Introducing Subaru’s Must-Read Magazine, Ford Times
In my last post here I declared that content marketers have a long way to go to convince readers that their stuff isn’t the same old corporate sales job dressed up to look all journalistic and edgy. To illustrate my point, I picked on Subaru, which sends me a magazine the title of which I can never remember and the content of which I do not consume because it is full of bullshit articles like, “Cleveland—A City Reborn.”
I promised to conceive and describe a really compelling Subaru magazine, based on its ad slogan, “Love.” Here goes:
Love magazine would rarely or never mention Subaru. It would be all about love: Love of adventure, love of human beings, love of culture, love of family, love of sports, love of work, love of nature—love of all the sorts of things loved by the Subaru owner demographic: well-educated, professional, socially liberal and upwardly mobile. Which means that Love magazine would be competing with the other shows and publications those people typically consume: The New York Times, NPR, The New Yorker, Sunday Morning, Real Time with Bill Maher any number of HBO dramas.
So what is Subaru to do?
Exactly what Ford Motor Company did.
Yep, that’s when Ford launched Ford Times, a monthly magazine that took itself and its readers seriously enough to publish stories by William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Ogden Nash and E.B. White. Throughout the magazine’s 85-year history—part of the way you make yourself relevant is to stick with your thing longer than everybody else does—star writers worked under intellectually curious editors to deal with widely ranging subjects in and around the areas of popular culture and travel. The mission was to simply “present a view of America through the windshield.” The magazine was adorned by stunning covers (click the above image to see more covers), many of which by famed artist Charley Harper.
The publication was so good that other advertisers bought space in it, to get access to a circulation that at its peak exceeded 2 million—with a total readership estimated at 8 million, according Advertising Age.
Do you think Subaru would like that? I think they’d Love it.
Not every big company can do Ford Times or Love magazine—partly because readers have day jobs and can’t read a magazine from every company whose products they buy—but if Subaru doesn’t engage its demographic in a fascinating way soon, then maybe Starbucks will, and Subaru will be undermined in the new media marketplace by a company that it didn’t even think was a competitor.
Whoever does the next Ford Times will have to dig pretty deep. To compete with real media organizations, you have to hire real media talent: fine writers, editors, videographers, producers, photographers, graphic designers and artists. If you’re going to get their best work, you have to set them loose to do what they find interesting, which means you’ve got to keep the aim of our publication broad and big-minded. If you spend the money, have the courage and stick with the thing long enough to make it an institution, then your demographic will associate your brand with entertainment that appeals to them directly and deeply. If you do that, you’ll bond your demographic to your brand, in gratitude.
You can want no better a result from any corporate media vehicle than that.
How dare you ask for more? And how can you settle for less?
David Murray is a longtime commentator on communication. The editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, he also writes for magazines and newspapers. And he blogs about his work and his life at Writing Boots.