How the cover was done

There’s something different about this issue’s cover. Did you notice it? Anything unusual? How about the ads? Take a closer look.

It’s obvious that the cover you are holding is about variable data printing. And it should be equally obvious there are a number of clearly variable elements—your name and an image of the address label.

But variable is about more than address labels, as you well know. The cover—front, back, and inside—is noteworthy for many reasons. First, it represents a partnership between Fujifilm Canada and Xerox Canada—joint sponsors of this issue’s cover, which shows the possibilities of variable imaging—and their production partners, including Terminal Van Gogh, RP Graphics, and Data Business Solutions. It is one of the first—if not the first—variable magazine covers to go out with variable advertising, in which the cover and the ads are directed to the individual subscriber.

First, the cover itself is customized. It all started with the subscriber data you supplied Graphic Arts Magazine when you signed up for your subscription. Your cover was based on a number of facts, including who you are and the size and business sector of your company. Customized covers, while still unusual, are nothing new. Magazines have printed versioned covers for decades. Late last year, the American trade publication Graphic Arts Monthly printed subscribers’ names on the cover, and the tech magazine Wired recently printed individual subscribers’ photos in a limited run. The production of the covers for this issue of Graphic Arts Magazine, however, was more complex. Relying on a variety of criteria, demographic factors, and profiles, the cover is unique to each individual subscriber.

This level of customization goes beyond simple name and address. The message is also customized, based on the subscriber’s position or title. But, as they say in the late night infomercials, “Wait! There’s more!” Your type of business or sector determines the theme of your cover; moreover, if more than one person at a company subscribes to the magazine, each receives a different themed cover.

Each front cover also has ads, which are variable as well. For example, the Fuji ad features a Fuji account representative—your representative, which required us to overlay your subscriber information with Fujifilm’s customer information. The text depends on whether you are a current Fuji customer, so it combines geography (sales territory) with customer status. Combining this information with the various cover versions increases the cover’s complexity—and its effectiveness. The ad from Graphics Canada is also variable, based on sector or type of business.

Turning the page to the inside front, the ad you see alerts you to its variable nature with a number of variable elements. The subject links to this month’s feature on variable data printing, has an invitation to Graphics Canada, and provides some hints as to how the campaign was developed. (Check the map, it points to your region).

The inside back cover supports and restates the message. The product featured depends on your company’s characteristics, including size, type of business, and other factors, and is echoed in the text. The team that’s pictured is the team that you would have as a Fujifilm customer, including the sales rep—the same as on the front cover—installation, service, training, tech support, administration, etc. The purpose is to build or reinforce your relationship with the account team from Fujifilm because you actually see your Fujifilm Account Manager’s information in three places: front cover, inside front cover and inside back cover. Multiple marketing exposures creates higher reader recognition.

Finally, the back cover contains two ads from companies that were involved in the production, RP Graphics and Data Business Solutions, and each ad is personalized with your name and that of your company.

This cover was obviously a complex undertaking. How did we do it? Fujifilm initiated the project, bringing industry experts Terminal Van Gogh (TVG)—specialists in 1:1 marketing and databases—on board for both creative and production. After the creative was finished, the first step was to get a good database. The magazine provided TVG with their subscription list and information, supplemented by purchased third-party information. TVG refined the data, extracting the key demographic information. They then overlaid the combined database with Fujifilm’s own customer database.

To generate the most relevant cover theme, messages, images, and ads, TVG built a 1 to 1 campaign to leverage the following key data about each subscriber:

Business sector

Size of business



Fujifilm customer

Product featured

Fujifilm sales representative

In addition, TVG created logic for a message regarding Graphics Canada. Finally, Fujifilm and TVG developed rules regarding how to handle missing data, such as name, title or size of business.

TVG’s approach is truly 1:1, combining all of the unique elements for each recipient. To give you an idea of how truly personalized each issue is, there are theoretically more than 428,000 different covers and combinations—not including the name and address! TVG’s CEO David Murdoch says, “You no longer have to fit a square peg into a round hole‚ĶA 1:1 piece is always relevant. It throws out everything that’s extraneous.”

TVG identified the key attributes for each subscriber and provided a print-ready VPS file to Xerox, which supplied access to the equipment, personnel, toner, and substrate needed to print the covers on an iGen3 at its Nexus research facility in Oakville. The covers were printed in the same sequence as they were to be mailed.

The body of the magazine was printed by RB Trade in Mississauga. The book is normally saddle stitched, but because the cover was being printed and bound separately, they provided untrimmed signatures with a holding stitch to RP Graphics, also in Mississauga. RP Graphics combined the supplied signatures with the cover. It is key to keep all the finished books in proper order; when each finished magazine comes off the stitcher, it needed to be put back in the same sequence so that the labels would be applied in the same order. As RP has two iGen3 printers, they would be able to reprint particular covers if required. The finished books then went to RP’s sister company, Data Business Solutions, for distribution.

This project involved a number of the ingredients of an effective variable data driven job, starting with the vision of what could be done with variable printing. From there the steps included creative, obtaining and cleaning databases, developing the variable elements and providing the files, printing the ‘static’ magazine, printing the variable piece, binding and mailing, and, probably the most important from a production perspective, coordinating production among at least six service providers. It may not be clear exactly what about your cover is “personalized” but it is clear that it’s personal, effective, and directed specifically to you.


John Zarwan