TO: My Foreign Policy bosses
FROM: Daniel W. Drezner
RE: How Foreign Policy Can Conquer the World
Comrades August Members of the Foreign Policy Community:
Since Foreign Policy revamped its web presence in early 2009, everything has gone according to the Master Plan. You have ensured that this site is one every foreign policy cognoscenti's "must click" list. You have won National Magazine Award after National Magazine Award. With the Sex Issue, you came out with an issue that generated enough buzz to light up Tina Brown's jealousy furnace for years to come.
But where can you go from here? After reading Edith Zimmerman's bemusing description of Cosmopolitan's global empire in the New York Times Magazine, I'm wondering if there's a way to leverage their model. From Zimmerman's story:
Cosmo has a cheerful, girlfriendy tone (“When Your Period Makes You Cra-a-zy”) and a much racier reputation than its newsstand competitors (“Eeek! You’ll Die When You Read What These ‘Normal’ Guys Wanted Once Their Pants Hit the Floor”). Its covers rarely fail to feature at least one bold, all-caps rendering of the word “sex.” The August issue, for instance, offered “52 Sex Tips” and “When Your Vagina Acts Weird After Sex.” A sampling of 2012 headlines includes “50 Sex Tips,” “50 Kinky Sex Moves,” “99 Sex Questions” and “His Best Sex Ever.”
The repetition can be a little numbing, but it may help explain how Cosmo, which is the best-selling monthly magazine in the United States, has morphed into such a global juggernaut. (“If all the Cosmo readers from around the world came together,” read a recent piece in Cosmo South Africa, “this group would form the 16th-largest country in the world.”) Through those 64 editions, the magazine now spreads wild sex stories to 100 million teens and young women (making it closer to the 12th-largest country, actually) in more than 100 nations — including quite a few where any discussion of sex is taboo. And plenty of others where reading a glossy magazine still carries cachet. (“Many girls consider a hard copy of Cosmo to be an important accessory,” says Maya Akisheva, the editor of Cosmo Kazakhstan.) As the brand proudly points out, in 2011 alone, these readers spent $1.4 billion on shoes, $400 million on cars, $2.5 billion on beauty products and $1.5 billion on fragrance and bought 24 million pairs of jeans.
Now, sure, this formula is ripe for satire... but the recipe for successful globalization is undeniable!! Sure, FP did its Sex Issue, but that also generated a fair amount of critical feedback. I think the better tactic is to copy Cosmo's style without its... er... substance. Let's face it, what grabs the attention of readers are Cosmo's headlines. And what grabs the attention of foteign policy cognoscenti is... war. Never mind that war and other forms of violence are on the wane -- war is happening, war is now, war is hot, war is what people want to talk about even if they're not doing much of it.
Scanning Cosmo's website, here are ten headlines that with juuuuuust a bit of tweaking clearly beg for Foreign Policy articles:
75 Ways to Fight an A-maz-ing War
Make it a War Your People Will Never Forget
David Petraeus is Our New Cover Boy!!
30 Things to Do to a Prostrate Adversary
"That's Our Land" and Other LOL Lines that can Start a Hot War
How to Make Your Citizens Beg for More War
When is it Time to Break
Upwith Your Current Military Strategy?
Diplomacy? Ewww!!! Would You Try this War Prevention Method?
How to Wow Your Enemy Every Single Time
Could Your Ally Be Cheating On You? Take the FP QUIZ!!
Now, like Cosmopolitan, Foreign Policy would likely have to tailor its content by country and/or region. I mean, "Nine MREs that Will Make Your Soldiers Go 'Mmmmm!'" would obviously need to be custom-edited to take into account dietary customs in other countries. And this strategy might be hard to market in places like Switzerland, Costa Rica, and so forth. Still, where Cosmopolitan has blazed the trail... Foreign Policy can and should napalm it all to hell... before The Atlantic gets to it first.
Call me, and I can get David Petraeus' makeup artist on speed-dial in no time.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.