Late this January Kevin Hyson, Chief Marketing
Officer American Media, Publishers of the tabloid Weekly World
News, was kicking around ideas with his team one afternoon trying
to brainstorm up ways to bump up newsstand sales for their
upcoming special double issue.
He says, "We weren't trying to sell subscriptions so much. We
were just sitting around trying to think of funny, interesting
ways to get some attention."
New Media Producer Will Ackerman suddenly remembered a cover
humor magazine National Lampoon once ran showing a gun to the
head of a sad-looking dog with the headline, "Buy this magazine
or we'll shoot this dog." Inspired he said, "If we do something
controversial online like that, it's gonna get noticed."CAMPAIGN
The next Monday morning, Ackerman shut off access to
the regular Weekly World News site, which generally includes lots
of back articles and well-frequented message boards. In its
place, he posted the following message crafted by Hyson and
Weekly World News columnist Ed Anger:
"WE WOULD LIKE YOU TO BUY THE PAPER AT LEAST ONE STINKING WEEK
OUT OF THE YEAR.
THAT'S RIGHT, BUY IT. GO TO WAL-MART, K-MART, YOUR LOCAL
SUPERMARKET AND PLUNK DOWN A COUPLE OF LOUSY BUCKS FOR A
* WE WANT TO SEE WHO OUR TRUE FANS ARE.
* WE WANT TO KNOW WHO LOVES US.
* WE WANT TO KEEP OUR JOBS.
AND NOW A WORD FROM YOUR OLD FRIEND ED ANGER:
I've had enough of this free web crap. When I was a kid, the
only thing we got for free was a beating.
So I want all you deadbeats to start buying the WEEKLY WORLD
NEWS this week and I MEAN NOW! Get in your broken down jalopy
or on your stolen Schwinn and get to a retailer that sells
this truth laden periodical and shell out some cabbage.
Stealing won't help, as we need to get sales recorded for
statistical purposes. Plus we have an unusual stomach
condition - we have to eat every goddammed day!
SO LET’S GO. Take the money from your sleeping roommate. Sell
your VCR. Whatever it takes. If we don't see you buying this
incredible newspaper - NO MORE WEBSITE! Think we're kidding.
Come down here and I'll show you how much I'm kidding? IT’S
BETTER ON PAPER ANYWAY. We kill three hundred thousand trees a
year just so our loyal readers can take this fun publication
to their bathrooms. YOU HAVE A COMPUTER IN YOUR BATHROOM? HA!
I DIDN’T THINK SO.
Let's not PISS OFF Ed any more than he already is. Here's a
picture of this week's issue so you know what to look for."
Site visitors' choices were fairly simple -- they could read the
message and leave (hopefully to buy print copies of that issue at
their newsstand), or they could click though a link to purchase a
home delivery subscription for the tabloid.
As initially planned, on Friday at 5 P.M. after just one week
Ackerman put the regular free-access site back up again with the
addition of a special note:
"We'd like to thank EVERYONE who went out AND BOUGHT this
week's issue of Weekly World NEWS.
Ed Anger was so happy he took a case of scotch, a blonde, and
a can of tuna fish (don't ask) and left on a five day road
We’d also like to say the following to everyone who went
ballistic when we temporarily closed the site, including many
members of the mainstream press who take this stuff a bit too
P.S. Don't forget this week's issue is on sale now!"
Newsstand sales increased by about 15% from the prior
week even though the special double issue cost $2.79 per copy
(regular issues are priced at $1.69).
Regular Weekly World News site visitors responded incredibly
favorably. Hyson says, "We got tons and tons of email -- it was
substantially in favor. They got that it was a joke. Some
people played along saying they'd go out and buy 100 copies."
As a pure publicity stunt, the week's special home page
definitely got results. Online humor sites whose editors often
frequent Weekly World News started talking about the site on
Monday just a few hours after page went up. By Wednesday the
mainstream press had picked up the story.
In the end Weekly World News scored stories in WSJ.com and the
Wall Street Journal's print edition, plus CNET and many other
mainstream press outlets. However, unlike Weekly World News'
regular visitors, the press did not always realize the site
joking. "Many members of the mainstream press took everything
too seriously. Some debated 'Was this a master marketing
plan???'" Hence the Hyson's "lighten up" note the following
Due to this publicity, site traffic rose 366% from its average
15,000 weekly unique visitors to 55,000 unique visitors over the
five-day period the Ed Anger message ran.
According to Hyson, the site generally makes "several hundred"
subscription sales per month, and the publicity stunt increased
them "only slightly." He is perfectly happy with this result
because subscriptions were not the point of the exercise. In
general his site subscription sales, which are made on a soft
offer (bill me) basis, do not pay up incredibly well. He is
definitely planning to test hard offers (pay now) in future
In general Hyson notes that American Media Inc., which operates
Web sites for five of its publications, is fairly conservative in
their approach to online. "We're a print company. None of the
Web sites are designed to usurp what we're doing in print."