Beyond the yellow brick road

The other day I got a phone call from a young lady who is taking a marketing course at the University of Kansas. She had stumbled across a column of mine on the Internet on the subject of sex in advertising,...

The other day I got a phone call from a young lady who is taking a marketing course at the University of Kansas. She had stumbled across a column of mine on the Internet on the subject of sex in advertising, and wanted to know if I thought sex could actually sell anything.

She added that she was glad to have reached an expert such as myself by phone, as she was in a hurry to find out about sex in advertising because her paper on the subject was due the next day, and it was already 4 p.m. Kansas time.

Now this kid may not have been a farmer’s daughter, I’m certainly no travelling salesman, and I’m sure everything is up to date in Kansas City and has been for some time.

But it struck me to say to her, kid, do they have magazine stores out in Kansas? Why don’t you go into a magazine store and tell me what you see on the covers of the best-selling women’s magazines in the world?

As a service to our readers who are marketing and branding experts, we at this column occasionally take a peek at stuff people write when they actually have something to sell. This used to be called advertising.

So to make a point, and also to mark the sacking of Canada’s own Bonnie Fuller as editor of Glamour magazine in New York, we thought we’d take a look at what’s selling magazines in the twenty-first century.

By the way, Bonnie glommed the gig at Glamour after leaving Cosmopolitan where, as someone bitched, she ‘cynically peddled irrelevant, demeaning junk like Seven Moves That Will Make a Man’s Mouth Water to the teenagers who buy the magazine.’ Just so we all have this in perspective, Cosmopolitan is the best-selling women’s magazine on earth.

Okay, what are current covers promising us? Glamour: X-rated Answers! Glamour’s Annual Sex Survey! A to Z on What Women are Doing! Also, How to Tell If He’s Wild or Boring in Bed! Check Out Every Guy You Know!

Or maybe you’d prefer Cosmopolitan’s pitch. Feel Sexier Naked! His Body: A User’s Manual! What’s Sexy Now! Try it! Taste it! Grab it! Ride it! (I’m not making this up!)

Elle peddles Secrets of a Dating Coach and Fired For Having Sex? One Couple’s Story!

Allure wants us Ready for a Sexy Summer from Body to Bikini.

She has Men on Sex! 10 Secrets He’d Love to Tell You!

Jane announces We Ship Our Sex Writer Off to a Convent and Semi-Naked Famous Guys.

Guy magazines also have wanton and semi-undressed girls on their covers but they tend to be tugging impatiently at some hem or other of their leather undergarments. Oh yeah, and there’s usually two of them.

Maxim’s masthead contains the words Sex Sports Beer (in that order). The lead article this month is Sex, War & Dinosaurs. I make that two wins for Sex.

Stuff advertises Speaking of Sex Gods, Are You Her Best Ever? You Will Be Now. Page 40

Men’s Journal shouts Sex Creams for Women (They Work!)

A publication called Oxygen – for iron-pumping men and women – cries out Hey Sexy! Flaunt Your Foxy Body!

Yes, Marketing Student in Kansas, sex sells. So do the other common human longings and imperatives. Even food, wine and sports.

Even celebrity gossip sells and, just ’cause you want to know, the current names on the covers of the Star, the National Enquirer and the National Examiner are O.J. Simpson, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez, Vanna White, Chelsea and Hillary, Ricki Lake, Jesse Jackson, Nicole Kidman, Ted Kennedy and poor old Jack Lemon, sadly reduced to the role of old guy battles for life after cancer surgery. Oh yes, and the actor who played Baretta, the one with the murdered wife.

The answer is in your local magazine store, kids. And it can teach us things that’ll make the blood drain from the faces of brand engineers and marketing specialists from here to The University of Kansas.

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He creates this column for fun, and to test the unproven theory that clients who find the latter amusing may also find the former to their liking. Barry can be reached at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners, (416) 924-5533; fax (416) 960-5255.