Politics & Media
Dec 16, 2008, 06:13AM

130,000 Inflatable Breasts, Oh My!

Ralph, an Australian men’s magazine, had its boatload of free-giveaway inflatable breasts stolen at sea, but they’re not the only print publication facing marketing obstacles.

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Print can’t catch a break. Layoffs, buyouts, and bankruptcies—the newspaper industry has been in a tailspin for years now, and many a marketer has had to face the grueling bottom line.

It is a time for belt-tightening and penny-pinching. Where, though, is the innovation? The very fabric of journalism needs a fresh start. Someone with an idea needs to step up. The clock is ticking.

The journalism world collectively held its breath as one publication dared to try something new, something no one had seen before. It was too much to hope, but hope was there—in the form 130,000 inflatable breasts.

An Australian men’s magazine, Ralph, ordered the inflatable breasts to send out as free gifts with its January issue. In a world of balance sheets and TPS reports, it’s amazing a major publication reached out—not to its shareholders, but to reader himself. It was honest; it was bold.

It was a jarring letdown. All in all, the magazine’s maritime mammary catastrophe cost it some $200,000. The thing is—and it’s a thing—the magazine’s parent company is $4.3 billion in debt. Did someone get fired over the breasts, or promoted? After explaining the situation to a close colleague, she asked, “But what would people do with the breasts?”

To which I answered, “Because they’re awesome.”

Somewhere out there, a couple of Somali pirates are realizing what democracy and capitalism really means.

There have been other, less publicized, accounts of failed campaigns to promote newspapers. The public does not usually see—nor appreciate—the valor of certain marketing teams. In their memory, and in their honor, I present to you a small selection of heroes. (These examples are, of course, completely made up, though one can always hope):

Sam Zell’s Chicago Tribune really isn’t doing so hot. The flagship paper of the recently bankrupted Tribune Co., it’s not only bankrupt but also severely pissed off the Federal government by sort of getting in the way of the investigation of Illinois Gov. Blagogevich. Good old-fashioned muck-racking gumshoe leather-burning investigative Chicago corruption journalism ain’t what it used to be, no doubt. What you haven’t heard is that, prior to the Governor’s arrest, the paper was pulling for Blagojevich with a promotional T-shirt with the words, “Leggo my Blago,” with a picture of a LEGO figure with a spot-on Blagogevich haircut.

The pop cultural references—LEGOs, Eggo Waffles—were, alas, too devastatingly hip. And the sentiment misplaced, since the governor is all kinds of dumb. The company quietly recalled the shirt after production but, thankfully, before distribution. Bullet, consider yourself dodged.

The New York Times recently embarrassed itself when a reporter used Facebook to dig for quotes for a front-page profile of Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. and Republican presidential nominee John McCain. The Times was happy for Clark Hoyt, its public editor, to roll out a full column on the affair. Hoyt didn’t know that the Facebook message were the vanguard for a much larger, now canned, initiative.

Seizing on a survey that found that a staggering one in five teens and young adults upload naked pictures of themselves to the Internet, the Times sought to expand its personalized platform, TimesPeople, in a direction akin to The Onion’s personals section—yet mixed with Craigslist’s salt-of the-earth amateurism and Maxim’s exploitive touch.

The paper was thinking “FinePeople” as a possible department header. It never got off the ground.

These are but two of the countless marketing campaigns that failed. Their memory will not be etched in rusticated stone, nor heralded with New Yorker profiles. The era of the extreme promotional giveaway is gone; the evergreen business plan of “less (clothing) is more (dollars)” is fading fast.

Please, reader, take a moment and give a thought to the byline-less of the industry. They need our prayers. We all need our prayers.


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