The Economist Tends Its Sophisticate Garden

MEDIA & BUSINESS – NEW YORK TIMES

Paul Rossi of The Economist says it defines its readers not by income, but by “what they think.”

By JEREMY W. PETERS

Its fire-engine-red logo peeks out of fashionable handbags and from the back pockets of designer jeans. Bankers read it in first-class seats. Hipsters read it on the subway on their way to work.

The magazine markets itself to the worldly.
It’s The Economist.

The newsweekly, a bible of global affairs for those who wear aspirations of worldliness on their sleeves, did not become a status symbol overnight. It took 25 years of clever advertising that tugs at the insecurities and ambitions of the status-seeking reader to help the magazine get there.

A standout among its less successful peers in the shrinking world of weekly news magazines, the true genius of The Economist, in fact, may have as much to do with its marketing as with its authoritative and often sardonic tone on exotic subjects, like a constitutional referendum in Kenya and the history of the vice presidency in Brazil.

Selling a publication with a title that conjures painful memories of college social science requirements can’t be easy. But the brand officers at The Economist and the advertising firm BBDO have devised a marketing strategy that makes people think reading the magazine will make them smarter and more sophisticated.

Their approach has been anything but subtle.

“Once upon a time, there was an ambitious young man who didn’t read The Economist. The End,” read one particularly audacious ad from 2004. Another, from 1988 said, “I never read The Economist — Management Trainee. Age 42.” One from 2001 said, “Look forward to class reunions.”

The magazine’s latest advertising campaign in the United States, being introduced in 11 cities with well-off, well-educated populations, includes two slides that riff on the theme of social advancement. In one, an ostrich has his head buried in the ground. In the second, the bird’s head pops up through the ground right under the words “Get a world view. Read The Economist.”

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