People, passions and pounds: the role of magazines in the emerging identity economy
A view from Sue Todd

People, passions and pounds: the role of magazines in the emerging identity economy

Magazines are resurgent because of their unmatched ability to build connections with audiences that are hard to establish elsewhere.

It’s been a big few weeks for magazines. The cherry on top was the news that Hearst UK, owner of titles including Cosmopolitan, Elle and Good Housekeeping, was named Media Brand of the Year at the Media Week Awards.

This was not only a just reward for an excellent publisher, but it's also an indication of the broader confidence that surrounds magazine media, as reflected in mergers and acquisitions activity that has included Epiris’ acquisition of Time Inc UK and Exponent’s purchase of Dennis Publishing.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have noticed that our very own advertising bible, Campaign, marked its 50th birthday. The celebratory content serves as a strong reminder that long, immersive, print-based reads provide positive and pleasurable experiences.

Magnetic explored some of the reasons behind this at Spark – our annual event tackling the latest debates and developments in the world of magazines – this week. We’ve teamed up with PHD and Bournemouth University in a long-term partnership to better understand the changing nature of attention and its role in advertising effectiveness. One of the initial key messages is that the core strength of print magazines is their ability to convert attention to content into attention to advertising. This is because we immerse ourselves in highly relevant content and because reading in this focused way is in itself far more satisfying than constant short bursts of low, distracted attention that we increasingly offer to other channels.

Campaign’s 50th issue highlighted this. The appreciation for the content, which was beautifully crafted, tells us everything we need to know about the current value of magazine brands and why they endure. First up, the brand remains strong in print. Secondly, it provides highly relevant coverage based on areas that are important to our sense of identity (our jobs, in the case of Campaign), or passions and enthusiasm in the consumer sector.

This is the focus of our second new piece of research from Enders Analysis. We found that the largest part of discretionary spending to grow over the past five years surrounds people’s passions – from fashion and football to film and food. Even in such an uncertain economic climate, Brits are finding money for the things that really matter.

Spending on purchases related to our identity is increasing much more significantly than other household spend. These categories made up 52% of discretionary household spending last year and captured 79% of the growth in spend in the past five years. This economic growth – the passion pound – is recognised by publishers and demonstrated by their diversification of offers to customers, including off-the-page experiences and diversification into as events and ecommerce. Examples range from Stylist Live and The Radio Times TV festival to the Decanter Wine Awards and Dennis’ move into selling cars direct to consumers.

What links these two pieces of work is fairly obvious but is often forgotten in an age of scale and eyeball chasing: that we pay more attention to things that are relevant and significant to us. Therefore, the context in which we consume content and advertising is an important part of priming us for later action.

It’s clear that savvy advertisers are turning the underinvestment of others into an opportunity, deploying media strategies that tap into emotionally relevant contexts, trusting in magazine brands and seeing effective results. Recent magazine activity that demonstrates strong advertiser recognition of this power includes LG’s partnership with the Esquire townhouse, Smart Energy GB’s award-winning "Power of 10p" campaigns with Radio Times and Cosmopolitan, and the NME Awards sponsorship by VO5.

All this is possible because magazine brands combine a rich heritage – the award-winning Hearst has been in publishing since 1903 – with a sense of innovation and energy. Just look at the number of independent magazines now in existence; 2018 launches include Dennis' Science+Nature and Bauer Media’s Pilot TV.

This progress capitalises on the ability of magazine media to build connections and communities with audiences that are hard to establish elsewhere. That’s what all great magazine brands achieve and it explains why I look forward to Campaign’s events as much as consumers of Radio Times do to its festival and the film industry to the Empire Awards. It’s also why I’m confident that a new set of consumers will be reading Campaign for decades to come. 

Sue Todd is chief executive of Magnetic