Rogers Video print ad fills direct prescription

As efficient, and even creative, as a piece of addressed admail might be, it would be rare to find one that customers wanted to frame....

As efficient, and even creative, as a piece of addressed admail might be, it would be rare to find one that customers wanted to frame.

But at least one Maclean’s subscriber wanted to do just that after receiving the May 21, 2001 issue, which contained a personalized Rogers Video ad. The ad, a shot of a prescription bottle on which each subscriber’s name and closest video store was printed, is a good example of how advertisers can use direct mechanisms in mass media.

Beyond the wider niche reach ability, perhaps the most intangible, but potentially powerful benefit of targeted mass over direct, is the heightened ‘wow’ factor, as this relatively underutilized customizeable printing technology still retains its novelty. Stick a business card in a personally addressed envelope, and be underwhelmed by the reaction. Stick the same card on a newspaper or magazine ad, and suddenly you’ve got people’s attention (see ‘Laurentian Bank of Canada puts high touch into banking,’ searchable at

‘When’s the last time you heard about an ad where people wanted to cut it out and hang it on their wall?’ asks John Munro, VP of marketing for Rogers Video in Vancouver.

Munro is understandably excited about the reaction to the ad – he says that hundreds of people called the magazine and its sister company (both are owned by media giant Rogers Communicatons Inc.) to comment on it. (For the record, Munro says that only one subscriber was put off by the technology, asking for his name to be removed from the mailing list.)

Maclean’s is hoping that the personalized ad will generate the same excitement in the marketing community. Immee Chee Wah, Maclean’s director of production, says that the technology needed to personalize magazine ads is not new, by any stretch. In fact, the magazine has been offering it for years as a possibility for interested advertisers. The problem is advertisers haven’t been interested. It’s only been done once – years ago, according to Chee Wah – when Chrysler ran an insert card inviting readers to personally test-drive a new car at their local dealer (also listed by cross-referencing the subscriber and dealer databases).

The production technology has improved slightly since then – it’s now a speedier process than it was in the past – but that doesn’t make it an easier sell. Pitching the idea to advertisers is a lot more effective if there’s a concrete example to showcase the magazine’s capabilities, she says. The reason? There are still limitations that could cramp a marketer’s message. For example, the ad’s lettering has to run parallel to the spine and the number of fonts that can be used is relatively small, thanks to the limitations of ink-jet printing. Start talking limitations to an advertiser, though, and eyes may just glaze over. But show an example that highlights the creativity still possible even under these limitations – and that might lead to a renewed interest in the possibilities of personalization.

The parameters do indeed present a challenge, says Scot Keith, account director at MacLaren McCann West, also of Vancouver. The horizontal printing and the limited font choice are obvious catches to creative freedom. But Keith says these conditions were relatively simple to overcome compared to the other requirements he wanted to fulfill on behalf of the client. It was critical, for example, that the ad was consistent with the company’s brand strategy. The current TV spots, which showcase customers ‘experiencing’ their favorite movies, underline the company’s new identity as a provider of experience, not just videos. The prescription idea tied nicely into this. It also provided a reason behind why a person’s name should appear in the ad. Keith wanted to avoid simply banking on the uniqueness of the technology – the ‘wow, my name is in this magazine!’ factor would only go so far. He wanted the team to come up with a creative reason why a name would appear in the ad in the first place. ‘A cop-out would have been just to put a coupon in the magazine,’ he says.

Keith says the popularity of the ad didn’t surprise him, and he expects to see more of this type of mass personalization in the future. He compares it to the evolution of direct mail.

‘A few years ago, when direct mail came to your house, it was mostly unaddressed,’ he says. Then it started arriving addressed and chock full of personal references, gleaned from cross-referencing databases.

He expects the same thing will happen – up to a point – in magazines. First, though, several advertisers will want to jump on the bandwagon while it’s still unique. The best ads, however, will still adhere to the principles behind all good advertising – sticking with the brand strategy in a creative manner. ‘Just having a name and a coupon won’t cut it,’ he says.

Deborah Trepanier, Maclean’s director of advertising, does not see a future in which all magazine ads are personalized. ‘I don’t see that, but I certainly see more advertisers being interested in this type of technology and taking advantage of the opportunities it affords,’ she says. Maclean’s already offers flexibility in terms of geographic and demographic issues for advertisers (there are up to 18 possible variations). By adding the personalization factor, an advertiser can go even further in targeting its market, she says. For example, if an advertiser wanted to target Platinum subscribers (an income-based profile) on a national basis but it had regional differences in its distribution, it would be able to personalize ads to reflect this. It could also lead to more effective tracking if, for example, different Web site addresses were used in ads, depending on regional or demographic profile.

As always, the popularity of this form of customization might have more to do with budgets than creative freedom. Trepanier wouldn’t nail down the price tag for a national personalized full-page ad because she says that it would depend on the complexity and size of the endeavor. List mining and setting up the prices are hard and fixed costs, but the ideal scenario would involve an advertiser signing on to a package of many issues, one or two of which would be personalized.

While Rogers Video is still tracking the results of the ad to determine whether it achieved its objectives – and whether it will do it again – Maclean’s has already achieved its goal of attracting advertiser attention. Trepanier says several advertisers are interested, although none have so far signed on the dotted line. She expects at least one more personalized ad in the next six months.