Gray Matters: magazines, influencers, cookies and AI

The second coming

When Bauer Media NZ CEO Brendon Hill was announced as the new Australia and New Zealand CEO this month he was quoted in an interview with Mumbrella “Australia is one of the toughest markets for magazines in the world”. There is no doubt that the New Zealand magazine industry is under similar pressure.

It’s a worldwide phenomenon. Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, wrote in 2017, “if you can publish writing that is consistently and significantly better than what can be found online, people will pay.” But as Steven McIntosh, writing for the BBC, responded, “many editors are struggling to strike the right balance between physical and digital content. They are faced with the choice of either posting all their articles online for free, so the magazine stays relevant, or charging readers money to protect the financial future of the brand.”

We like to think that NZ Marketing and StopPress have found the right balance, and I particularly like New York Times assessment, “optimists in the business say that it may be healthy for a younger generation of editors to take the reins. Older editors are less accustomed to the rhythms and forms of web journalism.”

However, magazines may have to consider the paywall option that newspapers are starting to introduce. Magazine publishers locally will be watching the NZ Herald premium paywall with much interest.

A year ago, The Guardian reported: “The outlook for the UK magazine market is not good with the decline in sales and advertising figures making for grim reading.” According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations Sales of the top 100 actively purchased print titles in the UK – those that readers buy or subscribe to – fell by 42 percent between 2010 and 2017.

There is some good news, with startups like Airbnb, Bumble and Casper leading the way of non-traditional media brands launching print magazines.

Adweek contributor Sara Jerde writes about why young companies are starting print magazines as a way to help build their brands. In her article, Jerde quotes Adam Alter, associate professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business: “Today, the quickest way to establish your brand is often by sharing content, by producing stand-alone content. A successful brand magazine could bring in advertising dollars and attract new subscribers to mailing lists. Once a company has that email, it could be used for promotional purposes and notifications about new product launches.”

Our sister publication Habitat has always been a magazine ahead of its time. Resene and Habitat were doing ‘content marketing’ before the phrase was even coined, and today Habitat has become the New Zealand poster child for similar concepts. Perhaps there are a few brand marketers out there who may like to launch a new magazine. Print is not dead, it has just been taking a rest.

Matters of influence

“Brands are leveraging influencers now more than ever. They’re tapping into every type of influencer whether B2B employee ambassadors, fashion nano-influencers, or celebrities with millions of followers,” says an article in Forbes.

So why was there such a negative reaction in the NZ Herald to Auckland Transport spending $12,000 of ratepayer money on influencers in past year?

“Wasting money on having celebrities say nice things is no substitute for the delivery of a service funded by the commuters of Auckland and the ratepayers of Auckland,” whined Manurewa-Papakura ward councilor Daniel Newman. While New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union executive director Jordan Williams agreed it would be better if the money was going toward “improved and more reliable services”.

The point is, Auckland Transport is a brand like any other and the choice of promotional communication’s channel should be judged on its effectiveness not on ignorance.

As the Forbes article so succinctly puts it: ”Be strategic in finding influencers that represent your audience and brand values. This allows for more positive brand sentiment and affinity as you’re leveraging connectivity between community and influencer.”

The decision by Auckland Transport marketing specialist Rob Pitney to use influencers should be judged on its ability to meet the organisation’s objectives and nothing else.

Privacy and online advertising

With internet users increasingly worried about being online (nearly four in every five in the UK (78 percent) holding concerns) researchers at the University of Minnesota, University of California, Irvine, and Carnegie Mellon University suggest publishers only get about four percent more revenue for an ad impression that has a cookie-enabled than for one that doesn’t. Much of that growth [in online advertising]has been fueled by the data industry’s ability to target ads based on consumers’ interests and preferences,” says the study.

Tracking via cookies placed on internet visitors’ computers by advertising networks and websites have been under scrutiny for a while now but regardless of the study’s findings, “there have been clear signs that behavioral ad targeting is a space set for change as companies try to get out of ahead of data privacy laws and retain trust with consumers,” says Peter Adams on Marketing Dive.

“Publishers’ inability to benefit much from behavioral targeting could have implications for policy,” says The Wall Street Journal as lawmakers debate the shape of privacy legislation.

In New Zealand, the collection of personal information is governed by the Privacy Act 1993, which contains a number of privacy principles relating to the collection, storage and use of personal information.

James Carnie and Jasmine Smart, registered Privacy Professionals with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner point out, “where information is shared with online advertising suppliers, the business sharing the information needs to make sure that the information is separately identifiable to avoid comingling with other information held by the provider; and will not subsequently become available to competitors, or other clients of the advertising provider.”

“These risks can be managed by ensuring that all steps in the online advertising process, starting with the collection of customer data and culminating in the targeting of advertising to current and prospective customers, take place under appropriate terms and conditions,” is their advice.

Privacy rights groups are attempting to limit the collection of data by advertisers but with research showing that the benefits to publishers is low, the impact may not be as great as previously feared.

Voice recognition technology from Alexa to Siri and even Samsung TVs has allowed private data to be sent to third parties, but as reported on Stuff, Emma Carr, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, confirms “not everyone wants to be spied on.”

Taking a shot at Samsung, Carr says: “It is outrageous that the company has even stated in its own privacy policy that if the TV’s owner does decide not to share their private information, then the company may still take the information anyway.”

Marketing and data services are an important part of the business model for data technology companies, but they must ensure a privacy-compliant environment that allows advertisers and partners to responsibly shield sensitive information across multiple media channels.

James Ting- Edwards wrote in The Spinoff last September, “NZ’s privacy law is covered in dust. We need a reboot for the internet age.” He rightly states that while we put information online that helps inform and target ad campaigns, protecting our privacy is vital.

Marketing on life support

“Pundits have been declaring ‘marketing is dead’ for nearly a decade now but predictions of marketing’s demise have increased with recent developments including the growth of artificial intelligence,” says a Forbes article.

The suggestion is that with the greater use of AI assistants, algorithms and predictive analytics offering information, goods, and services to customers, marketers and marketing will have increasingly less impact on customer decisions.

An Adobe report showed that 47 percent of consumers use voice to conduct general product research; 43 percent create shopping lists; 32 percent do price comparison.

“I think the voice is going to be the single biggest game-changer since the web in terms of how consumers interact with services,” says Tony Lucas, Director of Product, Smartsheet. “Voice assistants are going to take people away from screens.”

As the Forbes article says: “It’s not surprising that companies are cutting back on marketing. Marketing as we’ve known it in recent years has lost its power and will likely continue to decline.”


“Airbnb and Uber have paved the way for the gig economy and made it more accepted.” — Earl and Abernethy-Newman, co-founders of online marketplace Joblist, reported in NZ Herald.

About Author

Graham Medcalf is a freelance writer and owner of Red Advertising.

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