The blue sky’s the limit

The popularity of lad mags is on the wane, but a new title claims to be less salacious and to offer more editorial depth.

Lad Mags are in trouble. Sales figures for publications such as Loaded and FHM are down, with only Maxim showing a slight increase among the top three. Publishers are looking for the next big thing.

New publishing group Blue Sky Magazines has what it hopes will be a winning formula, which it claims will fly against current publishing trends by treating men as intelligent human beings. The title will be using design as one of its key methods of differentiation.

Called Quest, the title does seem to be a move away from the current norm. Gone are the scantily clad women adorning the covers of Loaded, FHM and Maxim. Instead, a dummy issue features a black and white image of football legend George Graham.

Blue Sky founder and Quest editor Angus Kennedy says, “Journalists, media correspondents and distributors have been unanimous in their reaction to the front cover design, which has been better than we could possibly have hoped for, and gives us a real opportunity to be a successful brand in the market place.”

The magazine’s masthead uses the Q of Quest to form a question mark, suggesting an inquisitive nature to the editorial content inside. The marque has been designed by Richard Palmer of Siebert Head, the consultancy responsible for developing the visual personality of the magazine. Interestingly, Siebert Head’s creative director is a woman, Keren House.

Consultancy marketing director Satkar Gidda says, “Quest is a rare brand in the marketplace and sets out to target a completely new sector. Therefore the requirement to create the right image through design was paramount.”

Inside, the magazine will be a complete departure from lad mags, says Gidda. The current issues of FHM, Loaded and Maxim take similar approaches to page design. Each features a heavy use of bite-size boxes and short articles, with bright photos over joke-based captions, suggesting they are aimed at readers with a short attention span.

Quest will feature either a two or three-column layout, depending on which section of the magazine an article is in, lots of white space and a “classical” approach to photography. Boxes will be avoided. “Clarity and simplicity is the order of the day,” says Gidda.

The new title is aimed at ABC1 men aged between 35 and 45 years old. Judging the target market for the current crop of lad mags can be difficult: the editorial content seems to be aimed at 14-year-olds, but the products advertised are expensive cars, stereos, and aftershaves. There is a sizeable crop of phone sex lines, too. A selection of articles includes FHM’s Letters from Lesbos and Loaded’s regular Pornalikes – in which viewers send in stills from pornographic films where the participants (barely) resemble celebrities.

Quest, it is claimed, will look at more serious issues. Research undertaken by Blue Sky among men over 30 reveals they want a magazine with “achievable realism, genuinely interesting features… which they would not be embarrassed brandishing on the tube”. Ad ratios will initially be low, as you’d expect in a new launch, but Gidda says there will be a long-term commitment not to allow advertising to dominate the magazine.

Day-to-day design and layout will now be handled by Blue Sky, but Siebert Head will remain available to the company for brand positioning advice. If Quest is successful the consultancy will be brought back to work on further launches.

The success of Quest, and Blue Sky, depend on whether a market can be created among men who otherwise don’t buy magazines, meaning some slick marketing may be required. Whether that is achievable will be decided soon: Quest will be on sale next March.

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