Earn Big $$$ Just By Reading Research!

Win an experience of a lifetime.

This is the come-on to lure media buyers into entering the MPA's Magazine Experience Sweepstakes. You have to simply send in your particulars on a postcard OR go to the MPA Web site and answer: How Many Reader Experiences Were Uncovered by Northwestern University's study? In case you dropped out of school in, say, the second grade (in which case it must have been a difficult career climb to become a media buyer), the lead-in to the questionnaire provides this hint: "...a landmark Northwestern University study uncovered 39 experiences that drive magazine usage."

The MPA's idea of an experience of a lifetime (which is buried deeply in the fine print of their ad to promote the sweepstakes) is a 7-day Caribbean cruise for two. Oddly, it does not disclose where the ship leaves from, but does disclose that you have to pay your own airfare to get there. Taking a wild guess that it departs from Miami, and assuming you live in New York, your experience of a lifetime would cost about $400 in airfare, plus a taxi to and from LaGuardia--which, rounding off, would add another $100 and transfers on the Miami end--call it $75.



I have never been on a Crystal Cruise. I am sure they have fine ships, scrubbed scrupulously and often to ensure against the stomach virus that plagues cruise ships. But just in case, the fine print on the cruise line's Web site offers these caveats: "The cruise fare does not include medical treatment" and moreover, "Crystal Cruises shall not be liable for any aspect of medical treatment provided to the guest, including, but not limited to, the consequences of any examination, advice, diagnosis, medication, treatment, prognosis or other professional services which such doctors or nurses may furnish the guest."

Well. Bon Voyage!

The stated aim of this little promotion (with a $10,500 Grand Prize) is to get media buyers to read the results of the MPA-underwritten study on how readers "experience" magazines. Since the data has been available for a long while, one can only assume that it is either so boring, so predictable, or has so little credibility that not many media folks bother to thumb through it. So, to throw good money after bad, the MPA figures to bribe the media community into paying attention to the study--but remember, you need not actually read the study to win that floating experience of a lifetime.

Where is the fine line between an incentive and a reward, between a promotion and payola? Lots of media organizations hand out Broadway, movie, and sports tickets to help win new or renewed business from media buyers.

Since they earn about $5.50 an hour, many media buyers consider this institutionalized graft to be part of their compensation. Free meals, free trips to spas or major sporting events like the Olympics or the World Series, and free clothes or handbags festooned with media logos have become so routine that no one thinks that it is in any way shameful for a trade association to attempt to bribe people into reading their research.

Before the angry emails begin: Just because everyone else does it doesn't make it right.

How can you say with a straight face that "our audience has a special, deeply personal relationship with our product that makes it the most effective medium for advertising" and then offer up kickbacks in the form of trips, electronics, green fees, air trips, etc.? If you really deliver that kind of value proposition for advertisers, doesn't rebating the cost with gifts diminish the pronounced value?

I know it is meant to say: "Thanks for your business" or: "Do business with us and we'll make your life a little sweeter," but doesn't it also say: "What we offer is not strong enough to stand up on its own?" Doesn't it also say: "If you are having that hard a time picking us over another media choice or competitor, here is a bribe to tip you our way?"

And finally, doesn't it also say: "You need not pick me on merit; I will buy your business?"

Maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch.

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