Magazine brands are having a tough time. Sales are falling, and you only have to look at the latest ABC figures to see how fast.
Women’s weeklies are particularly struggling. The circulation of Time Inc’s Look was down 35.4% in the first half of 2017, with sales for Woman magazine down 17.6%. Men’s titles, TV listings and home interest publications also saw sharp declines. News and current affairs titles fared a lot better, in part due to the tumultuous news agenda – thanks Donald Trump.
Simultaneously, advertisers seem to be moving away from the medium. Total ad spend was £877m in 2016, a decline of 6.8% compared to 2015 according to AA/Warc figures. It forecasts that ad spend will drop by a further 8.2% in 2017.
Douglas McCabe, media analyst at Enders, believes this shift is due to a sentiment change among advertisers across all sectors, who prefer “shinier” digital platforms. Digital ad spend grew 13.4% in 2016 to £10.3bn.
“In digital, magazines have no particular advantage like they have in print. This is also a manifestation of a very broad shift to more short-termist marketing. The point of a lot of magazine advertising is that it’s highly visual, brand marketing, whereas what’s replacing that spend is direct response advertising online,” he says.
Despite these figures, magazines still play an important role in many brands’ media mix, and advertisers and publishers are finding new ways of working together. The days of advertorials are long gone, and instead of simply placing their creative in the right titles, many brands are eager to form integrated editorial partnerships instead.
“Brands’ starting point has changed and is now all about partnerships. They are much more integrated and are better amplified than with a purely advertorial partnership,” says Sue Todd, CEO at magazine trade body Magnetic.
The rise of the partnership
Last year, Shop Direct decided to work with a wide range of women’s titles, including Elle, Cosmopolitan, Heat, Closer, New, Red, and Marie Claire, to raise awareness of Very and up the brand’s fashion credentials.
Each magazine developed its own campaign tailored to its audience. While Heat and Closer developed native in-mag content and branded cover wraps, Elle partnered with Very to “take over” its fashion cupboard – a permanent bricks-and-mortar space. During the takeover, Elle and Very curated the most relevant items from the V range for its readers, with the activity supported by video, print and digital.
Elle opened a ‘pop-up’ fashion cupboard to allow readers to browse a V collection that had been curated by the magazine’s editors. The pop-up also offered a VIP area, where readers could have one-on-one styling sessions with the Elle fashion team.
The point of a lot of magazine advertising is that it’s highly visual brand marketing, whereas what’s replacing that spend is direct response advertising online.
Douglas McCabe, Enders
When asked why Very still invests in magazine titles, brand lead Becky Hardman tells Marketing Week it still “wants to go where its customers are”, and that magazines still offer “great reach” as well as credibility.
She adds that the company’s most successful campaigns have been where the magazine titles looked to “push their own boundaries beyond what they’ve done before” to deliver innovative work that focuses on the consumer.
“When we’ve worked with the same editorial teams for a few different projects, the campaigns get better and better. We communicate better, which leads to better creative ideas and more impact for the customer,” she says.
Mixing print and digital
There is also an increased appetite among brands to reach people beyond the print format by creating tailored digital campaigns. Not On The High Street wanted to broaden its appeal to a more varied customer base in the run-up to Christmas. Original content was its top priority.
‘Gift Like An Editor’ was developed as an umbrella concept, which saw the editors of Hearst titles Country Living, Elle, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar and Red, each curate the most relevant Not On The High Street gifts for their readers. All of the products were also photographed by Hearst’s content studio, to ensure it fitted in with each individual brand.
And this tailored approach seemingly paid off. The brand claims it saw a 100% increase in shopper basket size, made £358,000 in revenue from the ‘Gift Like An Editor’ campaign product sales, and reached over 2.5 million people on social media.
Other brands prefer to take the traditional print format and see if they can give it a 21st century makeover. Earlier this month, mobile operator Three decided to bring digital and print together by creating a video-in-print cover ad as part of its ‘Go Binge’ campaign.
Three paid to produce 500 special covers of Time Out’s weekly magazine, giving readers the chance to stream behind-the-scenes footage of the new Netflix show ‘Glow’.
Jolene Sickelmore, head of communications and execution at Three UK, says print is still an attractive proposition due to its “huge reach” against its target audience of young urban commuters. Time Out currently hands out around 300,000 free magazines every week.
“We didn’t want to look at standard print options though – in light of our pioneering nature, we wanted to actually get the prop into people’s hands and show the UK what it’s like to be a Three customer. We worked with [Time Out] for a good six months on actually bringing this to life logistically,” she says.
“Publishers provide a great opportunity to do that with loyal readership and circulation. Ultimately, the more innovative and exciting ideas publishers can explore with us the better.”
When asked if Three will continue to invest in print despite its declining circulation, Sickelmore insists traditional publishers will remain “a massive part” of the partners it works with, despite a growing digital presence.
She concludes: “As many magazine and print publishers invest into their online offerings, we will continue to value them for the strong and reliable content environment they can provide. If you look at telco as a category, competitors are also still spending here and we believe that print can play an important part in the path to purchase, as well as big brand fame.”