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One of Elle’s new ad images with Milla Jovovich.

One of Elle’s new ad images with Milla Jovovich.

WWD Staff

NEW YORK — In an effort to recapture lost ground in the fashion magazine category, Elle will spend $500,000 on a new advertising and marketing initiative in the fourth quarter.

This story first appeared in the August 9, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Having slipped into fourth place in ad pages in the fashion category behind In Style, Vogue and W, respectively, Elle is out to stem its advertising and newsstand declines — as is everyone else.

Through August, Elle ran 810 ad pages, down 25 percent from 1,087 ad pages last year, according to Media Industry Newsletter. For the all-important September issue, Elle — which features Sarah Jessica Parker on the cover — will carry 283 ad pages, down 9 percent from last September, said Carol Smith, senior vice president and group publisher of the Elle Group. She said Elle is off 6 percent through the third quarter and expects to be down 10 percent in ad pages for the year.

For the first half of 2002, the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ Fas-Fax will show average newsstand sales of 257,667, down 4 percent from 268,467 a year ago. Thanks to a 5.5 percent gain in subscriptions, total paid circulation will be 989,728, a 2.9 percent gain from last year’s 962,230.

In an interview with Smith and Barbara Friedmann, vice president, Elle Group marketing director, they outlined their strategic plan to reclaim the market’s attention. They hope the fruits of their labor will begin to pay off next year.

For starters, the magazine’s recent performance indicated Elle needed to differentiate itself more in the crowded fashion category. Recognizing that the landscape has shifted with the success of In Style and continued successes of Vogue and W, they felt it was necessary to remind the market of what Elle stands for. Secondly, they needed to develop a tag line that was both an ad campaign and a marketing platform. The magazine hired Michaelides & Bednash, an ad agency here, to help them develop a strategy, and Doublespace, an advertising and marketing services company here specializing in fashion, media and entertainment, for creative execution.

And voilá. Elle came up with a new tag line, “Cherchez La Femme,” which literally means “seeking the woman.” [Among Francophiles, the phrase can also mean “womanizer,” or “the pursuit of women as a sport,” but that’s another story.)

When asked whether people who don’t know French will understand the campaign, Friedmann explained that they polled women in New York and Los Angeles. Pulling up her laptop, she showed a video with their reactions to the new slogan. Some women thought the phrase sounded catchy, sort of “Moulin-Rouge”-y, others said it sounded feminine, French, mysterious and represented “girl power.”

“I think over time we’re going to virally get that [“Cherchez La Femme”] into the popular vernacular,” said Smith. In addition to using the phrase on all Elle advertising, Roberta Meyers, editor in chief of Elle, will put the phrase on the spine of the magazine each month.

The ads feature the new tag line with photographs previously shot by Gilles Bensimon of Madonna, Milla Jovovich, Fernanda Tavares, Sharon Stone, Rebecca-Romijn-Stamos, Naomi Campbell and Julia Stiles. The campaign will break as a multipage onsert in Ad Age and will run in WWD throughout September and October. It will also appear in the U.S. edition of October Elle, as well as 33 overseas editions. The launch is anchored to Fashion Week in New York this fall. Billboards will go up on Broadway, between 51st and 52nd Streets, cobranded with L’Oréal, as well as Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street using the new logo and celebrity photographs, cobranded with Elle advertisers such as Versace, Kenneth Cole, and Banana Republic.