Anne Schaff always wanted to get into the New Yorker. The way she envisioned it, the magazine would pay her to publish her artwork. It didn't quite work out that way. She's paying the New Yorker instead.
Schaff is one of the artists who create those quirky, offbeat items you see in thumbnail ads sprinkled throughout the New Yorker and other upscale magazines such as Atlantic Monthly, Smithsonian and Yankee. The combination of strange art, readers with eccentric tastes and too much disposable income has created a marketplace for products you may not find anywhere else but in these one-inch black-and-white ads.
Some of the offerings: hand-woven dog collars, harmonica lessons, videos for cats to watch, a baseball cap with a picture of a martini stitched onto the front, and animal-themed gold jewelry.
Schaff's $150 Your Witness sculptures -- handmade, anatomically correct clay torsos that represent each of the seven chakras (in Eastern belief, centers of power and energy in the body) -- fit right in.
She placed an ad in the snarky New York Observer, but its readers weren't interested. "That was a total bust," she says. "Not even a nibble."
Since placing eight ads in the New Yorker starting in May, she has received about 25 inquiries and made fewer sales -- not enough to pay the $1,000 price on the one-inch black-and-white ad. (Overall, she averages about 50 sales a year.)
"It hasn't paid itself off," says Schaff. "But I have absolutely no regrets. There's something about being able to tell people that's where I advertise. They look at me and think, 'You must be really good.'
"The other chief reason is that my parents got the New Yorker before I was born. It was in my house as long as I've been in my house. I grew up looking at the cartoons and the ads."
Possibly the most popular item sold by advertiser Dallas Pridgen, owner of Dallas Pridgen Jewelry in North Carolina, is his "When Pigs Fly" pendant. It's $65 in sterling silver and $298 in 14-karat gold. He advertises in the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly. "Quite honestly, the Atlantic is not the best place for us, but I think it's a great magazine, and that's why I advertise there," says Pridgen. "But it doesn't do really well for us."
Kirk Hinckley, owner of the Bow Tie Club, finds New Yorker readers to be the type of people who wear bow ties -- quirky and eccentric.
"We advertise with the New Yorker and Smithsonian because the type of person who would read it for the quirky ads is also the bow tie wearer. If I put one of these one-inch ads in the Wall Street Journal, it's just not going to get the same response." Hinckley says he gets "excellent" response to his New Yorker ads.
"The New Yorker has always been a publication that hasn't been run-of-the-mill," says Nancy Fedder, direct response manager for the New Yorker. "It has a more curious reader. They're a little eccentric. They're looking for things that are going to set them apart from everyone else."
The one-inchers -- or direct-response ads, as they're called in the business -- have been with the New Yorker since it started in 1925. They account for about 10 percent of the magazine's revenue, says publisher David Carey.
The "expletive pin" is part of that group. It's a sterling silver pin that substitutes various symbols for any four-letter expletive.
Ivy Hofstadter, owner of Ancient Echoes, a Chicago jewelry store that sells the pin, says when she first started running the ad in the late '80s, she received about 60 calls per day.
"We felt New Yorkers and people who read the New Yorker would understand," says Hofstadter. "They tend to be a little more clever, a little more interesting. You have to be hip to get it. Sometimes we get a call from someone who says, 'The pin doesn't say "damn." We thought we could get any expletive you wanted.' I say, 'You can, but you have to use your imagination.' That doesn't happen very often from the New Yorker."