Monday, February 24, 2014

Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit issue pulls out all the stops to get attention

Three-and-a-half years ago, I wrote an essay about magazine covers as a dying art form in the digital media age.
The print magazine business continues to flounder amid declining readership and advertising sales. Magazines on tablets, smartphones and PCs don’t have the same cachet as the physical editions.
But some issues are still able to generate significant news media and public attention. Time’s Person of the Year is one and Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue is another. They’ve become annual events that are likely to generate coverage even if the publishers stop printing physical copies. Other magazines likely will not be as fortunate.
SI’s swimsuit issue has all the ingredients to be an enduring pop culture phenomenon. It’s got sex appeal. It’s got celebrity models. It’s got exotic locales for photo shoots. And it’s supported by a multimedia campaign to be envied.
Publisher Time Inc. backs the issue with a traditional media blitz (including the unveiling of the cover on national TV), its own television specials, website and social media.
Sports Illustrated featured three models on the cover of this year’s edition (Chrissy Teigen, Lily Aldridge and Nina Agdal). The women are topless, but photographed from behind. And speaking of behinds, their bikini bottoms covered very little of their butt cheeks. (See articles about the cover in Entertainment Weekly and the Huffington Post.)
The Onion parodied the cover with a cartoon depicting America’s supposed reaction to the skinny, scantily clad models. (See image below.) Butt, I mean but, a little controversy related to sex can help magazine newsstand sales.
Even toymaker Mattel helped publicize the 50th edition of the swimsuit issue by putting Barbie on the front of a “cover wrap” ad included with 1,000 issues in New York City. (See image below.) The Barbie cross-promotion was designed to promote last week’s annual Toy Fair convention, the Daily News reported.
But one cover wasn’t enough for Sports Illustrated this year. The issue also has a bonus flip-side cover featuring model Kate Upton, SI announced. (See image below.)
Too much of a good thing?

Related stories:

What will happen to cover girls when magazines go digital? (Feb. 13, 2010)

Magazine covers: A dying art form (July 14, 2010)

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