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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Commercial Printing: Designing a Magazine Experience

After 14 years of driving a Jeep Cherokee, my trusted ride became unreliable. At about the same time, my fiancee decided to get a new, used car because her Subaru had reached the 14-year-old mark and was no longer trustworthy for long-distance driving.

I needed nothing more than a glorified moped for local errands, yet my mechanic’s suggestion that I buy a used Toyota or Honda seemed daunting. (How would I find a good one? How would I know it would last another ten years?) Everywhere I looked I saw CR-Vs and RAV-4s that had been invisible before this car search because I hadn’t been looking for them. At this point I could recognize all of the car logos, even without seeing their accompanying brand names.

How to choose?

By this time I was beginning to open my mind to buying the Subaru from my fiancee as a minimal-mileage-per-year vehicle. Interestingly enough, the Subaru magazine that had come to our house for 14 years (and had heretofore held no interest for me) was beginning to look inviting. I liked the design, the paper, the lifestyle stories it contained.

I was hooked. I was rolling around the proverbial “sales funnel,” getting ready to drop through the hole and “convert.”

How Do They Do It?

As a student of commercial printing, design, and marketing, I was amused that I had been “sold” (but not in a manipulative way; after all, I was looking to buy). But at the same time I could see how the design of the magazine along with its contents, its tone and message, and the less obtrusive but equally powerful custom printing specifications, could be a powerful tool of persuasion once I was “open” to receiving the sales message. At that point, it wasn’t really a question of the magazine’s “selling” me, but rather of my “consuming credible content” that supported my buying goals. I needed a new, used car. The magazine told me about one of the best brands (with which my mechanic was very much in agreement).

Here are some of the elements of marketing, design, and commercial printing that I identified as useful in promoting the Subaru brand and encouraging Subaru owners to become emotionally tied to, and affiliated with, the Subaru label. Together these elements were most effective, for me, and I’m sure that other brands have done the same kind of marketing in an equally effective way:

  1. The front and back magazine cover—The front cover focuses on a smiling woman and her trusted dog, Winston. She’s happy, and he’s grateful (presumably, sitting up close to her) for having been rescued and treated like a king. She is wearing the same color lime green sweater (under her brown jacket) that her dog Winston is wearing in his lime green neck scarf. As an accent, he has a purple tag. Both the purple and the lime green are repeated in the color of the Subaru magazine: the drive magazine title, and the solid blocks of color from which the hand-printed (really a script typeface) subheads have been reversed.
  2. The lowercase word “drive,” the title of the magazine, and the faux-hand-printed type provide an informal feel to the magazine cover. The human subject is happy. It’s the weekend (presumably), and she’s doing what she loves with her trusted companion. The title of the magazine is also rendered in an italic, sans serif font. It is casual but energetic (since as an italic typeface it slants forward: i.e., to the right). Other than the Subaru branding (logo and taglines), there is relatively little on the cover. The smiling woman is also looking directly at the reader. The message? It’s all about the reader. The reader can “participate in the lifestyle.” He or she can also become a member of the exclusive Subaru club, or “tribe.”
  3. Photos inside the magazine include members of multiple ethnicities, men and women, as well as children, to ensure that the magazine embraces all those interested in the Subaru identity.
  4. The paper is a thicker than usual (for a magazine text sheet) gloss paper, and the cover weight is also substantial. Based on the “nature” theme (e.g., the magazine article about covered bridges in the United States: i.e., where to drive your Subaru on your days off), I had assumed the cover and text paper would be uncoated. However, the substance and weight of the cover and text paper suggest seriousness and a commitment to quality. (A thinner paper might have sent a subliminal message of lower overall quality, presumably of not only the reader’s experience but also the car-buyer’s experience.)
  5. The articles focus on “lifestyle,” or how the Subaru owner approaches her or his life and how this life includes vehicles made by this brand. There are articles, long and short, pertaining to cooking, traveling in the United States “wilderness,” family, sustainability, etc. All of these relate to the brand and the automobile, seeking to convert the reader into a fan not only of the car but also of the values espoused by the brand.
  6. That said, the magazine does include articles about the Subaru “ride.” These highlight the safety of the cars, and this approach reinforces Subaru’s commitment to the family. (Keeping your loved ones safe is the prime goal.) The articles are also well researched, suggesting that the targeted reader is educated and has researched multiple vehicles based on their safety, quality, etc. The Subaru buyer is multi-faceted, intelligent, and an independent thinker, influenced by facts and statistics, not just by the appearance or style of the car.
  7. The colors of the magazine interior are predominantly earth tones. This is relevant not only because of the rugged, Earth-centered “personna” (the targeted buyer, the amalgamation of all market research on the demographics of the potential buyer) to which the magazine is aimed but also because of the approaching season: autumn. However, it is clear that the target reader also values family time spent after work hours within the rural landscape. (“Save the Earth, but also experience and love the Earth.”) This is echoed in the photo on the inside front cover of the magazine, an image of a sunset in Nippersink Creek, Glacial Park (Illinois). The Subaru aficionado takes time to commune with the wonders of nature. He or she also drives a Subaru to these locations because the car is reliable and durable, and because it reflects a sensitivity to the environment.

What We Can Learn from This Magazine

All of this is not manipulative, but rather persuasive—in a consistent but understated way. Every detail of the magazine contributes to the sales goal by reinforcing (and restating, again and again) the values Subaru has baked into their brand. To read the magazine, buy and drive the car, and participate in the lifestyle (everything from the choice of activities pursued to the choice of clothes and food purchased or consumed by the multicultural audience portrayed in the magazine) supports “affiliation with the brand.” If you do, or own, all these things, you will be a part of a select group that embraces these values.

Subaru has grasped the nuances of this target audience and has honed its brand and its printed marketing materials to appeal to this target audience. Not all brands can do this sort of thing quite as effectively. It takes a perceptive staff that observes and listens carefully, and then incorporates the elements of persuasive writing and design (as well as custom printing) into their overall message.

When you can do this sort of thing well, you can sell a quality product (and overall experience) to an audience that is ready and willing to buy it.

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