I remember watching the iconic Hearst Tower being built in New York and the publisher’s international chief executive, George Green, explaining how much of its magazines division had been formed on the back of exporting Cosmopolitan.
He recalled the first time he went to Moscow in the early 90s to explore the possibility of launching a local edition. The Soviet Union had just broken up. Economically, the country was in transition. Corruption was rife, inflation was high and it was hard to imagine mass consumerism erupting any time soon.
The opportunities for Cosmo, the magazine for "fun, fearless females", seemed limited, to say the least. But then Green went shopping. He noticed that, while many of the world’s cosmetics brands were available in the high street, none had any relationship with consumers. Magazines in the Soviet Union had been controlled by the state and there were simply no opportunities for these brands to advertise and differentiate themselves.
'Take advertising away and you would close, or make unaffordable, most traditional and digital media'
Six months later, a Russian edition of Cosmo was born, funded by pages and pages of ads that quickly sold tens of thousands of copies, soon rising to hundreds of thousands. More international magazines followed and, collectively, they helped to reflect and shape a new society. Polina Sokhranova, the editor-in-chief of Cosmo Russia, is among those who credit the title with helping to redress gender inequality and developing the beauty and fashion sectors.
It’s easy to knock ads, but let’s not forget what they bring to the table too. In the week the Advertising Association holds its agenda-setting Lead conference and publishes the third edition of the Advertising Pays study, it seems appropriate to take a sideways view and celebrate the value of advertising to the media landscape.
The research confirms the UK is consuming more media than ever, mostly made possible by advertising. Take it away and you would close, or make unaffordable, most traditional and digital media. Television would lose a lot of original content and subscription costs would be prohibitively expensive. The impact on commercial radio would be even bigger: the report doubts whether the sector could survive at scale.
In monetary terms, the study estimates the total individual value attributed to advertising and sponsorship across media to be almost £10 billion. It leads Andy Duncan, the chief executive of Camelot UK and president of the AA, to note: "The ad-funded media not only give individuals what they want, they also enhance the country as a whole."