If a new promotional gambit by Britain's venerable magazine The Economist proves successful, perhaps one day the quintessential marketing query "Will it play in Peoria?" will be supplanted by "Will it be boffo in Baltimore?"
The Economist, a weekly published by the British company Pearson, is using Baltimore - chosen because it is a typical American market for the magazine - to test a new effort to increase newsstand and subscription sales, along with brand awareness. The test involves employees of the magazine and four agencies on both sides of the Atlantic.
The test, costing an estimated $500,000, is unleashing a panoply of advertising and promotional efforts on metropolitan Baltimore. Among them are posters, print advertisements, banner ads on Web sites, radio commercials, direct mail, local events, signs at newsstands and a public relations campaign.
The Economist is even giving away outdoor cafe umbrellas, in its trademark shade of red, that declare, "Talk about more than just the weather."
The test began Feb. 22 and is scheduled to run six weeks. It is a sign of the growing role that marketing now plays as media companies seek to stimulate revenue. As the Internet makes it more difficult for print media to attract advertising dollars, revenue from readers is becoming more important.
"We have a vision to grow The Economist in North America to be a leading magazine," said Paul Rossi, the magazine's publisher for North America, who is based in New York. He wants his magazine, which focuses on international politics and business news, to draw the types of readers who now buy publications like Business Week, The New Yorker, Newsweek and Time.
Of The Economist's worldwide circulation of just less than 1.1 million, Rossi said, North America accounts for a bit more than half, at 569,336, a figure that has increased 47.3 percent since 2001. Circulation in the Baltimore area, 4,998 copies, has increased similarly during the same period, by 46.4 percent.
The results from the test will be compared with results from Pittsburgh, a market in which The Economist is sponsoring no concerted marketing campaign. If the results indicate that it makes sense to spend money on focused local ads, The Economist will expand the test.
The Economist spends about $25 million each year on marketing around the world, said Susan Clark, its global marketing director, including the cost of subscription mailings.
Before the test, consumers in the Baltimore area were asked about their awareness of The Economist, Clark said. There will be another survey after the test, and the data will be measured against the control results from Pittsburgh.
Another question the test aims to answer is whether the marketing blitz will raise the percentage of households in Baltimore that subscribe to The Economist, which Clark said now stands at less than two-tenths of 1 percent.
The campaign is based on the award-winning work created for The Economist since 1988 by AMV BBDO in London, part of the BBDO Worldwide division of the Omnicom Group.
Stuart Elliott writes for the New York Times.