April 23rd 1985: Coca Cola introduces New Coke, the world’s greatest marketing disaster of all time.
April 25, 2005 Vol. 165 No. 17: Time magazine puts right wing harpy Ann Coulter on the cover of the magazine:
Has Time magazine pulled a ‘New Coke’ with their ‘Ann Coulter’ cover?
I’ve been wondering about how this blunder by Time magazine (the cover issue) will be looked at in the future. Might this be the media equivalent of New Coke? We have already seen quite a few people cancelling their subscriptions to Time Magazine (See Altercation of April 22, 2005). If the boycott of Time Warner gets up a head of steam, this whole affair could end up as the world’s second worst marketing disaster (the Edsel is #3).
The great irony is in the timing: the exact same week of New Coke celebrating (if that’s the right word) the 20th anniversary of its disastrous introduction, the Time Magazine Coulter cover arrives on Newstands. How serendipitous is it that those two examples of corporate think at its worst share the same anniversary — exactly 2 decades apart? We know that poor thought processes is in the DNA of TWX; this is the same brain trust after all who put together AOL and Time Warner in the first place.
It is the comic timing that’s truly amazing — like some cosmic irony warp which crosses North America every 20 years. This is not only a major blunder on the part of Time Magazine, but on the exact same week as New Coke’s anniversary? What are the odds of that happening?
What Happens When the Other Guy Blinks?
Time magazine made a mistake very similar to the one that Coke made: Time can never out-“right wing” Fox News, The Washington Times, Andrew Sullivan or Drudge. How likely is it that readers of those sites are going to become Time Magazine subscribers? Answer: Not very. Consumers of these 4 sites are viewers/readers who are looking for a very specific flavor, a unique slant. They want less of a hard news source (i.e., specific facts) and more opinion, philosophy, political cheerleading and energy.
Time magazine, on the other hand, is primarily a weekly news gathering organization. I believe their bigger problem is not a matter of where they fall on the left-right political spectrum, but a “right-now” versus a-week-from-now quandry. The internet causes the dead-tree media all kinds of difficulty; Weekly newsmagazines are particularly hard hit do to issues of timeliness.
Instead of responding, in a focused manner, to the challenge the internet presents, Time let a small but vocal group of non-subscribers determine the parameters of debate. By letting another party frame questions of coverage, you lose before you even start. (Lawyers call this framing an issue).
Who was This Cover Target Audience?
Magazine covers are advertising. It is part of their very nature, as the most visible page in a mag, and it is designed to attracts readers.
Time’s appeal is to people who want mainstream media news from a centrist perspective. The right and far right are hardly interested. Almost by definition, Time picks up both the Center (a given) and the Center Left — the people who aren’t interested in a blunt right perspective. I do not see Time capturing a significant percentage of Rush Lumbaugh listeners and converting them in to regular magazine buyers.
So from a marketing perspective, I gotta ask: At which demographic subgroup was this cover targeted?
Was this a ploy at grabbing right wing readers? To anyone involved in Media, you cannot help buy notice the spectacular rise of the Right oriented press. Not neccessarily a vast right wing conspiracy, but rather the surge of a particular type of media outlet appealing (some would say pandering) to a hard right perspective.
Like Coca Cola 20 years ago, Time Magazine blinked. They fell for the hype, alienated a substantial percentage of their audience, and played right into the hands of their competition. Pepsi beat Coke in taste tests, because the sweeter Pepsi tested better in small servings. After a full can, however, the Pepsi Challenge gave a decisive edge to Coke. (Go figure — the test was rigged!)
The first rule of business: Know thy customer. Time clearly has forgotten that rule. Don’t be surprised if the penalty ends up being rather severe.
Another Classic Time Magazine Contrary Indicator?
The cyclical nature of News and Politics oscillates to and fro. What’s hot one year fades and is replaced eventually by the next new thing. The “quick sip” goes one way, but over the longer time a different flavor may dominate.
That the Editors at Time do not know that is truly astounding.
We have looked at the magazine cover indicator in the past as a contrary indicator. Its been a solid tell on politics, technology, currency, even specific stocks (i.e, Apple). And, this is not the first instance of Time Magazine’s displaying exemplary timing. Recall the Jeff Bezos (Amazon.com’s founder and CEO) in December 1999 pretty much top ticked both that stock and the entire dotcom bubble.
Since Reagan was elected, the right side of the political ledger has been in ascendence. But for Bill Clinton’s brief reign (initially elected in a 3 way race that included businessman Ross Perot), that’s over 25 years. It would be both fascinating and ironic if Time Magazine, demonstrating once again their wonderful sense of timing, and top ticked another trend.
I’d find it terribly amusing if Time magazine managed to nail the exact moment — the post-Schiavo/Iraq War/Social Security reform instant — when the zeitgeist swung away from the G.O.P.
Time (not the magazine) will tell . . .