Magazine bosses debate how to extend brands

The rise of digital media and the shrinking of the print advertising market means global magazine brands have for some time wanted to see themselves as more than simply providers of a printed product.

This goes beyond the obvious and common desire to take on new technologies and colonise Web space, mobile space, Kindle space, or wherever the next space may be. In recent years, publishers have embraced licensing in a drive to send their magazines shooting off across the branding world, resulting in ventures such as the GQ bar in Moscow, the National Geographic store in London, Wallpaper’s travel guides and Playboy’s bunny icon popping up all over the place (including, controversially, on stationery aimed at children a couple of years ago).

The need to maximise the exposure of their magazine brands, while maintaining their values and integrities, was one of the key issues under debate at last week’s World Magazine Congress, organised by Fipp – the International Federation of the Periodical Press. The conference saw global magazine magnates gather in London to thrash out the future of their industry, providing a client’s-eye view of what brand guardians in a rapidly evolving and recession-hit industry see as their key priorities.

In a panel discussion of how to adapt brands for the digital space, Didier Quillot, chief executive of French publisher Lagardère Active, which owns Elle and Paris Match, summed up the ambitions of the publishing world with his statement, ‘We should transfer our brands from being pure monomedia brands to being pure media brands applied everywhere. Our brands should move from having a reading contract to having a live one. We should take users on a journey.’

Quillot pointed out that only a few magazines will be strong enough to make this transition, saying, ‘We need to select which brands will survive the next five to ten years, and invest in them.’

But he envisioned the more robust magazine brands spreading across the digital world, from e-mail to databases and digital licensing, although he sensibly pointed out that Google is probably too strong in the search business for magazine brands to be able to take it on.

Backing up this argument, James Spanfeller, president and chief executive of US group Forbes Media, said, ‘Our attitude at Forbes is that we want to integrate our brand into anywhere that makes sense – online, print, mobile, video.’ He added Internet conferences, seminars and sponsorships to the list of potential branding opportunities.

The chairman and editor-inchief of Brazilian group Civita, Roberto Civita, also made a passionate pitch for magazines to get involved in e-commerce.

Christie Hefner, former chairwoman and chief executive of Playboy Enterprises – and daughter of company founder Hugh Hefner – addressed the point of making sure magazines’ brand values weren’t eroded as they moved into new territories, adding she had created a $1bn (£660m) business on building brand attitude. She said it is important to be in the ‘sweet spot’ of what your brand is – a Playboy-branded casino in Las Vegas, for example, makes more sense than Playboy fuzzy dice or air conditioners. No word on stationery, though. Quillot said it is important, when extending your brand, to choose ‘territory adjacent to your current territory’ and employ ‘chief editors’ to be in charge of the ‘brand DNA’.

Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast International, summed up the dilemma facing the magazine industry, which, while desperate to expand into new territories, has an almost unbreakable emotional tie to print. To great applause, he said, ‘To those of you who believe paper and print will disappear, I have just one word for you – nonsense.’

But even he was careful to say, ‘I believe magazine brands have a bright future – and brand is the key word.’

Brand, he added rather sniffily, is an advertising word more commonly used to describe products such as toothpaste. His conclusion was, ‘The answer is the same as it ever was – make a great magazine, and convey those values [that made it great] to wherever you take it.’

MAGAZINE BRAND EXTENSION – ADVICE FROM THE SPEAKERS

  • Move your brand on to the platforms advertisers want you on
  • Ensure editorial consistency across all your brand expressions
  • Only extend into adjacent territories, and stay within your brand’s ‘sweet spot’
  • Only strong brands will be able to make the transition

Latest articles