If there’s one thing readers of this blog are guaranteed to take away from it (Hell, I won’t shut up about it!), it’s my belief that MAD needed to Change, far more than it actually has, to survive.
However, in the interests of fairness and equal time (not to mention mock humility), I have to admit it’s entirely possible that I and everyone else who feels the same are full of shit; that making dramatic and wholesale changes to MAD could’ve driven it faster and deeper into the Magazine Death Pool than it’s already headed.
What brought this up again to me was the story of the recent re-branding of Tropicana Orange Juice. See, late last year, executives there decided it was time for change, specifically, a total package re-design. So, they went to the (formerly) most respected design firm in New York, threw millions of dollars at them, and got an entirely new package…which then proceeded to lose them 20% of their sales in less than 2 months! Think about that: a 20% drop in under 2 months! Usually all it takes is a single-digit YEARLY sales decline to put a company into panic mode!
Why did 20% of presumably satisfied Tropicana customers suddenly stop buying the exact same orange juice in a different package (at right in photo)? No one’s exactly sure, but the theories run from absence of the familiar Tropicana “straw-in-the-orange” on the label…to the new package looking like a generic or house-brand orange juice. Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that this well-intentioned move to modernize and “refresh” the branding backfired on Tropicana, big time. (If you’re interested, read about it in this article; it also links to a longer original article in Advertising Age – which is behind a Registration wall, sorry!)
What does this have to do with MAD? Hold your horses, I’m getting to it: About 3 or 4 years ago, I had a conversation with one of the MAD editors right after I’d read a startling newspaper report that fully 1/3 of all U.S. households have NEVER owned a computer (!!!) and therefore were extremely unlikely to be regular Internet users, or even that familiar with the Internet at all. I asked the editor if maybe the universe of Remaining MAD Readers included a disproportionately large number of this non-Internet-using demographic. He said they had no idea. Seriously.
The $64,000 Questions: What if it does turn out that, say, 50%, 60%, 70% of MAD Readers are NON-internet users? If you suddenly change MAD to appeal more to Internet users, you could be screwing yourself royally. Or, worse, what if MAD had successfully transitioned to a full Web presence (not the POS bare-bones site they have now!)? That 50%, 60%, 70% would never even be in a position to find it!
Once you commit to Change, you never know for sure how it’ll turn out. (No doubt that uncertainty has fed the inertia in the editorial offices!) But – when you’re talking about a magazine that’s plummeted from a peak circulation of 2.1 million all the way down to 170,000 now…if it were me, I still think I would’ve taken the gamble on Change rather than Standing Pat.