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'Flexi' Records Make a Comeback : Advertisers Turn Back to Sound Sheet Magazine Inserts

April 07, 1989|From Newsday

In the 1960s and '70s, people opened mailboxes and magazines and heard Dirty Dan the Mortgage Man, Winston Churchill's funeral and songs of the humpback whale. They came in the form of sound sheets--thin, vinyl records stamped on squares that looked awkward rotating on a turntable.

Sound sheets are popping up again in magazines and Sunday supplements, bringing celebrity interviews, million-dollar giveaways and songs pitching vodka. Music magazines use sound sheets to allow listeners to hear previously unreleased material or songs discussed in an article and to give music lessons.

"Most advertising tends to be passive. You just look at it and say, 'Isn't that splendid?' and move on," said Paul Rothkopf, beverage alcohol market manager for Rolling Stone magazine.

But with the sound sheet, "you have to rip it out and put it on a stereo."

Absolut Hired Jobim

That's just what the makers of Absolut vodka hoped that readers of the March 23 issue of Rolling Stone would do with their specially bound record of the "Absolut Song," recorded by Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, who wrote "The Girl from Ipanema."

Rothkopf said Carillon Importers Inc. of Teaneck, N.J., importers of Absolut, paid about 50 cents a sheet to create an image for its product. About 100,000 subscribers in New York and California heard Jobim croon: "You are my grain, you are my malt, so let's have a drink . . . my absolutely."

In January, Details magazine ran a sound sheet with snippets from columnist Stephen Saban's interviews with Debbie Harry, Julio Iglesias and Dennis Hopper.

McDonald's put sound sheets in Sunday newspaper inserts in February with the entire contents of its fast-food menu in one song, said Stephanie Skurdy, a McDonald's spokeswoman.

Pioneered in 1960

Eva-Tone Inc., a private company based in Clearwater, Fla., pioneered the sound sheet in the United States in 1960. Last year, the company saw sales rise 20%, ad manager Paul Cooper said.

Newcomers have taken over in publishing and advertising, he said: "They have missed the sound sheet somewhere along the way and are willing to give it a try. It seems like the renaissance of the sound sheet."

Analysts aren't so sure. "How many people play records today?" asked Jack Trout, president of Trout & Ries, a marketing strategy firm in Greenwich, Conn. "Do I want to put this crappy little thing on my turntable? Most people say, 'No, I don't want to screw up my $37,000 cartridge."

Cooper said he has never heard of a sound sheet damaging a record player.

Records were the furthest thing from R. Evan Evans' mind when he founded Eva-Tone in 1925. The company produced equipment to make rubber stamps and printing plates, but they tended to last too long, said Dick Evans, company president and son of the founder. So the family switched to a product using similar technology: phonograph records.

7 Cents to $1 Each

Both LPs and sound sheets are cut from a master acetate tape, which then is nickel-plated and pressed to make grooves, Cooper said. But while LPs use a "waffle iron" process to squeeze hard, raw vinyl into records, Eva-Tone uses soft vinyl about five times thinner, saving money and time. Sound sheets cost 7 cents to $1 each, depending on quantity ordered, Cooper said.

In 1965, National Geographic inserted sound sheets into 4.6 million issues so readers could listen to Winston Churchill's funeral as they read about it, Evans said. Later, it put out a recording of the first lunar landing and, in 1979, circulated 11 million issues with songs of the humpback whale.

Kids tore vinyl floppies out of children's magazines and listened to the songs. Their parents sampled Time-Life's music series on them or contemplated obtaining a mortgage from a company using Dirty Dan the Mortgage Man to lure customers.

Used for the Handicapped

Today, Eva-Tone's largest customer is the Library of Congress, which uses sound sheets to record books and magazines for the blind and others who are physically handicapped, Cooper said. Direct-mail marketers use sound sheets to target groups, and advertisers give them away in store promotions.

Rich Shupe attributes the success of Reflex, his year-old monthly music magazine, to flexible discs. "The 'flexi' has opened doors to places that wouldn't normally stock it," he said.

The flexis also prod impulse buying, he said.

Guitar Player magazine has copyrighted the name Soundpages for its sheets, said David Williamson, advertising promotions director.

Surveys show about 74% of readers play the monthly tracks of instructional material and music from Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and other artists, he said.

And Rolling Stone readers will probably be hearing more ads, Rothkopf said. The sound sheet "makes people stand up, play with it and enjoy, and that's good, creative advertising."

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