Magazines Take Advertising to New Heights
By Kristin Zimmer
was flying from New York to North Carolina with nothing to entertain me
but a political science book for class. Like any good homework assignment,
the political strategies of the 1968 election can only be riveting for
so long. After about ten minutes I was bored, so I pulled U.S. Airwayss
inflight magazine, Attaché, out of the pocket in front of me. I
started to read the cover story, "The Lovely Truth About Lowly Weeds,"expecting
that it would entertain me for at most another 10 minutes.
Instead, I became engrossed in the world of weeds. Then I read "Political
Asylum," about the political history of a hamburger shack; "To
a Tee," about how to buy the perfect T-shirt; "How to Visit
an Art Museum," about how to get the most out of a museum; and "A
River Runs Through It," about 20th Century architecture and a couple
whose house was built over a waterfall by Frank Lloyd Wright. Each article
was so well written and descriptive that Attaché kept my attention
for the rest of the flight.
Recently, however, when I pulled out my copy of Attaché and flipped
through it, I noticed something else. Near each article there was a little
red box called "The Ticket." In "A River Runs Through It,"
the box says, "The Ticket: Fallingwater is open for tours from mid-March
through November. For more info, call 724/329-8501 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org."
In "Political Asylum" the box says: "The Ticket: Harrys
Place is located at 104 Broadway St., Colchester, CT. Call 860/537-2410
for directions and hours."
This wasnt a magazine. It was a magazine-sized advertisement. I
read the articles again to make sure they were as good as I remembered.
Once again, the authors vivid language drew me in. William Sertl,
author of "A River Runs Through It," compares Frank Lloyd Wrights
house to a beautiful ship: "Walking outside onto the living room
balcony broke the spell in the same way that stepping onto the deck of
a ship suddenly wakes you to the power of the sea." It was graceful.
It was striking. And I wondered, was it wrong?
Is it wrong for an airline magazine, which gets its sole revenue from
advertisers, to publish literature aimed at selling something? Attachés
contributors include famous book authors and reporters from well-respected
publications such as The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Esquire,
Ladies Home Journal, and others. They are part of a tight network of about
120 writers whom Attachés editors use. According to editors
from the magazines published for Delta, TWA, US Airways and United Airlines,
a typical article is purchased for about $1 per word, and ranges anywhere
between 320 and 3,000 words. The magazines are aimed at an affluent group
of travelers (mostly college students and business people), but the readership
is very diverse. Because of this, inflight magazines are really the "last
bastion of general interest magazines," according to Lance Elko,
editor of Attaché.
Bob Sullivan, a contributor to Attaché, worked for Life magazine
for seven years and now works for Time. He believes all three should be
considered general interest magazines and said he approaches his work
for all of them with the same seriousness and ambition.
Daniel Gross, a columnist for Attaché, sees airline magazines as
lifestyle magazines. What makes them different from the "garden variety,"
he said, is that they have a specific purpose. While providing some interesting
reading material, they inform readers about the airline and its destinations.
As Michael Buller of Deltas Sky said, "We dont want to
promote destinations that our readers cant get to on our planes."
Of course not.
The biggest concern for inflight magazines is recruiting advertisers.
A one-time, full-page, full-color advertisement sells for anywhere between
$15,000 and $36,000. In many cases the airlines reach 1 million to 2 million
readers with many fewer issues because the magazines stay on the plane.
By not allowing passengers to take Ambassadors off the plane, TWA reaches
about 700,000 people with only 180,000 copies, says Cindy Ray, a TWA representative.
Even airlines such as U.S. Airways, which offers complimentary copies
of Attaché to its passengers, only lose about 16 percent of their
magazines. Because of this, they make huge profits and attract big advertisers.
Elko says that "The Ticket" boxes in Attachés articles
visually break up the text while adding information that wouldnt
fit into the pieces.
Bob Sullivan, the contributor from Time, said he believes Elkos
boxes simply inform readers.
"I dont think they are a type of advertising. I think they
are facilitators," said Sullivan. His article in this years
March issue, entitled "In Saint Brendans Wake," has a
ticket box for Tim Severins book, The Brendan Voyage. The book explores
newfound evidence that Irish monks may have discovered America before
the Vikings. "I dont see that as an ad for Tim Severins
book," said Sullivan. "But if someone is really interested in
St. Brendan they can find out more [by reading the book]."
In any case, the media are swimming in advertisements. Many TV news organizations
endorse products and celebrities all the time.
But I guess Sullivans mother never taught him that just because
everyone else jumps off a bridge, he doesnt have to dive in after