In praise of space ads

For years, space ads have been a valuable source for new names, with venerable catalogers such as Blair Corp. and Lillian Vernon relying largely on newspaper and magazine advertisements to build empires.

But over the past few years, coinciding with the growing popularity of the Web as a source of names, the popularity of space ads has declined. Among participants in Catalog Age’s 1999 Benchmark Report on Marketing (see page 49), 21% have not used them, compared to 13% of last year’s participants.

Nonetheless, space ads are far from dead. A number of catalogers-particularly niche consumer books-praise space ads as a prospecting tool. Michael Stopka, owner of $20 million home decor catalog Design Toscano, has used space ads since launching the company in 1990. Stopka estimates that his space ads have generated more than 1.2 million names, including 145,000 last year alone. He favors upscale publications such as Smithsonian, Architectural Digest, and The New Yorker.

Space ads can target a specific demographic, says Stopka, whose catalog specializes in European reproductions. “Magazines have a lifestyle and a narrow focus behind them, and many times that translates into mail order buyers. If someone buys a horticultural magazine, for instance, you know he is serious about gardening.”

Thornwood, NY-based wine cataloger Wine & All That Jazz, which launched in November, also “found space ads to be a potent way of generating business,” says president Tod Buckley. He credits ads in specialty publications such as Wine Spectator with helping generate response 25% above expectations.

Try, try again Conversion rates of catalog requesters to buyers are usually higher from ads than response rates from rented files, says David Ketchiff, who with wife Nancy runs Old Avon, CT-based Charles F. Beardsley Advertising, a consulting firm specializing in space ads. “Typically, the conversion rate is 3%-4% for the first catalog requested through an ad.” By comparison, among respondents to Catalog Age’s 1998 Benchmark Report on Lists and Databases, the mean response rate from rented lists was 2.3%.

As for the remaining 96% of space ad requesters, “the unconverted names are still in your house file, and you own them,” Ketchiff says, so you can try to convert them in the future.-MDF

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