Who is still advertising in magazines? You might be surprised.

To kill time yesterday while wedged into seat B between two strangers on a cross-country flight, I decided to log who was advertising in this week’s Time.  You might be surprised about what I found.

In case you haven’t seen it, Time named Ben Bernanke their person of the year.  For those doomsayers who insist that “print is dead” and that print advertising will never recover,  I’d ask you to take a look through this week’s “Person of the Year” issue.  First off, the 178 page edition is super-sized.  Second, a whopping 50% of the issue, or 89 full color pages, is advertising.

Time’s most recent average weekly circulation is somewhere around 3.4 million (the POTY edition is almost certainly substantially more).  That’s down 17% from 5 years ago but is still an impressive number.  Plus, as Time Inc.’s media kits are at pains to remind you, a general interest publication like this also has a substantial amount of “pass-on” readership (think of all those doctor’s office waiting rooms, for example).

So who’s advertising? Turns out that the #1 type of space being bought, by far, isn’t really advertising at all.  It’s prescription drug legal disclosures.  Yup: 21% of Time’s Person of the Year ad pages was taken up by those comforting warnings about “suicidal thoughts or tendencies” or “increased risk of heart attack or stroke”. On average, there were 1.4 pages of text disclosures for each page of health ads that contained a photograph.

All-told, health advertising comprised 40% of total ad pages for 14 prescription drugs and 3 OTC ones.  The biggest spender was AstraZeneca, whose Seroquel medication for bipolar depression contained a whopping 5 pages of disclaimers to accompany the one color photo of a very sad-looking lady sitting on a concrete step. (side note: I just saw one of their TV ads for the same medication, and the contraindications and warnings droned on so long that it felt like I was watching a 30 min. infomercial)

Health advertising dominates Time's Person of the Year issue

No doubt that the dominance of health advertising is driven both by a cash-rich industry and also Time’s demographics.  I don’t have specific demo numbers for Time, but the magazine almost certainly skews higher on the 45+ age segments and significantly lower on 18-34.

The #2 advertising segment?  Auto.  Troubled GM stayed out of the mix, but Chrysler and Ford had ads, as did Japanese manufacturers Honda and Toyota.

Rounding out the top 5 segments were finance (mostly brokerage houses), electronics (dominated by HP), and food/beverage (of which Unilever purchased a pricey back cover ad to promote its pasta sauce Ragu).

The latest published ad rates I could find for Time were from 2004, when a 4 color full page ad in the national edition was listed at $234,000.  Let’s call that $180,000 today based on lower circulation and the fact that major advertisers almost always receive a substantial discount from rate card.  Even at that amount, the 86 pages Time sold for this edition (I’ve excluded a few public service announcements) would have generated more than $15 million in ad revenue.  Not bad for a “dead” medium.

One response to “Who is still advertising in magazines? You might be surprised.

  1. Great news, especially for printed media people. I’ve just realized the term “pass-on” readership is a hope for the existence non-digital media in the future.

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