Saturday, April 16, 2011

FLASHBACK: The Origins of Soap Opera Digest 1980

Advertising; Soap Opera Digest Finds Happiness People

By Philip H. Dougherty
New York Times
April 15, 1980

ON Aug. 5--mark that date well-- Soap Opera Digest will be increasing its publishing frequency once again, this time from 18 times a year to 26.

In all ways this four-and-a-half-year-old publication is a creature of the TV generation - inspired by television, fed by television. It all began in 1975 when Jerome Shapiro, president of Brookville Marketing, a direct marketing company, and Norman Roseman, vice president and creative director of Greybark Advertising, the Brookville house agency, realized how successful they were at getting subscriptions for magazines of their client, Rodale Press.

"We found we were good at developing leads for others, why shouldn't we be for ourselves?" Mr. Roseman said yesterday.

"Then we thought, what would be more appropriate to develop television leads for than a television magazine? So we analyzed the TV marketplace and saw the vast audience for soaps - the largest single universe of special-interest viewers."

The concept was for a publication built around synopses of soap operas so fans who miss episodes can keep up. It would be sold by subscription only and completely through television.

Since direct marketing people don't get into anything without testing, the first concrete step toward this new magazine was the creation of a dummy - a cover (picture supplied free by one of the networks - followed by unrelated pages to be used on a TV commercial promoting subscriptions and featuring an 800 phone number. The spot ran on WEWS-TV in Cleveland, a city that Brookville was familiar with from previous efforts.

"The phone blew off the handles," Mr. Roseman said, "We knew we had a very viable product."

That had to be a "go" decision, and with the help of a writer friend, Ruth Gordon, now executive editor, Soap Opera Digest came into being. Then as now the synopses comes from people who watch each chapter of each soap.

The first TV commercial netted 20,000 subscriptions and then in January and February 1976 the publishers mounted what Mr. Roseman characterizes as a "TV blitz" that amounted to some $1 million in spending nationally in about 150 spot markets. It is a Brookville tradition to buy time in the first and third quarters when "markets are spongy."

The effort brought in some 400,000 leads that were translated into about 240,000 subscriptions at $6.80 each.

Meanwhile, the publishers were being approached by national magazine distributing companies that apparently noticed a good thing. The decision was finally made to give up the idea of subscription only and go with Hearst's International Circulation Distributors.

As of the March 11 issue, Mr. Roseman estimates that there are 500,000 single-copy sales on top of 240,000 subscriptions. Although the publication is available only at a third of the country's supermarket checkout counters, these outlets account for about half the single-copy sales. Mr. Roseman believes that when a 95 percent penetration of supermarkets is achieved the magazine will reach one million circulation, a figure he was claiming four years ago.

The circulation rate base is 650,000 and the advertising cost per thousand for a four-color page is $6.

Although Soap Opera Digest was always intended as an advertising medium, not much effort was put behind the selling of advertising until James E. Trask III, formerly of American Home magazine, became advertising director in January 1978. At the time the only advertising scheduled for the year were six half-pages for J.B. Williams's Vivarin, a wakefulness aid. The year closed with 76 pages of advertising and last year's total was 159. Mr. Trask is predicting 250 pages for this year.

To reach whom?

Simmons, the syndicated audience research people, according to Jim Trask, shows that 88 percent of the digest's readers are women, 62 percent of whom are between the ages of 18 and 34 and 16 percent of whom are college graduates ("That's 4 percent over the national average," said the ad director, proudly). And the average household income is $15,500.

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