OPINION: Why babes are not the only cover option for men’s titles - The popularity of FHM-style titles proves that sex sells. But as the men’s magazine market matures, quality titles are emerging as an alternative, Peter Howarth states

I once worked with a man called James Bond. He was a good retailer but not up to much when it came to espionage. And now James Brown is to become the editor of GQ. Will he be to an upmarket magazine what the godfather of soul was to music? Tough call.

I once worked with a man called James Bond. He was a good retailer

but not up to much when it came to espionage. And now James Brown is to

become the editor of GQ. Will he be to an upmarket magazine what the

godfather of soul was to music? Tough call.

But who would choose to be a men’s magazine editor today? The market

that launched a mere 11 years ago has developed into a bear pit with

some ten titles vying for the hearts and minds of the male magazine


Competitive? Certainly. Clearly defined? Certainly not. For me, as the

editor of Esquire, the thing I find most interesting about how the

market is developing is watching the way men’s titles are trying to

differentiate themselves from one another.

Walk into a newsagent, cast an eye over the racks and what do you


Take a typical month, say May ’97: Arena has Sophie Dahl, the big blonde

model, bare shouldered on the cover; GQ, Caprice, entirely naked;

Loaded, Jo Guest, legs spread wide; FHM, Coronation Street’s Tina Hobley

in red satin underwear; Maxim, Salma Hayek in a little black dress with

plunging neckline, and the new monthly, GQ Active, the model, Bridget

Hall, in an unzipped rubber beach top. You get the picture.

And what of the May cover of Esquire? Who did we use to do battle with

the busty, bubbly, bankable babes? Well, he may be short on cleavage

but, in my book, he’s got other assets: Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver,

complete with mohawk, maniacal grin and a couple of shooters. The

coverline: Exclusive, De Niro and me by Martin Scorsese.

I like this cover. I like it because I like De Niro, Scorsese and Taxi

Driver. But, most of all, I like it because it isn’t Sophie, Jo or

Tiffany from EastEnders.

So why do I wake up in the middle of the night thinking, ’What have I


It’s easily proven that babes on covers sell issues. Any deviation from

the established format is a high-risk strategy for an editor. The often

ignored truth about the Wild West of men’s magazine publishing is that

the market is starting to fragment and is beginning to replicate the

women’s magazine market. We are developing two types of title:

mass-market magazines and quality magazines.

This seems so blindingly obvious that I have often wondered why it is

not more widely acknowledged.

Clearly, the likes of Esquire and GQ are the men’s magazine equivalent

of Vogue or Harpers and Queen, while FHM and Maxim have more in common

with Mizz and Sugar.

You would not find a reader, or a media buyer for that matter,

speculating on why Vogue sells a fraction of the amount of Sugar. But in

the men’s market, people still puzzle over why Loaded and FHM outstrip

the rest.

The answer is simple; they are designed to perform that way.

And back to De Niro. I can’t promise to eschew sex on the cover of

Esquire every month and I certainly wouldn’t dream of banning it from

the content of the magazine. But I hope that, in a small way, I can try

to make the point that Esquire is different. And, more importantly, that

the quality market exists.

And it needs to exist. Otherwise, by undressing our titles so they all

look the same, we are saying that our readers only want breasts, beer

and blokish gags. What about the rest of us? What about those who enjoy

a good read, who like to be stretched, challenged and surprised?

I hope those who share my desire for an alternative and proudly grown-up

men’s magazine will find their way into Esquire - it’s being put

together with you in mind. And, as for James Brown, we’ll just have to

see if papa’s got a brand new bag after all.


CAM # 23:05:97

CAMPAIGN DIRECT: ISSUES - How letting viewers have a say can boost

sales - Getting people to answer questionnaires about ads helps fix

products in their minds, Robert Dwek says





Photographs (omitted)

Paul Ashby is an affable, middle-aged man with a muted Aussie

accent. He’s had a colourful career in marketing spanning several

continents and encompassing a number of multinationals. Now settled in

the UK, he has several advertising tricks he hopes to unleash on the


Through his company, the Interactive Marketing Group, Ashby claims to

have established an unusual advertising technique both in his native

Australia and in the US, where it accounts for an annual dollars 50

million spend. He almost introduced it to the UK in 1979, but instead

decided to try his luck in the US.

This time around, however, Ashby is more confident of success here and

has joined forces with the marketing agency, CSP Communications, to

develop a one-stop package that includes account handling, creative

development, production, fulfilment and database services.

When an advertiser runs a TV campaign, it simultaneously sends out

mailshots that ask consumers about the commercials. On one level, the

aim is to gauge reaction to the message for use in future campaigns.

But, more immediately, the user-friendly questionnaire format plays on

peoples’ pretensions to be TV critics and makes them focus more

carefully on the advertising - and the product.

Ashby explains: ’We get them to spend ten minutes thinking about a

30-second commercial. Tests have shown that the level of recall and

propensity to purchase is substantially increased using the


It sounds like a clever way of convincing consumers their opinion really

does matter. The deceptive simplicity of the device lies in the fact

’you have to be careful not to deconstruct the ad too much’. Ashby

argues that, as we move into an interactive and multimedia world, there

is an urgent need to break down the consumer passivity traditional

advertising techniques have constructed.

He says. ’Consumers want to express opinions but this has not yet been

sufficiently acknowledged.

If anything, because of new technology, they feel they have less of a

voice than before.’

Another variant of the Ashby technique is to mail interactive magazines

to consumers and, in some cases, trade customers, to generate feedback

on products and services. They are heavily incentivised, as are all of

Ashby’s products. He has publications in the pipeline for Barclays,

McVitie’s, Colgate-Palmolive, financial service outfits and an as-yet

unnamed confectionery company.

But it is another version of the Ashby offering that is likely to make

most waves. He claims to have at least one ’multinational’ company set

to run an interactive TV commercial in June. This will apparently

involve a top-and-tail device alerting viewers to the opportunity to

call a telephone number and give their opinions on the ad, while

automatically entering a cash prize competition.

So far, Ashby’s technique has only been used in the UK by two brands,

Quaker’s Harvest Crunch and Quorn. Both opted for the direct mail method

but only the Quorn campaign went fully national. Marlow Foods, which

owns the brand, mailed 2.5 million households two weeks into a six-week

TV campaign.

It then tested the mailshot recipients against consumers who had not

been sent anything. The top-line results were conclusive: consumers who

saw the commercial and read the mailer had a 6 per cent higher brand

awareness than those who hadn’t seen the mailshot, as well as 55 per

cent greater awareness of the ad campaign, 26 per cent more

understanding of the advertising message, a 37 per cent increase in

claimed purchase during the campaign period and a 45 per cent lead when

declaring their intention to purchase Quorn in the future.

Ian Abberley, the marketing manager of Marlow Foods, says the market

research element shouldn’t be downplayed, since it will help the company

to plan campaigns. But he agrees more immediate benefits were clear.

What do the UK advertising experts make of it? Tessa Gooding,

communications manager at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising,

says: ’Anything that gets consumers involved has got to be a good thing.

I hope companies enter the Advertising Effectiveness Awards and make

their results known.’

Richard Pinder, deputy managing director of Ogilvy and Mather, thinks

the TV top-and-tail concept sounds like an inevitable consequence of the

growth of digital TV, notably the BT-BSkyB link-up. ’I can see a lot

more of ’this tell-us-what-you-think’ type of advertising coming along

and we should embrace it.’

Andy Law, the chairman of St. Luke’s, has seen some of the work Ashby

has done in Australia and says the results ’do look spectacular,

particularly in raising spontaneous brand awareness’.

However, Gary Duckworth, the chairman of Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters,

remains unconvinced. He points out that his agency’s UK launch campaign

for the car company, Daewoo, used a similar technique, inviting viewers

to call a number and win a free test-drive for a year. But whereas that

initiative led to a ’genuine dialogue’ which helped shape Daewoo’s

marketing strategy, the Ashby technique ’sounds like just another way of

improving recall and that’s nothing new’.

Not so, retorts Ashby. He predicts it will become a major part of

advertising budgets, and goes on to point that he is currently being

courted by Australia’s three main media moguls - Murdoch, Fairfax and

Packer - who apparently want to start offering his product as an

added-value service through their own TV sales houses.