In the recent past, there has been some debate around the relevance of print, both as a medium for advertising and as a way to reach consumers. It is very easy to conclude that in times where attention spans last but a few seconds, long-form content can be considered tedious.
As advertising budgets continue to switch to digital channels, print advertising sales have floundered. There’s been a consistent fall in sales of both the glossy ads of luxury and high-end brands and the more prosaic local ads. Substance and meaning are misinterpreted by mass marketers, ad execs and CMOs who, when faced with ROI and budget decisions, side line print media in favour of digital, with the belief that online channels are the most effective way to reach and engage customers in the modern age.
Yet cold hard metrics – the bedrock on which many a digital strategy is built – prove otherwise. In their 2018 report Re-evaluating Media, Radiocentre and Ebiquity found that advertisers and agencies rank newspapers and magazines eighth and ninth for effectiveness amongst media formats. However, the story is a little different when we consider their joint effectiveness for consumers. Newspapers and magazines rank joint third in the league table of top 10 media formats in this area – beating online media, paid social and online display.
All-in-all, the picture is not all bad for print. There is a renaissance happening in print – and it’s not being driven by advertising.
There has been a widespread shift to regard it from the standpoint of ‘content marketing’ which is inspiring some brands to think about print in a different way. The long-form copy developed as part of content marketing lends itself well to a printed format, making magazines an interesting adjunct to be used as part of a wider marketing strategy.
For some consumers, print is a novel media. Integrating it into a campaign, therefore, presents an opportunity to reach some audiences in a new way – and, as other brands turn away from printed media, it offers a shot at exclusivity.
Brands are realising that print can be an important source of differentiation and competitive advantage. Its tactile nature makes it particularly well suited for luxury and high-end brands. But the enduring nature of the medium makes it an interesting proposition for a wide swathe of different companies and sectors.
As for fashion, the stylised magazine is a haven to carry a brand’s message to its readers and invite them into their little ‘club’. The more niche it becomes, the more it is coveted and becomes a collectible in the life of readers and patrons of a brand. There are many examples of brands acing this up and developing it as a marketing strategy across sectors.
Vindication of print
In a digital-first world, print magazines offer the opposite to snacky, ephemeral, speedy content that is consumed at pace. Instead they invite the consumer to relax and engage deeper. And in return, for the brand, it’s an opportunity to brand-build and share their values in a more subtle way. Just like the emerging podcast format, it’s a more intimate experience and allows brands to cut through what is called ‘content shock’.
Of course, there are multiple other benefits to a print magazine that go beyond engagement; the opportunity to maximise content, generate revenue from it through advertising and of course, drive sales.
An important distinguishing factor of print is the ability to provide touch and feel to the reader. With websites and apps, no matter how beautiful the photography, how smooth the transitions, there is always a glass screen separating the virtual from you. It is also found readers tend to credit more authenticity to print design than digital.
What’s more, physical copies of magazine become collectibles and lend a form of exclusivity to the content. There is something about flipping through the pages to land on that high-resolution, colour-rich campaign image that draws the reader to pay more rapt attention to the product. Moreover, anybody across the world can visit a website rendering it devoid of the feeling of restricted access most luxury brands exhaustively seek.
One fashion house turning the idea of event publishing into an art form that excites followers, builds anticipation and turns printed publications into collectors’ items is LOEWE. LOEWE Classics, a set of six literary classics originally published as part of its Fall/Winter ’18 advertising campaign have now been re-issued as a collectible box set.
Since 2014, LOEWE has produced special publications to accompany every one of Creative Director Jonathan Anderson’s collections. These published copies come hard-backed, with a limited print run of just 1,200 copies and are hand numbered, making each edition a collector’s item.
Although the primary attraction for print is to move away from the virtual, but more realistically, to reach audiences and build a more sustainable connection, it has to be an amalgamation of the two. Agencies and brands using print to its best effect tend to use it with digital. They are building beautifully effective marketing strategies that play to each media’s strength and ability to deliver something desired and pertinent to a brand’s customer base – existing and prospective. This allows them to maintain the aura of exclusivity but play with the mediums to lure more customers into the subscription model.
From fostering a sense of community to providing an opportunity to build a more physical connection, print magazines are an investment in consumers. In return, a brand may well find itself rewarded with the most coveted of consumer behaviour – loyalty. While this marketing strategy helps readers find content they weren’t specifically searching for, it also gives a brand the opportunity to study the numbers and push their agenda more creatively and subtly. It is increasingly becoming about creating an environment where the reader feels they belong.
Top Brands leading the way
ASOS: The UK-based brand’s printed magazine, featuring interviews with A-list stars and issue-driven journalism alongside the glossy fashion photography, has been a huge success. The magazine was sent out for free to loyal customers.
It boasted a UK print audience of more than 450,000 per issue. Circulation figures rose to more than 700,000 at its peak when distribution in France, Germany and the US is taken into account. Plus, there’s the additional online audience of 120,000. Although it is no longer in publication, it surely helped cement the brand’s position as one of the most popular fashion magazines targeted at the under-30s market. The magazine came to an end in Autumn 2019, but it is still heralded as a pioneer in the field.
LifeWear (Uniqlo): Another fashion brand which made the move into print more recently is Japanese label Uniqlo, which launched its LifeWear title in 2019. Although Uniqlo products are featured in most stories, the magazine covers a range of topics and featured a lead interview with brand ambassador Roger Federer in its first edition. The magazine is published in both English and Japanese and is available in full online, as well as in stores for customers to pick up physical copies.
Porter (Net-a-Porter): The magazine is sold in over 30,000 retail stores; features over 300 pages of fashion content; and has featured cover stars like Christy Turlington, Gisele Bündchen, Karlie Kloss, Joan Smalls, Cate Blanchett and Lady Gaga.
Porter is meant to support the e-commerce titan’s digital efforts, which have always been presented in a shoppable digital magazine format. Tess Macleod-Smith, VP of publishing and media at Net-a-Porter, spoke in an interview of the success of Porter, “85 per cent of our top customers were inspired to shop after reading an issue of Porter, and those who became subscribers increased their spend by more than 125 per cent and their frequency on the site by more than 25 per cent.”
Walmart World (Walmart): Walmart World is an example of how a brand is using print to engage its large employee base rather than focus on consumers. It is an internal publication tasked with increasing employee engagement, enhancing job success and satisfaction, and building stronger connections amongst Walmart’s 1.3 million associates.
It’s an ambitious aim for any organisation (let alone one with such a diverse and dispersed audience base). The magazine meets the challenge deftly by empowering employees to shape the magazine’s content. A monthly outreach letter to personnel managers solicits story ideas and submissions, while an associate-expert panel surfaces additional topics and gathers quotes and feedback.
Le Monde d’Hermès and Acne Paper (Bottega Veneta): After quitting all social media early this year, the luxury fashion house announced the launch of its quarterly digital journal, complete with editorial photoshoots and videos. The Kering-owned brand’s online title follows a longer tradition of printed marketing products, like Le Monde d’Hermès and Acne Paper magazines.
The move shows how inspiring and entertaining consumers have only grown to be more important for luxury brands, and that the trend of labels doing the heavy lifting of storytelling about their products themselves—reducing their reliance on fashion press—goes beyond wanting to have something to post about every day.
COLORS (Benetton): Established in 1991, this quarterly magazine is driven by the belief that diversity is positive and all cultures have equal value. It is sold internationally and published in six bilingual editions (English + Italian, French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Portuguese). Pictures are the prime expressive medium in COLORS and using this visual language, the themes in COLORS range from thought-provoking topics, such as environmental issues, conflicts across the world, or the fight against AIDS, to lighter topics such as shopping, fashion, toys and collectors.
The magazine has gained recognition from advertisers and media-types alike, including respected designer and current SVP of MTV Richard Turley, who named COLORS his favourite magazine in an interview with Digiday.