The long slow slog that is the new Life
A year after its relaunch, a gain in ad pages
December 5, 2005
When Life magazine relaunched as a Friday supplement last year, decades after folding as a weekly, many anticipated a strong return. It had a storied name and the muscle of Time Inc. behind it.
The reality of the relaunch was quite otherwise. The magazine struggled to secure advertisers, with media buyers uncertain about the reach and editorial direction of the new Life.
Stories about Life’s floundering reached a pitch last January, after the magazine’s December ad pages came in well lower than expected. An expected burst in Christmas advertising never happened, and the early word on the street was that the relaunch was a bust, or well on its way.
Now, 14 months after its launch, Life may finally be catching on. The magazine has secured more than 30 advertisers who had never before appeared in weekend supplements, and it projects ad pages for fourth quarter will be up 40 percent over the 2004 period.
No one is yet calling Life a booming success, or even close to it. Life is still a struggle, but at least people now get what it’s about, says publisher Peter Bauer.
We made a lot of sales calls last year during the first half of the year, many where we’d walk in and could tell by their look that they weren’t that excited about what we were there to talk about. They’d rather be doing something else, recalls Bauer.
But we’d take out the magazine and talk about its Friday positioning and what we were going to focus on.
That Friday positioning is likely what began the advertiser thaw. Though Life is competing with two-established Sunday supplements, Parade and USA Weekend, there’s a big appeal to advertisers of getting to readers just before the weekend begins.
Between Parade and USA Weekend basically fighting it out in the marketplace for their share of dollars going into the genre, Life had a hard time gaining traction, says Serge Del Grosso, executive vice president and director of media planning at Lowe New York. The uniqueness of its Friday distribution is probably what started to crack that.
The new Life’s editorial focus is basically light fare. The first five or so pages are devoted to TV listings, recipes, book reviews and other shorts hyping typical weekend activities.
The limited features focus on celebrities or inspiring true-life stories the women’s service magazines carry. As you’d expect of Life, it’s full of beautiful pictures, and as you’d expect of a newspaper supplement, it lacks depth.
But the more important issue is whether people are picking it up.
The big challenge was how did Life, which is such an old and established media brand, connect relevantly to today’s media marketplace. [Advertisers] are not going to support Life if it does not drive response, Del Grosso says. That’s business.
Life’s circulation is 12 million. It is distributed as a Friday insert through 87 newspapers, including 11 Tribune papers, 33 from Knight Ridder and 12 McClatchy, and has added 12 papers since its launch.
According to MRI, the research company, Life’s readership is 51 percent male and 49 percent female, with an average median household income of $68,000, just what it promised when it launched last October.
Life’s November pages rose from 8.5 last year to 11.2, up 32 percent, and Bauer projects that December ad pages will average 9.2 per issue, up 46 percent over last year’s weak 6.3.
A full-page ad costs $310,000. Advertisers include Discovery, Marriott, General Mills and General Motors. Several of the higher-end advertisers, including Pontiac, Charles Schwab and American Express, do not advertise in Parade or USA Weekend.
Life aims to be more upscale, in part to attract advertisers who would not appear in the two major Sunday supplements because of their heavy reliance on direct response advertising, and Bauer says it’s working.
We made the decision early on not to rely to the extent they do on direct response, Bauer says. For top brands, such as GM, Bose or Dell, If we had an environment where their ad was surrounded by really direct response advertising, they wouldn’t want to run in that environment and we would not get their business.
But Life still has way far to go before it can be thought of as even as a limited success. Media people say it will be at least another year before it’s clear whether its upward trend in ad pages will continue.
It’s probably too early to say that they’ve achieved any breakthrough, says Del Grosso, who has recommended Life on several 2006 plans.
There’s still a lot more selling to do, Del Grosso says. I think they have to come out with some case studies, customer research or anecdotal or some sort of audience response measure. They need to come out and explain how the Friday reach occasion is working for them and is unique versus other media.
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