Merchandising's Hidden Value: Satisfying Advertiser Demands for Merchandising Support Can Help Publishers Position Their Magazines and Build Their Franchises

Article excerpt

Advertisers are generous people. They have given magazine publishers a gift of enormous value: Merchandising. Yet the recipients sometimes seem to be looking a Trojan horse in the mouth.

To be appreciated as a gift, merchandising needs to be looked at from a different perspective.

Old-think would have it that the function of merchandising is to appease the advertiser. A couple of VCRs are fine if that buys peace and a little prosperity.

Wiser heads hold that merchandising functions to carry the advertiser's message beyond the printed page and has added impact somewhere along the distribution chain.

Even wiser magazine publishers recognize that the power of their own good name is the most important added value in added value.

But that is not the highest plane. New Age merchandising theology teaches that the real function of merchandising is to provide the publisher with a vehicle for adding muscle to his franchise under the guise of responding to advertiser demands. In this context, the merchandising program is itself the reason for the magazine to be active in a marketplace and to build awareness in constituencies otherwise awkward to approach-such as retailers. Yes, the magazine's imprimatur certainly has value to the advertiser, but the vice versa also works in the merchandising partnership. And merchandising services can actually be sold at a profit. A Trojan horse recycled. Clarifying your position

There is a further, more subtle benefit to merchandising: A thorough rethinking of a magazine's merchandising value can illuminate that magazine's overall positioning in the advertising marketplace.

An example: Yankee must sell itself on to national schedules in food and other family-related categories. But with inadequate numbers, how can it position itself against the Sisters? Because Yankee cannot afford to be the ninth book on a six-book schedule, it must find a niche position. And that position coincides with its unique merchandising value.

Yankee's very name conjures up positive images of American traditions and human values on which an advertiser can capitalize wherever there are people who, as the magazine says, "think the world of New England." It is smaller than the Sisters nationally, but has far more clout among consumers and retailers in its own backyard. Therefore, Yankee's only option is to position itself as a regional magazine, an essential but secondary advertising buy alongside of Sunset and Southern Living.

As a powerful regional magazine, it is able to work closely with regional distributors of major food companies; they share a common interest in bringing promotional dollars into New England. And Yankee's regionality has enabled it to forge formal alliances with major retail chains, completing the circle linking national marketer, local distributor, retailer, consumer-with Yankee in the center.

With these resources at its command, Yankee is able to create merchandising action.

The annual Yankee Great New England Food Festival draws thousands of consumers to the site of historic Faneuil Hall in Boston. The crowds gather to sample the wares and hear the pitches of the 20 or so category-exclusive advertiser participants. The promotion extends to point of purchase through a food chain promotion with the support of newspaper advertising and a free (donated) car giveaway.

There is, of course, a special Food Festival section in Yankee and a multi-page commitment required of participating advertisers. Standard stuff in a lot of ways, but with solid Yankee identification.

Here's another merchandising manifestation of the Yankee franchise: Hundreds of inns have signed up for Yankee's Breakfast On Yankee program, through which national advertisers have their products sampled across New England. It's good for the inns-free goods and a gimmick for guests. And it's good for advertisers eager for the product association. …