On day one of Cannes Lions 2015, Drew Elliot, chief creative officer, Paper Magazine, spoke about a story 'he loves talking about'. It was about the time when Paper Magazine printed this on its cover.
Elliot revealed that the image that created a cultural chaos was born out of a problem.
He explained, "We were known as the coolest downtown New York magazine. 65 per cent of our revenue came from the magazine. While only 13 per cent came from digital. 22 per cent was from marketing agencies. We were early adopters but we needed to get out of our downtown routes. In 1996, we launched the first lifestyle magazine online. Calvin Klein (the man) came to us to learn what was the world wide web. But, we needed to grow our digital presence. We started digging our audience to see what people really want. Our editors were almost like stock brokers looking at analytics."
Elliot added, "We made friends with social platforms like Tumblr and Instagram. We upgraded everything we were doing to get ready. We also returned to the 1984 Paper logo for the nostalgia perspective. We removed all sorts of stuff from the cover and only placed the theme. Our first issue was with Rita Ora (British singer, song writer and actor) for our issue themed 'Beautiful People'. It worked. Then we looked to scale the idea. We looked to build use our print issue to drive traffic to digital."
Elliot explained that the team was planning for magazine's anniversary issue in September 2014. He had already spoken with Kim Kardashian to have her on the cover. He recounted, "We had already booked Kardashian. But, the editor of the magazine didn't agree and told us 'We'll have Kim Kardashian on the cover of the magazine, over my dead body'. I panicked. I had already booked her."
The idea was taken ahead and Jean-Paul Goude, the photographer, was to handle the shoot during the Paris Fashion Week. Elliot added that Kardashian's publicist said that she wouldn't do a naked shoot. Kardashian meanwhile was open to do the shoot, and so it was done.
Elliot said, "We had to then release two covers. One which didn't have her naked, because the US postal service wouldn't deliver that. The naked one was for people who bought it. We had to keep it as a secret for two months and that's when we sketched a plan; an event plan, a PR plan and an amplification plan."
The cover was launched at 7:53 pm on 11 November 2014. Elliot explained, "We tweeted it out. We had 2,79,000 unique visitors (versus 30,000) normally. What people who visited the site didn't know, was that the best was yet to come."
After all the images were released, 50 million people visited the Paper Magazine website. "What we didn't have an idea about was the kind of memes that would follow. Even brands jumped on to it."
"Instagram following for us grew by 326 per cent. Tumblr by 125 per cent. Facebook grew by 34 per cent and Twitter by 24. One per cent of the US internet traffic on 12 November 2014 pointed to the Paper Magazine. We called our tech folks to ask them whether our site would be able to handle 10 million uniques. They said it would, but they didn't think we'd achieve it. To give a perspective of the kind of reach, Google Analytics stopped working on that day. We built equity with the celeb together. We had a strategic plan."
From 2,76,000 unique visitors in February 2014, Paper now has over 2 million visitors. "In 2015, digital will grow by 5x in terms of business. In 2016, online should get us 2x of what we earn from print," he said.
Elliot added, "A lot of the success was attributed to Kim Kardashian and that's why we succeeded. They question whether brands can. I say yes they can, with examples like Red Bull (Felix Jump), Coca Cola (Share a Coke), Oreo (Real time during Superbowl), Dove (Beauty) and Volvo (Epic Split)."
He surmised, "Every day, something breaks the internet."