Media: All About... The luxury ad market

How the bible of women's fashion mags remains in vogue. By Ian Darby.

Vogue, the venerable old lady of the women's glossy scene, celebrates its 90th birthday this month. She's in remarkably good shape given her advancing years.

The title's most recent sales figure, up 2.8 per cent to 216,218 for the year to 30 June, was the highest in its history. Advertisers are continuing to flock in, too. And while Vogue is undoubtedly doing well, it's also true that, in general, the luxury end of the women's magazine market is outperforming many other sectors.

Publishers continue to invest in products (witness The National Magazine Company's relaunch of Harper's & Queen as Harper's Bazaar in February), but there also seem to be wider factors at play here. As Peter Thomson, the managing director of M2M, which has Estee Lauder among its clients, says: "Luxury has become accessible to people and there is a better understanding of what luxury is and greater prevalence of designer brands. Society has moved towards Vogue, while Vogue has pretty much stood still."

1. Vogue is one of the UK's oldest consumer titles. Launched in the UK in the midst of World War One, it was based on a US title that launched in 1892 and was purchased by Mr Conde Nast in 1909. The title has been edited by Alexandra Shulman for 14 years (this consistency being a major factor in its recent success, according to her supporters). Stephen Quinn, the publishing director of Vogue, says the basic raison d'etre of the title hasn't changed over the years: "The Newhouses [the owners of Conde Nast] lay down a template for Vogue that it has to be considered the best fashion magazine; we carry other articles, but we must be defined as the leader in fashion." The Vogue brand is advancing through spin-offs such as Vogue.com (launched in 1995) and Vogue TV (an online broadcast launched this year on the back of London Fashion Week).

2. In advertising terms, Vogue is performing well. Quinn says that its revenue has grown by 4.3 per cent in the past year and that sales volumes are also on the increase. It sold 2,125 ad pages in 12 months, 85 pages up on the previous 12. Quinn admits to adopting a fairly robust attitude to advertisers via regular rate increases, but argues that Vogue's audience is worth paying for, pointing out that it specialises in fashion and luxury goods as well as the higher end of the beauty market. Celebrity fragrance ads is not a market it chases, he claims: "I would be shattered if Vogue readers felt they had to spatter themselves in Penelope Cruz fragrance."

3. There's plenty of competition in the market, however, for the high-end advertiser dollar. Conde Nast's Vanity Fair and society title Tatler offer Hollywood and society takes on the luxury market. In the fashion world, Vogue's arch-competitor Elle ranks alongside InStyle, Red and the fashion supplements of the national newspapers, not to mention the new kid on the block, Emap's weekly Grazia, as the main competition, while NatMags' Harper's Bazaar now looks resurgent.

4. Agencies have been impressed with the relaunch of Harper's. The title was known as Harper's Bazaar before its merger with Queen magazine in 1970, and its publisher took the decision to move back to the old brand as perceptions of the society scene moved on. Emma Dibben, the deputy head of press at Initiative, says: "In terms of circulation, Vogue has held firm. The main thing is that Tatler is now under siege from Harper's - it's a product that looks great, and being rebranded as Harper's Bazaar has really helped the brand."

5. In fact, some agencies argue that going forward, a combination of Harper's strength plus the launch of Grazia, which now has a weekly circulation of 175,218, is a threat to Vogue. Vogue's audience can be bought more cost-effectively by using a mix of Tatler, Harper's and Grazia, they argue. However, this ignores the power of the Vogue brand, its supporters say. Dibben says: "It's an upmarket title, but when you look at its readership it's quite mass, so a lot of its success is down to the power and familiarity of the brand." Thomson argues: "I don't think Grazia has affected Vogue too much. Vogue's sale is up for what is something like the tenth successive period, and it sold more than 2,000 pages last year. There's a sea of information out there and Vogue is proof that really trusted publications still have a big role to play."

WHAT IT MEANS FOR...

Conde Nast- The relative health of the luxury ad market is good news for the publisher. Steve Goodman, the managing director of print trading at Group M, says: "That end of the market is doing very well. Quite a few titles in the quality sector are well placed in ad revenue terms - compared to the rest of the magazine market, it's buoyant."

- Vogue and Conde Nast's Tatler and Vanity Fair titles are bringing in greater levels of ad revenue on the back of solid circulations. Vogue has consistently hiked its ad rates and justifies this by pointing out increases in actively purchased sales and a decreasing reliance on bulks.

Rivals- The likes of NatMags and Hachette are also beneficiaries of an upturn in the luxury sector. Harper's has been praised for its part in the growth of the luxury market and bringing money into the sector. Peter Thomson at M2M says: "A strong Harper's helps Vogue, and it's a much stronger title than it was two years ago."

Advertisers- Vogue has the strong brand, but the advent of Grazia has been a good thing for fashion advertisers targeting a mass fashion readership. Emma Dibben at Initiative argues: "Looking at the mass nature of Vogue's readership, it's probably a damn sight cheaper to use Grazia. It's certainly a much more competitive market (for Vogue) than it was ten years ago."

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