Spending Marketing Green That’s Not So Green…The Esquire e-Ink Cover

Several days ago, I received my 75th anniversary copy of Esquire magazine. Skimming its pages, I noticed a brief mention that some copies of the magazine included a unique e-ink version of the cover. I was curious to learn more, so, I conducted a Google search for Esquire and found that the e-Ink edition of the cover included a flashing “The 21st Century Begins Now” message that flashed on an otherwise normal looking magazine cover. For your enjoyment, here it is:

In a world of mobile marketing, technology drenched consumers are always looking for the next unique gimmick. I thought to myself that Esquire just may have figured out a unique way to merge the traditional form of print marketing with the latest innovations in technology via e-Ink. As an aside, for a complete explanation of how e-Ink works, I defer to HowStuffWorks. Give it a read if you’re interested. It’s more or less the same technology that’s behind Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s eBook reader. Kinda cool I guess.

After doing a bit more digging, I not only found that this marketing gimmick, which may or may not have sold more copies of the magazine, was not only expensive, but has also drawn criticism for not being very green. To paraphrase Gordon Gecko, and change one letter of his famous quote in the process, when it comes to today’s business and marketing practices “Green is Good.” In the case of Esquire’s 75th anniversary cover, it cost a lot of green to produce, and isn’t so eco-friendly. Treehugger.com presents an interesting story about the cover and surrounding controversy. In a nutshell, it details how expense was incurred from shipping in the components used to power the e-Ink cover from Mexico and China, how refrigerated trucks need to be used when shipping the special edition mags to preserve battery life, etc. , etc. and how how the thin batteries used in the process weren’t eco-friendly.

In fairness to Esquire, I think they did a good job of countering such not-so-green accusations with tips on how to recycle both the magazine and the digital cover. For marketers, the question is what the cost incurred for the use of technology is worth versus the payoff. With estimations in the six figure range to get the special editions of the magazine onto store shelves, would the money have been more wisely used for more widely distributed and less costly mobile marketing alternatives that may also attract new, digital native consumers to the publication?

Like any good marketing campaign, a clear call to action should be established. In this case, I was trying to determine if the special e-Ink editions were meant to create buzz because of relative scarcity, sell extra magazines at the newsstand, generate new subscriptions? It’s hard to tell. I do know that those who’ve been attempting to sell copies on Ebay for, in some cases, over 10x what the newsstand price is, have not received much interest. The bombardment of marketing messages and mass production and commoditization of products today make this type of hype short lived and questionable in effectiveness.
In this instance, the message to marketers is to make sure a call to action is clear, the intended result isn’t muddy, and an evaluation of truly innovative yet cost effective, and, at least in the current market, green, is conducted.

I am curious to see what the future holds for e-Ink innovation. Esquire could very well be ahead of the curve in the adoption of such technology to revive a declining print media market. With wider adoption, prices could drop and innovation could lead to greener e-Ink solutions as well that would make it a potential win-win. If such technology became even more interactive with, say, mobile devices, the possibilities are endless.


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