MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: MEN’S TITLES - GQ Active’s demise serves as warning for men’s magazines. Mainstream spin-offs are now saturating the men’s sector, Alasdair Reid says

Has the men’s magazine market overstretched itself? Last week saw the demise of Conde Nast’s GQ Active, at least as a stand-alone title.

Has the men’s magazine market overstretched itself? Last week saw

the demise of Conde Nast’s GQ Active, at least as a stand-alone

title.



Launched in May last year, the title failed to reach its circulation

target of 70,000 - so the November issue is the last before it merges

into GQ as a quarterly supplement from February 1999.



Immaculate timing - given that two male interest titles are scheduled

for launch in the next couple of weeks and one, Zest for Men from the

National Magazine Company, is in the same sector as GQ Active. The

other, Cabal’s Front, is a lad’s title in the Loaded mould.



Until recently, magazines for men tended to be either specialist hobby

titles or soft porn. There were also the hardy perennials of music and

football, while a tiny enclave was into style titles such as the Face

and Arena.



Loaded and FHM hardly added anything new but they got the mix of

ingredients in the right proportions and, more importantly, hit the

right tone. But perhaps it was optimistic to expect the emergence of a

men’s sector as broad and varied as women’s magazines.



Some magazines are the result of the visionary insight of a gifted

individual.



Others are the product of the market research industry and are planned

with meticulous focus group thoroughness. They are about finding gaps in

markets and markets in gaps. Fair enough.



But there are two other less reputable categories - the me-too magazine

and the sort of spurious title created to mop up advertising that

publishers have turned away from a mainstream magazine because there’s

no room left.



These ad-get, spin-off titles are rarely planned with readers in

mind.



Is this a worry in the men’s market? Jon Wilkins, the creative

communications director of New PHD, is concerned about some of the brand

extension ideas we’ve been seeing.



’This is a cluttered market and you have to be careful with these,

especially if you move too far out of your core territory. And it

usually lands you in competition with those who specialise in whatever

area you’ve targeted.



’If you have a successful men’s magazine, do you have the brand equity

in fashion or health? The danger is not that you just fail with the

spin-off but stretch the brand too far and confuse your core readers.

And if recession bites, the first to go will be spin-offs.’



Was incongruity a factor behind the demise of GQ Active? And what omens

does that carry for the launch of Zest for Men? Not necessarily bad

ones.



Terry Mansfield, the managing director of NatMags, insists: ’If you were

Nicholas Coleridge (the managing director of Conde Nast) and you had a

magazine with an uncertain future, would you do something about it

before or after a competitor launched? I think you’d do it before, don’t

you?



’Not that Zest for Men will be like GQ Active, which is very

sports-orientated.



Zest for Men will be about the health not just of the body but of the

mind too. I think it’s clear there’s a real need for a magazine of that

type. You might have the best abdominal muscles in town but you can

still have challenges emotionally.’



Sounds plausible. But will male magazine readers ever be as

sophisticated as the advertisers dying to reach them? Mansfield believes

it’s possible. He reckons we are on the threshold of a cultural shift.

It will mirror a similar change in women’s issues.



He states: ’When I came into this business 40 years ago, there were

concerns with breast cancer that were never talked about. We have become

far more open-minded about it and that is reflected in the amount of

research now done in the area. Now we are realising that there are

equally important issues - like prostate cancer - affecting men. We can

help create a growing awareness of those issues.’



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