Unitec and Bauer turn Kiwis into editors/cover stars with personalised magazine

Humans are simple creatures. Put their name on a Coke and they go crazy. Put their kid on the cover of a magazine and mums will clog up the internet. And now Unitec, Special Group, Open and Bauer are attempting to tap into that feverish narcissism once again with U Mag, a personalised magazine that doubles as a customised prospectus and is thought to be a world first. 

Aligned with Unitec’s most recent campaign, ‘What does success mean to you?’, punters are asked to enter their details, upload a photo of themselves and answer a few questions to show what they hope to achieve in the next five years, be it buying a house, living a healthy lifestyle, landing a dream job or heading off on their OE. It then spits out a 28 page magazine—both digital and print—with their mug and name on the cover, complete with Bauer content from around the world that matches their areas of interest. 

Success is fairly crowded territory in marketing, with everyone from banks to real estate firms in on the action. But Unitec and its agency partners have done a good job of standing out, first with the docu-ads for ‘Change Starts Here’ and then with ‘We Make the People Who Make it’. In recent years it has also stood out above the other academic institutions with its innovative campaigns, and this clever idea continues the trend. 

“We wanted to create something that could help not just our students, but other Kiwis on their path to success,” says Alistair Kirk, director of customer journey for Unitec in a release. “Success is something that we strive for and see emerging from our students and staff across our campuses every day, but often people struggle to find the pathway to get there. We wanted to help these people move forward with that journey by visualising themselves in a position of success.” 

The print magazine is saddle-stiched and uses quite high quality paper stock. But Bauer sales director Paul Gardiner says “the big thing is the software that runs behind it” to create the personalisation (it worked with an external supplier, Salt Interactive, but it had to steer the development project as the integrated campaign needed to be inside the business for it to run successfully). 

He says it did a lot of work to choose the most relevant content, with surveys of Unitec students, its All Women Talk and His Call panels. Unitec also contributed its own content around success stories of past students who have gone on to do amazing things, such as Hayley King (AKA Flox), as well as information about particular courses suited to the candidates. 

Gardiner says one of the major insights (Open was behind the U Mag ideation, strategy development and comms project management) was that people often don’t know what they want to study. So he says this customised magazine is effectively a new kind of prospectus and is based around “getting them to tell us what they’re interested in so they can suggest a course that fits”. 

But he admits there’s also a bit of vanity involved and having your face on the cover of a magazine is quite appealing for many. Given today’s rampant over-sharing, it’s also good social fodder, so it’s hoped that the magazines will get passed around on social media. 

From Bauer’s perspective, it’s about finding ways to repackage its content, which is “really expensive to create and is generally only used once”, and giving it a new life. And digital printing technology and the use of variable data has made personalisation much easier to achieve.

“Whether it’s one or 100 copies, it doesn’t matter [in terms of price]and the quality of digital printing is so good these days you probably wouldn’t notice the difference.”

But creating a bespoke magazine is still a complex process and Gardiner says it had to take into account 50 different variables such as sex and race when choosing the content to go into a unique edition (as he says, a cover story about ‘how to find you perfect man’ might not be so relevant to a bloke learning how to build houses). 

Gardiner says he has sent the details of the project to the FIPP, the worldwide magazine media association, to see if anything like this has been done before and while they haven’t had official confirmation, they can’t remember seeing anything like it before. 

Now that the technology has been created, he thinks there are opportunities for it to be used in other areas or for other brands and “talk to audiences in a more targeted way”, and he’s particularly optimistic about the opportunities around food, with editorial content that could be pulled out to match certain preferences or ingredients (Cuisine’s Meal Maker, All Recipes Dinner Spinner and many others do this already with recipe content, but not as a bespoke magazine). And while some might question whether readers actually want to choose the content when trusted editors exist to curate it for them, he says this is still curated content, “it’s just taking it to the next level”. 

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