Cosmo still feisty at 40

Hearst's era-defining monthly glossy, Cosmopolitan, is celebrating its 40th anniversary in the UK in typically feisty form with its April issue tomorrow (1 March).

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On the cover of the seminal issue, day-time TV presenter Holly Willoughby presents another side to her girl-next-door persona, pouting in a studded biker chick jacket and talking about what makes her feel sexy.

But behind the make-up and obligatory shots of her draped on a Harley Davidson, the most striking thing about the images for any discerning media planner is the fact the magazine is now an entire decade older than its cover star. Staying relevant and fresh must be a challenge.

The self-styled bible for millions of "fun fearless females" has long resonated in the UK and it's no coincidence the British edition was the first international version of a US title that had been around since 1886.

Much of the look and feel of Cosmo as it is known today can be credited to the reinvention by former US editor, Helen Gurley Brown, who took control of the US edition in 1965 with a view to encapsulating the spirit of free, independent women.  

The magazine is renowned for giving previously suppressed young women permission to talk about sex.

Today, the Cosmo empire also epitomises the potential of a successful magazine brand, with 63 international editions, printed in 34 languages and distributed in more than 100 markets, it boasts a readership in excess of 100 million.

Battle in the UK

It was a disruptive force when it launched in the UK in March 1972. Edited by Joyce Hopkirk, former woman's editor at The Sun, and backed by a TV campaign created by Saatchi & Saatchi, it made an immediate splash with an initial print run of 350,000. It soon established itself as the UK’s market-leader and put others out of business.

However in 2002, when Cosmo UK turned 30, its dominant position as the best-selling women’s monthly lifestyle magazine was snatched by Condé Nast’s new arrival Glamour. Launched by former Cosmo publisher, Simon Kippin, Glamour (itself an international import) has retained its lead over Cosmo ever since.

But Cosmo’s heritage and focused editorial on the trials and explorations of 20-something women, has kept the magazine from sliding far from the minds of media planners.

The April 2012 issue has 244 pages, including 78 pages of ads ranging from health and beauty brands to fashion and domestic products. 

The issue includes a partnership with Clinique, resulting in a free cover mount, a reader competition and also a multi-platform project called The F Word – an initiative designed to celebrate why it’s cool to be a feminist.   

The magazine has also launched a mobile phone app for readers to access and purchase Clinique products, called the Cosmo shopping Genie.

Such digital innovation and social interaction is expected to play a key role if Cosmo is to survive for another 40 years.

Like most magazines in its sector, Cosmo’s print sales have been falling, down 5.7% year-on-year and in 2010 it was also leapfrogged by stablemate GoodHousekeeping. Sales of Cosmo remain significant, with an average monthly circulation of 377,580 (ABC), but the trend over the last four years is one way.

Circulation of Cosmopolitan UK (1972 - 2011)

To see the raw data from this chart, click here

Arnaud de Puyfontaine, chief executive of Hearst UK, simply reminds us "Cosmopolitan is the biggest magazine brand in the world".

"It’s a hugely influential brand and in the UK we have 1.6m readers and over 1m unique visitors to the website every month," he says.

"Cosmo translates onto new emerging platforms easily as we've seen with the recent launch on Apple Newsstand where Cosmo regularly holds the top download spot for iphone demonstrating the power of the brand. 

"Cosmo has a unique relationship with its consumers and can talk to women about the most intimate part of their lives with authority and understanding. This develops a level a trust with the magazine that is hugely beneficial to advertisers.

"£1 in every £13 spent on the high street is from Cosmo readers so we know how engaged they are with our edited choice."

Zoe Bale, print planning director at Carat, says: "What Cosmo had done well is invest in other platforms to extend their reach – such as Cosmo on Campus, Cosmo Body, Cosmo Shopping Genie App, Cosmo Dating etc – all brand extensions which help push the brand out to a wider audience.

"Will it still be around in 40 years? Yes if it continues to grow its reach and adopts/utilises other platforms effectively particularly in digital and social.

"They will need to keep their content relevant and engaging to the audience and build on their strong brand. It’s survived 40 years because it’s a strong brand so can survive another if they innovate, invest ,engage and interact with their audience, reaching them on all available platforms with the relevant content they want at that particular point in time."

Reaching 40 is a milestone in anyone's book, but de Puyfontaine notes confidently: "Cosmopolitan deals with eternal truths, encouraging women to be the best they can be, healthy happy relationships and fashionable choices.

"Cosmo will be as relevant in 40 years as it was at launch because it’s in touch with modern women. Where and how people consume Cosmopolitan may vary but we are excited by what that means."

Follow Arif Durrani on Twitter: @DurraniMix and follow Nick Batten on @NickBatten2