Eyeballs are Not What You’re Looking For

Unlike in the digital ad arena, magazines are not selling eyeballs to their ad partners. For the past several years, this was viewed as a “problem,” as media brands pumped massive resources into their digital content work to gain traction as an advertising platform. 

Lately, it appears the digital frenzy in magazine brands is waning, as publishers get back to realizing their value as an ad platform that truly engages the reader, according to Dominic Mills in MediaTel.

“I’m getting a clear sense that the magazine industry is at last clawing its way out of the door to nowhere, where the sign reads: ‘Help. Print is buggered and we don’t know what to do,’” Mills quips. 

Mills cites this month’s PPA Festival in London, where 700+ magazine media experts gathered to talk about what’s new and what’s next. He notes a shift in the sentiments around digital media, as the chase for eyeballs falls a bit flat.

He sees “a general move away from the indiscriminate pursuit by magazine brands of eyeballs – eyeballs for eyeballs’ sake – in the vain hope that this would give scale and attract new readers. This trend was characterized by the relentless pumping out of content via Facebook and other social media channels, and best seen in the form of dishonest clickbait headlines.”

Did it work? Yeah, no, Mills believes, saying “You just have to watch smartphone users listlessly flicking through their feeds to see what a waste of effort it was, not to mention the 4% drop in magazine brands’ digital revenues last year (AA/Warc).”

We’ve all seen the sometimes futile, other times disastrous results of chasing eyeballs – from the fake news epidemic to the Google/YouTube debacle over extremist content. At the same time, publisher reach is sinking fast on social, and those eyeballs are getting harder to come by.

And that’s quite okay with Mills, who believes that eyeballs are a “false god,” and not the metric magazine brands should be pitching to their potential ad partners. So what should they pitch instead? 

“Like new brands, this is what magazine content is all about – good content, not clickbait, anyway – and as [PHD’s Mike] Florence says, attention and emotion are the forces that drive memory encoding into the brain. This is reinforced because a) magazines score highly on emotion and b) in (most, but not all) magazine brands, advertising is part of the overall experience, and perceived and welcomed as such by readers.”

For publishers, it’s time to get serious about promoting the best ad platform around. Magazine advertising is taking leaps – moving into the 21st century and making it easier for brands to buy ad space. Now, it’s time to embrace the magazine for what it is – a platform on which true attention and engagement can build – and learn how to sell ads more effectively in this new landscape. When you learn to unlock the potential of your first-party data, you put yourself in an excellent position to do just that.

After all, your audience is into print ads … maybe that’s all the convincing your advertising partners need.