Are magazines losing their grip on women?

Advertisers are finding that women’s tastes and attitudes have changed a great deal.

SBHD: Advertisers are finding that women’s tastes and attitudes have changed a great deal.

A woman’s best friend is no longer her favourite glossy magazine, according to research conducted by Channel 4. The Nineties lifestyle of most women leaves few with sufficient or regular leisure time. Instead, most indulge themselves only for a few snatched minutes – and this has serious implications for advertisers.

Women aged between 18 and 44 are an increasingly elusive group for advertisers to reach, the broadcaster claims. Media consumption patterns have significantly altered and media buying strategies must accommodate this. Detailed results of both qualitative and quantitative research focusing on women and the media were presented last week at a Channel 4 seminar: “Talking to Women”.

Inevitably, all TV companies have a vested interest in convincing advertisers that a magazine-only media schedule will have less impact than one also including TV. Channel 4 set out to challenge the traditional reliance by many advertisers on women’s magazines only. The channel is targeting advertisers more traditionally associated with the women’s press – such as toiletries, fragrances, cosmetics, fashion and home-shopping brands, some of which use TV either infrequently or not at all. Its message is clear – using TV alongside magazines can be efficient, cost-effective and generate greater impact.

“The study was driven by the realisation that many of these categories are under-explored on all commercial television, not just ITV,” says Channel 4 business development manager David Stubley. “Many brands don’t use any TV at all, while others – notably fragrances – advertise only at certain, limited times of the year.”

Researchers set out to assess how differently women use media today, questioning their views on the respective value of each. Six focus groups comprising AB and C1 women from three age bands between 18 and 44 were asked to discuss their lifestyle and media attitudes. Each watched a minimum of ten hours of TV a week and read two or more monthly magazines each month. This qualitative study was the basis for a questionnaire involving 300 women in the North, Midlands and South.

Nineties women believe they juggle numerous different roles simultaneously – from wage earner to housewife, the study shows. They feel rushed and have little spare time. And despite a desire to relax and indulge themselves, they are less likely than in the past to be able to do this at regular times in their schedule. As a result, magazine reading is becoming less of a habit, and more of a spontaneous, unplanned activity, Channel 4’s findings suggest. And reader loyalty is also being redefined.

The study found that the women surveyed were relatively unconcerned at missing an issue of their favourite title – magazines are often shared at work. “There was no sense of continuity,” Channel 4 research manager Claire Grimmond explains. Magazine reading increasingly occurs in short, ten to 15-minute bursts. Only 33 per cent of women took a regular short break during which they read a magazine. In contrast TV still benefits from viewers making an appointment to view. Fifty-eight per cent agreed they plan what they will watch on TV.

When attitudes to TV and magazines were compared, each enjoyed distinctive strengths and suffered from selected weaknesses. Both were regarded as a way in which to relax – 87 per cent watched TV to unwind, an equal amount read magazines for the same reason.

Magazines are still regarded as personal and a source of inspiration. And despite recent press coverage to the contrary, the apparent increase in editorial coverage of explicit sexual issues is not a problem for many readers. However, insufficient choice emerged as a potential problem.

Too many titles cover the same topics – and carry identical ads. Many women in the survey criticised them for lack of variety. Meanwhile, others suggested some seemed out of step with the daily realities of their lives. While the offer of indulgence or escapism remains one attraction, there is evidence it is in danger of becoming irrelevant. “Magazines can make you feel inadequate”, was a comment arising from one discussion group.

Overall, satisfaction with both media was positive. When asked to agree or disagree with the observations that “there’s never anything decent to read in a women’s magazine”, 81 per cent disagreed. Eighty-seven per cent disagreed with the same comment applied to TV.

However, the difference emerged in the degree of involvement women enjoyed with their favourite TV programmes – something few advertisers have fully acknowledged in the past, Grimmond claims.

These findings indicate much has changed since past studies affirmed the close bond a woman has with her reading matter, believes Channel 4 group head Ruth Roscorla. As a result, advertisers must consider more sophisticated strategies.

“Direct response television enables the creation of databases and the ability to cross-promote different brands,” she says.

TV can also offer links with retailers and support with in-store and point-of-sale testing. “Historically, some of these advertisers found TV an alien medium. We must ensure we address them in the right terms and that they see us as approachable,” adds Roscorla.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here