Then, now and next

You might call it summer serendipity.

I was mildly amused by a Facebook post featuring a blackboard sign in a cafe with the following chalk message: “We do not have WiFi … Talk to each other. Pretend it’s 1995.”

Nice thought, neat idea. We don’t talk enough—indeed, in one of the comments under the shared photo, someone wrote that he and his wife of 25 years were dining out and both were looking down at Facebook on their phones.

It was just one of those passing happenstance moments, until a little later when I picked up and perused a Victoria magazine lying on the table in our kitchen.

The cover’s subtitle was “Our Summer Journal,” appropriate to the season.

I absentmindedly flipped through the pages. A few were earmarked, highlighting flowers without and decor within.

One creased page marked a feature story titled “A Whisper of Summer Past,” which showcased Meadow Croft on Long Island. Built in 1891, the rambling colonial revival, with its “historic, breeze-swept rooms” and placid rural setting was a retreat for the Roosevelts.

Another bent-down-corner story chronicled “the summerhouses we love,” be they cottages, cabins or mansions, with correlating images and captions of each.

Traditional fare, true enough. But as I turned more pages, something seemed strangely “off,” though at first I didn’t even try to put my finger on exactly why.

Then an ad caught my eye: a large photo of a piece of cheesecake, with a few blueberries and raspberries grouped on top, creating a patriotic effect. The advertiser was a leading national brand of cream cheese, and the ad offered a recipe beneath the photo.

I scrutinized the page for a moment. Quickly, I thumbed through to other ads, and the mysterious indeterminate “glitch” became suddenly apparent.

There were no websites on the ads. No social media icons, either.

I looked back at the cover.

There, in small script, was the publication date. July 1995.

I was examining a pre-digital relic, a time capsule that pre-dated current consumer behavior by a generation in time, and an entire era in technology.

Mobile phones in 1995 were pricey brick-sized devices with long, floppy antennas; smartphones weren’t even on the radar. Internet was dial-up only (28.8 kbps speed), and the dominant browser was Netscape Navigator.

Google.com didn’t exist, but AltaVista and Lycos did.

My curiosity kicked into gear in earnest, and I studied the advertising in particular. The back cover was a Lancôme ad, the inside back pitched the latest flavor of Crystal Light, and the inside front cover promoted “a different kind of car company,” aka Saturn.

From front to back I looked at and read every ad, frozen in original form from nearly a quarter-century earlier.

What a contrast, in style and function, to modern print advertising. How, I wondered, would it compare to the July 2018 issue of Victoria?

Within moments I was looking at the digital print edition of Victoria on my iPad, with “Delights of Summer” as the cover subhead.

A few things had leapt out immediately about the old issue. Several advertisers (Spiegel, Lands’ End among them) ran ads promoting their catalogs.

A two-page spread, plus a stitched-in reply card, advertised the benefits of membership in The Literary Guild book club. Small stamp-sized book covers lined the page, with an enlarged image of John Grisham’s The Rainmaker leading the group.

Targeted toward a female audience, advertised products tended to be those that women wanted and needed.

In the current magazine, surprisingly enough, the inside cover pitched six romance novels for summer reading. The advertiser was KensingtonBooks.com (evidently Victoria subscribers continue to be a book-buying crowd).

The back cover ad belonged to jewelry merchant Ross-Simons, which also had another full-page ad near the middle of the magazine.

Overall, there were fewer ads in the 2018 edition, and more advertisers were online merchants. All the ads listed websites, and several solicited emails or texts to engage readers online for offers or coupons.

There were no ads for cars, beauty products or cream cheese.

There were more feature stories and more varied subjects, all wonderfully photographed and written, and more in tune with the modern marketing model of content as king.

The editorial sections echoed unchanging summer themes of flowers, food and outdoor fun, full of beautifully decorated home interiors, scenic gardens and scrumptious culinary selections.

The magazine self-describes as “designed to nourish the feminine soul,” and despite not being a gender match, I can recognize and appreciate soul-soothing subject matter.

Originally a Hearst publication, Victoria maintained a fiercely loyal fan base (99 percent female) but consistently struggled to attract advertisers. When Hearst shut it down in 2003, the number of subscribers had fallen to 800,000.

Four years later, Hoffman Media revived the magazine and has published it since. The current print circulation number is about 160,000.

Times are ever-changing, and it’s interesting to see and measure that change in snapshot form against a constant.

Victoria is still Victoria, but it also isn’t.

That’ll be true of many other things a generation from now as well.

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