MARKETING TO MEN: COVER BOYS - Mags for men are now mainstream as their editors explain. Loaded broke the mould; now Men’s Fitness is having a go



In the beginning there was loaded. Then came loaded-lite and, after

that, a whole gamut of loaded ultra-lites strewn across the men’s

magazine battlefield like so many confused focus groups.

loaded was born from a belief that humour, hedonism and crisps were more

relevant to 90s man than pounds 15,000 suits. Within a year we were the

biggest-selling men’s mag in the country. It seemed that our fractured

take on modern life was not lost on the rest of the nation, who were

breathing a collective sigh of relief that, here at last, was a magazine

which spoke to them and not at them, a magazine which unashamedly

celebrated working-class Britain: football, drinking, sex and getting

into ’interesting situations’.

It soon became apparent that we had sparked an unbelievable and very

unique reader/writer empathy - the readers viewed us as an extension of

their immediate gang of mates. loaded was the best goal they ever

scored, the best shag they ever had and the best party they’d ever been


They liked the fact that there was no assumed knowledge with loaded.

If we found ourselves behind the velvet rope it was usually through

sheer luck or expert blagging and we never failed to appreciate the

magnitude of our good fortune, that we were actually getting paid to

travel the world and show off.

That’s why I laugh when people who have never even read loaded write it

off as a one-dimensional tits-and-arse magazine like the rest of the

market. Ask any of our regular readers now and, while they will happily

recognise the fact that loaded has a very glad eye for the ladies, the

main reason they buy the magazine is for the humour.

Out of our first 24 covers only eight were women, the rest championed

the genetic leanings of a magazine inspired by a diverse range of

cultural reference points. By the time the rest of the market cottoned

on to the fact that loaded was the greatest magazine of all time, they

felt a need to, at least cosmetically, show people they had their own

identity. So they adopted a policy of women-only covers which, had it

not been for the enormous success of FHM, we could all be laughing about


Trouble is, by becoming so successful and inspiring a host of their own

imitators (loaded ultra ultra ultra really quite insipid), they’ve

bastardised a creative market and brought the whole thing down to one

crucial currency - tits and lists.

Unfortunately for loaded, we also operate in this ABC-obsessed market,

and advertisers tend to take a dim view of mags that can’t cut the

circulation mustard. So here we are biting the bullet and putting women

on the cover, disguising our great writing with a smokescreen of female


It’s a good job I take great enjoyment in observing, appreciating and

celebrating our stunning photoshoots with such delightful young ladies

but, like our readers, it means nothing without reading the nation’s

finest magazine writers.

But don’t dismay about the market thing. We revolutionised it once and

we’ll do it again. I’ve just come out of a meeting in which we’ve come

up with an agenda set to sweep all before it. Forget putting women on

the cover - the new currency is pictures of weasels in windsocks. Sounds

crazy? That’s what they said in 1994.


Sex sells. Ask any advertising guru. Take a product - tasteless beer,

cars with the poke of a marshmallow, plastic ice-cream, clothes that

look great on gawky models but rubbish on mortals - and when the

analyst’s flip-boards have been put away, there is one inescapable

conclusion. Sex sells it best.

Sex has certainly shifted magazines in the men’s magazine market where,

when in doubt, all publishers apply the inverse clothing index. The less

the girl wears, the higher the sales.

But before naked female flesh is upheld as a publishing panacea, it’s

worth remembering it’s a relatively new phenomenon. GQ under its late

editor, Michael Ver Meulen, an arch admirer of the female form, chose

cool male icons for its covers - Steve McQueen, Liam Neeson - and sales

rose smoothly. Then he cracked and plumped for Sharon Stone. Sales


The wannabes nodded sagaciously. FHM took the idea to new extremes and

replaced any semblance of intelligent features with nudity, snippets,

gadgets and lists. British lads flocked to the new format. Lads too

short - or too young - to reach the top shelf sighed with relief. It

worked ... a bit.

But sex is not the only thing that sells - and that’s why sales of these

magazines are falling: FHM, for example, has dropped 9.6 per cent in the

year-on-year ABC figure for June.

Too much of a good thing is boring, for readers and journalists alike,

the frisson of excitement great magazines generate is lost in easy

options and predictability.

And where’s the point of difference?

Sex is not the only thing that pricks a male’s interest. Other factors

make him want to turn down a pint and splash out on a mag - being cool,

funny, sincerely intrigued by a serious human interest story, the desire

for useful information, great photos ... things that challenge and


Take humour - a comedy store of talent recalls the pain of the

schoolyard when, as a fatty, they learned to deflect bullies and impress

the girls with their cheeky sense of fun and comic timing. Women find

Woody Allen attractive. It’s easy to see why Jack Dee has sold John

Smith’s bitter.

For our launch issue we put a 17-stone builder with a cocky mohican

haircut and fat grin on the front cover. Beside the main competition -

Men’s Health and its preening Adonis - he looked, in our opinion,


And more than 100,000 men bought the issue. For a fitness mag, it was

surprising and quirky and encouraged buyers to ask a few questions. They

were happy to oblige.

Sex sells, but selling with sex has repercussions. Girly covers cramp

your style. What message can you communicate?

Showing a fat builder gave us the chance to make a point: Men’s Fitness

is for real people, your average Sunday morning footballer, who

confronts a daily dilemma. He loves beer ... but he wants to get


Of course, another cover strategy is to use the element of surprise.

And, because sex always sells, it probably won’t be long until we put a

woman in pole position. Just the once, of course.


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