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Holding out for a hero

  • Date:

    10 June 2020

Holding out for a hero

Magazine brands are like sidekicks to other media, writes Jon Restall – and during difficult times they really do pack a punch

This article first appeared on Mediatel Newsline

It’s difficult right now to try and translate the work we do in advertising against a backdrop of real-life heroes, particularly those in the NHS. It’s a humbling time and many businesses have been forced into significant permanent change.

As businesses we need to learn how to adapt quickly and respond to our customers’ needs by planning for both present and future. This will ensure we are in the best shape post- lockdown; playing our own part in reactivating the UK economy.

There are lessons that we as an industry can learn from the past right now. Both Kantar and Mark Ritson have highlighted in the past week the benefits of continuing to advertise for both short and longer term effect. It’s not the first time Mark Ritson’s words have resonated. Speaking at Magnetic’s Spark conference, he described magazine brands as a “great catalyst” for other media – likening them as the Robin to other media’s Batman.

This got Magnetic and I thinking. We analysed the characteristics of sidekicks and studied the research evidence behind magazines to see if the theory stacks up. It does – and some of the positive assets of a sidekick are arguably even more valuable during this uncertain and unusual time.


Whilst it is harder to be consistently positive currently, readers do see magazines as a positive experience. They set ‘me time’ aside – something which has increased drastically –  to consume them and experience purpose and pleasure as a result. We are lucky to live in a country producing quality news content. But there is a mindset difference between consuming news and seeking inspiration about passions.

According to PAMCO, 88% see magazine consumption – editorial and advertising – as time well spent. When people are in a positive frame of mind, they’re more open to commercial messages. Research in 2019 by Hearst and Theobalds Road found that positive people were 18% more likely to be favourable to brands, 90% more likely to try something new and 35% more likely to buy a product or service.

Passion and commitment

Magazines are created by passionate editorial staff for readers who feel just as strongly. According to Enders Analysis’ ‘Passion Pound’ research, over 50% of discretionary UK spending is linked to personal passions driven by identity e.g. food, travel and sport.

Additionally, TI Media’s ‘Live the Passion’ study found 50% of consumers want to see ads as much as content when it comes to passions and two in three “love it when ads tap into their passions”. We are witnessing increased demand for content around recipes, DIY and family time, mirroring trends seen in retail and e-commerce.

New data from our weekly Coronavirus Insight tracker, via TI Media panel “The Lens”, reveals 43% of UK adults are engaging more with their hobbies and passions and 25% report that spend on them has increased during the crisis.


The merits of trust during a pandemic is a theme well beyond the bounds of this article – but even the slightest glance at news or social media content shows mistrust of government actions both in the UK and the US.

Magazine brands provide a trusted environment, which matters when – as both ISBA and the Advertising Association acknowledge – trust in media and advertising is falling. Trust in the magazine environment rubs off on brands that advertise in the channel — Ritson calls it the signaling effect.

In Ofcom’s 2019 News Consumption study, magazines ranked as the most trustworthy news source. Asked “which media makes me more confident about buying advertised or featured products”, print and online magazine media ranked highest (at 56% and 55% respectively), according to the Magazine Publishers of Australia.

Commanding attention

Kantar’s webinar on brand resilience during Covid-19 raised the opportunity of communicating a relevant message with Brits, with Tesco and Heinz already benefitting through positive action.  Magnetic’s ‘Attention Please’ research demonstrates that relevance is a key driver of attention. People read magazines because they are relevant to their lives or passions. These readers welcome advertising, with 82% disagreeing with the statement “if this media didn’t have any advertising, it would be a lot better”.

Attention is a critical factor in success. Lumen’s eye-tracking data shows that prompted recall increases in line with the amount of attention an ad receives. If you are having to make a budget work harder right now, attention to your message should be at the forefront.

Hard working

It’s here we find the critical role of magazines. In the current climate it’s easy to save budget by cutting the support channel. But sidekicks work hard, and while their efforts can be overshadowed by the superhero, it’s worth looking closely to see their value. Working with the IPA Effectiveness Databank, Peter Field noted “consumer magazines seem to produce surprisingly big effects given their share of the budget”.

In campaigns reporting ‘very large business effects’, those using magazines saw a 23% uplift in sales and a 161% improvement in customer acquisition gain versus those not using magazines. These figures could come in useful when companies start to grow again, as could a redistribution of media budgets back in favour of magazine brands.

Magazines: superheroes too…

Magazines, however, can be superheroes too. Two great examples and winners of Magnetic’s Spotlight awards show us how.

Public Health England partnered with Bauer magazines, including Grazia, Heat and Take a Break, to drive awareness and uptake of cervical screening. The results: 59% of readers took action as a result of the campaign, including encouraging others to attend a screening and there was a 17% increase in screenings.

Welcome to Yorkshire tourist promotion body teamed up with TI Media titles, including Country Life, Marie Claire and Cycling Weekly, to attract visitors to the North York Moors National Park with content aligned to the passions of readers of those brands. Of those surveyed, 63% said they planned to visit and 7% had already booked a trip

One thing that is for certain is that when we leave this crisis, many companies will adopt new ways of working and communicating with consumers. Hopefully magazine brands can be a growing and important part of this new world, whether as superhero or sidekick.

Jon Restall is head of agency partnerships, TI Media