Advertising innovation: The magazine as a retailer

Some titles are partnering with advertisers to use their editorial credibility to endorse and promote brands. Have they crossed the line? Or, is there a line any more in the digital age? – As featured in FIPP Innovations in Magazine Media 2013 World Report

The magazine is reinventing itself by becoming a ‘transmedia’ brand. Rather than focusing solely on print content and two-dimensional ad space, Hearst and Condé Nast are partnering with selected advertisers to promote brands via editorial content.
Hearst, the world’s largest publisher of women’s magazines and home to Cosmopolitan, is leading the way; three of its flagship publications, Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, and Harper’s Bazaar, have recently partnered with big-buck advertisers such as Haute Look (owned by US retail giant Nordstrom), Amazon, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Of the three, the Saks partnership is most intriguing as it keeps the editorial flavour of Harper’s while curating must-have lists in a magazine-style layout on the new

The move for magazines to act as agencies, to create extensions of their brand which not only promote but also endorse products, is boundary-skirting, if not outright boundary-busting. Some call the phenomenon ‘branded content.’ Perhaps the most interesting part of the magazine-as-retailer discussion, however, is how magazines are redefining the medium in the post-blog world.
Rather than focusing solely on commentary, reviews, and 1990s-style journalism, magazines are successfully moving into the digital arena: forums, Twitter conversations, and Facebook status questions and polls are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Consider: in 1995, Jane, a senior in high school, scanned the racks of her local newsstand for a magazine to help her pick the perfect prom dress and paid anywhere from US$6 (for a couple of magazines) to $50 (a lot of magazines) for educated opinions. In 2013, Jane logs onto Facebook or Twitter and sends out a call to her favourite mag: “Looking for a hot prom dress, something shiny but not too extravagant (on a budget).” Within 24 hours, everyone from Jane’s friends to the magazine’s trend-monitoring editors are replying to Jane’s call for help; the magazine’s partnership with one or several of the stores targeting Jane’s demographic helps direct Jane’s purchase toward a brand that suits her needs while also reinforcing the demand for a given product in real time.

How likely are actual editors to respond to queries sent via social media? It depends on the publishing company, though many magazines, particularly under the Condé Nast umbrella, have been smart about encouraging the inside-access aspect of social media, and routinely answer queries via the two major social media channels, Twitter and Facebook.
Yet this shift toward a blending of editorial and retail content isn’t limited to social media and internet browsing. In a rather prescient statement made two years ago to The New York Times, Robin Steinberg, from Media Vest said that, “The iPad is bringing sexy back to magazines.”
And so it has; sleek photography, paired with minimalist site and app designs, are returning a focus to featured products. On an iPad, screen real estate is maximised with slideshows; within an app, users can tap to reveal text, retaining the visual impact of a pack shot. Moreover, magazines are not the only agencies around; some online retailers, such as Net-a-Porter and ASOS, are working back toward editorial roots., the brainchild of fashionista and magazine editor Natalie Massenet, is perhaps the most forward-thinking example of editorialising to sell product in the current advertising sphere. A luxury brand site, Net-a-Porter plays to consumers looking for a positive, fashionable self-perception using a magazine style blog, Fashion Fix, which features subtle purchase-now links (cleverly labeled as ‘dressing’ — ‘stage door dressing’ — as opposed to ‘shop’ or ‘buy’). 
Less fashion-focused features of the Fashion Fix blog, such as Fashion Film Friday, round out the content, again with subtle purchase links. Magazine posts, pulled from the company’s iPad magazine, include pieces on culture and style, commenting on what’s hot in film, music, and books. 

The strategy has been so successful that in late November 2012, the company’s CEO, Mark Sebba, announced plans to launch a glossy print magazine. “Traditional publishers always say that we are lucky for being born in a digital age and don’t have a legacy of print,” Sebba told Business Leaders Network’s Making it Mobile event in December 2012. “But we still see it as important.” 

But just how did Net-a-Porter decide to make what might appear to be a leap back in time? “[Founder] Natalie [Massenet] approached the enterprise as a magazine editor,” Sebba explained, referring to Massenet’s background as editor of UK titles from Women’s Wear Daily and The Tatler to Wired magazine. “She observed early on that when fashion houses held their shows, they had one collection for editors and one for the stores.” Massenet, he added, had wanted to attend shows targeting editors, and create a retailer for those clothes online. With more than 6 million monthly visitors, it’s clear Massenet’s original content focus has been effective.
Similarly, ASOS, another online fashion retailer, connects with consumers via an iPad app and a print magazine; as in the Net-a-Porter version, users can interact with content in a variety of ways — including creating wishlists and shopping.

Moving into print isn’t the only way Net-a-Porter is jumping onto the transmedia bandwagon, though. In the works is a gaming app, Suit Yourself, to promote a Karl Lagerfeld collection and Mr. Tux, an iPad magazine app.“Twelve years ago when Natalie launched Net-a-Porter, it wasn’t so much about revolutionising shopping as revolutionising the magazine industry,” said Sebba. “It’s about understanding the media side of commerce rather than just trying to move products. I don’t want to denigrate [the retail] side in any way as it pays the rent, but advertising revenue increasingly pays the rent as well.”
To find out more about Innovations in Magazine Media World Report or to order the book, visit the Innovations toolkit.  

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