Canadian Magazine Industry News
5 June 2012,     CALGARY
Message behind The Walrus ad campaign: 'Don't Subscribe'
Ad campaigns are supposed to tell consumers why they should buy something, right?

Not this campaign; it pretty much does the exact opposite.

WAX, an advertising, design and digital agency based in Calgary, took a 'reverse psychology' approach in an effort to drive up sales of The Walrus magazine in the same city. Using a series of messages on billboards, in trains, in bars and restaurants and in print, the agency tells people just why they shouldn't read the award-winning magazine.

One of the billboards of WAX's Walrus campaign (click image to enlarge)
One of the billboards of WAX's Walrus campaign (click image to enlarge)

One block of copy at the top of a billboard reads, "Trust us. The Walrus isn't for most people. This magazine is for the special few." It goes on to say that "most people wouldn't buy a magazine with the guts to raise questions rather than pretend to have all the answers." And it goes on from there, suggesting people subscribe through the magazine's website (or, for those with the short attention spans, follow The Walrus on Twitter).

The copy blocks used on the ads are a bit of a read as well and that's on purpose, said WAX's executive creative director Joe Hospodarec. "The idea was to do long-copy as a demonstration of what's in the magazine," he said. "Most of the copy blocks talk about how it's difficult in this short-attention span, tech-speak world to do this kind of magazine because people don't feel they have time for it."

(Click image to enlarge)
(Click image to enlarge)

A larger font in bold and all caps at the bottom of one billboard (the fonts used include National Bold and Sabon Roman) says "you wouldn't like it." Others broadcast the messages "Don't Subscribe," "Read Something Else," "Most People Don't Get It" and "It's Probably Not for You."

Hospodarec said that could provoke a reaction of "why not? Why isn't it for me?"

The campaign was produced in-house by copywriter Max May, designer Theresa Kwan, and design director Monique Gamache. The account director is Sheldon Lachambre.

Hospodarec said while it's not a traditional approach to advertising, the campaign wasn't as hard a sell to the magazine as he thought it would be, and that co-publisher Shelley Ambrose warmed up to the idea quickly. It's the first time WAX has taken this kind of 'reverse' approach, he added.

The campaign just launched about a week ago so it's hard to say yet if the public will be as warm to it. But anecdotal feedback has been positive so far, said the executive creative director.

This is the Walrus's first citywide advertising campaign and it will run for a few weeks, noted the magazine.

"We’re dedicated to reaching intelligent and thoughtful people across the country, and we’re confident that Calgarians will rise to the challenge," noted Ambrose. “The campaign is presented as a challenge to people, so they’ll take a closer look at the magazine."

The campaign is part of a focus on Calgary by The Walrus that also includes a cover story on Calgary in the magazine’s June Issue by Chris Turner and Enbridge Presents The Walrus Glenbow Debate (on Calgary's Cowboy Culture) on June 7 at the EPCOR Centre’s Max Bell Theatre.

[This article originally appeared on Masthead sister site Design Edge Canada]
— Jeff Hayward
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