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MADison Avenue comes home

Mad magazine ads bring color, controversy

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'More colorful and exciting'

'Mainstreaming process'

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Alfred E. Neuman, pitchman?

Worry not. Editors of Mad magazine promise its decision to begin running paid advertisements won't diminish its irreverence.

"I'm sure to a certain percentage of Mad readers this is the end. But to a certain percentage, when Harvey Kurtzman left in 1955 it was the end," co-editor John Ficarra said, referring to the magazine's pioneering cartoonist and editor.

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The adolescent-oriented humor magazine known for its wicked parodies of advertisements -- plus classic cartoons like "Spy vs. Spy" -- has been ad-free for much of its half-century existence.

It began accepting paid advertisements to help pay for its switch from a black-and-white magazine to a glossy, color publication, which hits the stands February 20. Mad is part of AOL Time Warner, which also owns CNN.

'More colorful and exciting'

Ficarra said the push for color -- hence, the ads -- came from the editorial side of the magazine, not the accountants.

"We knew that editorially we really wanted to do that, and to make the magazine more colorful and exciting," he said.

Ficarra said color gives the magazine much more versatility. Mad makes fun, for example, of the children's classic "Goodnight Moon" called "Goodnight Room," shifting the setting to the White House during President Clinton's departure.

"It's just a dead-on spoof of that book. If it were in black and white it would have been OK but it would have lost half its impact," he said.

Mad magazine did run ads initially but they were phased out early on. The ad parodies also tapered off eventually, as the impact of print campaigns waned and real ads themselves grew more playful.

"I would make the argument that a lot of people who work for ad agencies grew up reading Mad and have brought that sensibility to their jobs now," he said.

'Mainstreaming process'

Maria Reidelbach, whose book "Completely Mad" chronicles the magazine's history, said Mad has undergone a "mainstreaming process" since publisher William Gaines died in 1992.

"I think the changes that have been going on at Mad have been going on for quite a while, and the advertising is not such a huge change," she said.

Reidelbach, hopeful that the advertisements wouldn't adversely affect the content, expressed admiration for Mad's ability to adapt.

"Most magazines don't even come close to becoming that old, so to be reinventing at this point is really astonishing," she said.



RELATED STORY:
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad CD-ROM
September 23, 1999

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