In April, 50,000 ELLE magazine subscribers got a surprise in the mail. The chosen readers received a specially printed issue, featuring Kim Kardashian West on the cover and a message from the reality TV celebrity personalized with the reader’s first name. The personalized cover generated a lot of buzz, getting people talking across a wide range of social channels, and enabled the brand to engage with readers on a one-to-one level.

ELLE editor-in-chief Nina Garcia said the project was a way of showing appreciation for the magazine’s readers and that it “allows ELLE to connect with our readers in a completely different way, delivering a deeply personal experience, right to their homes.”

Creating the Personalized Cover

To create the covers, ELLE selected 50,000 names from their subscriber list, using demographics and other audience data to target those most likely to be Kim Kardashian West fans and ensure the greatest impact. Once the list of subscribers was narrowed to 50,000, the team at ELLE had Kim Kardashian West come in and hand-write each letter of the alphabet, allowing them to create a custom font. Kardashian West also provided several personal sayings — things she would actually say in person.

The personalized print cover was created using variable data printing (VDP), which ELLE partnered with HP and printer Quad/Graphics to execute. George Forge, executive director of digital print for Quad/Graphics, says the company has decades of experience producing this type of work. “Over this time, we’ve leveraged variable data printing to personalize direct mail campaigns with more than 1 million pieces, targeting retailers and financial providers, among other verticals,” said Forge. “What’s new is the ability to leverage offset-quality, high-speed digital printing technology in the publishing world. Previous printing options were either too slow, costly, or did not meet the quality expectations of publishers.”

To produce the cover, the HP Indigo 10000 was used. This digital press has offset-like quality, ensuring the cover still carried the same look and feel of the typical cover, while allowing them to produce 50,000 unique versions.

“Since each copy is personalized this is an application that can only be printed digitally, and this is where the Indigo 10000 is at its best,” says Jacob Shamis, brand innovation manager, graphics solutions business, HP Inc. “Printing 4600 sheets of 22x29 square feet per hour gives you extremely high productivity and with the high utilization of the press, you can run long jobs without compromising on quality.”

Why Personalize?

Just because print can be personalized, the next question is: should more publishers be looking to take advantage of some of these innovative printing options?

For ELLE, the goal wasn’t to grow subscribers, or to see a direct monetary return. They were looking to engage with their audience and create something that would get people talking about their brand. A spokesperson for ELLE noted that the responses had been “extremely positive,” noting that subscribers shared the magazine on social media and at least one reader framed it to hang on their wall.

Personalization can go beyond just creating a buzz, however. Recent studies have found that consumers are more likely to make a purchase when a brand goes the extra step of personalizing the offer. In fact, consumers have learned to expect a certain amount of personalization: Think about the experience on Amazon, for example, where product recommendations are tailored based on previous purchases. Or Netflix, where movies and television shows are suggested based on the programs already enjoyed. Publishers have already dove into using online personalization to drive a variety of goals, from content recommendation to targeted ads.  For print, creative applications of VDP could be used inside a publication as well, helping to driver engagement with the advertisers.

To learn more about the cover, the technology used to create it and how publishers can use this as inspiration for their own projects, watch the video above with Denis Wilson, editor-in-chief of Publishing Executive, and Ashley Roberts, senior production editor, printing and packaging group, NAPCO Media.

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