Cut-price marketing - outserts

The incredible 3% outsert

If you bind or glue your insert to the base of the magazine front cover, you have created an outsert. An outsert is probably the most responsive in-magazine device there is.

For a newstrade publication there’s another benefit: because an outsert is so visible, it’s a highly efficient way to boost copy sales without having to distribute extra copies. It usually works better than an in-store promotion (and you don’t have to pay extra for it). This, it must be said, is partly because your promotion will appear without fail in every newsagent, while an official in-store promotion is more of a lottery (with you paying up to £20,000 for the ticket).

The first publication to carry an outsert in the UK was Running magazine in 1981. The response was an incredible 3%. In comparison, a good in-magazine insert will pull a 1% response and a professionally created advertisement 0.5% response.

At the time of the Running magazine outsert, newsagents complained bitterly that they were being ‘stabbed in the back’. They weren’t of course. They were being stabbed in the front. A long argued campaign ensued, with the mission to explain that although the publisher benefited, so did the newsagent through extra copy sales. It ended with this kind of promotion being generally accepted throughout the newstrade. To its credit, WH Smith helped with this.

The cost of fixing an outsert to the cover can be more expensive than loose inserting, but the extra revenue covers this many times over.

One reason we don’t see more outserts in the UK is because editors don’t like part of their magazine’s front cover obscured. However, they can usually be persuaded by the huge increase in circulation. And when I do see an outsert, often the design doesn’t fit the purpose, which doesn’t help. Here’s why:

One of the cheapest ways to boost response is to make sure each visual element of your promotion supports the main selling message. Direct response design is a craft, not an art, so a magazine art department is probably the wrong place for it.

The design must contrast, not fit in with, the overall magazine design. It must catch the attention of the reader in the most intrusive way. The artwork may look rough and a bit of a shock, but that’s what works. Unfortunately, there are few designers who can create this kind of responsive look when left to their own devices.