theweekly variety show on television. You are too young to remember Ed? Well, just know he introduced America, on two different Sunday nights, to a guy named Elvis and four others named John, Paul, Ringo and George.
Variety shows reached their peak during the 1960s but began to fade from popularity in the early ’70s. These weekly shows and specials appealed to an older audience when advertisers yearned for a younger demographic. Flash forward to the 21st century and 2006 with the launch of “America’s Got Talent.” The program combines old-school variety entertainment with (here comes your adapt, evolve and reinvent) reality television and an elimination contest. The younger viewers returned, along with the rating points, and advertisers came along for the ride.
Think radio advertising’s best days are past? Don’t tell the folks at Apple, who know that people listen to radio an average of two hours a day in their cars. As a result, the world’s biggest music retailer, with more than 400 million iTunes accounts, is in discussions with major music labels to launch a streaming-radio competitor to Pandora by early next year. The platform’s objective is to provide listeners new ways to discover and buy digital music, and the auto-generated playlist format would be supported by advertising.
And while there seems to be an increasing number of vacated billboards on our highways that read “Advertise Here,” the number of U.S. digital billboards continues to increase each year with a current estimate of 3,600 from more than 400,000 total billboards.
So what would many of my coworkers and I like to store in our own big glass cases? A never-ending supply of ideas that ignite both emotions and business decisions. A collaborative mind-set that says those great ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. And an understanding that while we can learn from the past, the world changed again five minutes ago and we must strive to stay ahead of that curve.
And finally, let’s add a small door on the side of that big glass case so that when those great ideas are ignited, we can go in and change what we have preserved again and again.
Tom Ferry is Director of Media at gyro Chicago