MEXICO CITY, Mexico — When executives from international fashion brands meet media moguls in this sprawling city, they are looking for a slice of Latin American’s $160 billion fashion market. But some advertisers are starting to realise that there are several stylish women’s glossies, unknown to the outside world, which are just as influential as the big global fashion titles — and sometimes more so.
“It turns out Vanidades magazine is what interests them the most,” recounted journalist Mari Rodriguez Ichaso, who clarified that she’s not directly involved in sales. With her warm, enthusiastic demeanour and forty-five years with the magazine, she sometimes serves as the liaison for potential clients. Those in the know are aware that few publications boast such a rich history and intimate connection with the local readers.
Created in the prosperous yet tumultuous Cuba of the 1930s, Vanidades quickly became a favourite among high-class women. When the revolution forced the magazine's exile to New York in 1960, it already had a print run of 170,000 copies circulating continentally and sales offices from Havana to London and Buenos Aires.
Today, it’s owned by Mexico-based Televisa, the biggest Spanish language media conglomerate in the world, and it continues to be one of the most popular and beloved titles in the region. “I have directed what I think are the five most important magazines aimed at our market [Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour and Vogue] and with none [have] I received the response that I have with Vanidades,” said Jacqueline Blanco, who directed the magazine from 2005 to 2016, and now serves as deputy editor.
This doesn’t mean international titles don’t have their place in the region. In some territories, their market share continues to increase. The Latin American edition of Vogue, for example, has been gaining traction most recently in Colombia and Peru, while local editions of Elle have been on the market for 20 to 30 years in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.
But with some local magazines nearing their 100-year anniversary, like Argentina’s Para Ti, which has been around since 1922 serving up to four generations of women, loyalty and legacy can count for a lot. Even with the endless choice of fashion media available today, both online and in print, that kind of rapport is something that can’t be built overnight.
The resilience of homegrown titles
“Claudia remains the biggest female magazine in Brazil, but it’s more about style than fashion,” said Tatiana Schibuola, who in August stepped down as editor-in-chief of the 56 year-old magazine, published by Editora Abril.
In Chile, Grupo Copesa’s Paula magazine just celebrated its 50th anniversary. “Grandmothers read it, then the mothers, now the granddaughters. It’s embedded in the DNA of Chilean women,” said Nina Mackenna, who was creative editor of Paula for 17 years before founding menswear style magazine SML in 2014.
Much like in the rest of the world, fashion magazines in Latin America continue to walk a fine line between print and digital media. “We have a strong digital team in place, but we can’t leave print aside because fashion continues to be more interesting on paper,” said Lila Ochoa, editorial director of Fucsia, Colombia’s leading women's style title. Tamara Gonzalez Litman, Colombia editor for Fashion Network, a Paris-based fashion business site, also notes the aspirational nature of the local public, saying that print is still important because Colombians “like to have ‘evidence’ of what they read.”
Lany Blanco, president and founder of Editorial Link, a monitoring agency that tracks the editorial coverage of luxury brands in Latin America and the Caribbean, agreed that there is still an attachment to traditional magazines. “Probably 80 percent of advertising spend is still in print media,” she said, referring to luxury brands, noting that “little by little” they have started to invest in digital banners, collaborations and partnerships with influencers.
Grandmothers read it, then the mothers, now the granddaughters. It’s embedded in the DNA of Chilean women.
In the Dominican Republic, Pandora — edited by Spanish TV network Multimedios — is one of longest standing magazines. While in Puerto Rico, Imagen, which was established in 1986, continues to be a local reference. Blanco says that both territories are becoming strong players in the Caribbean, particularly the former where she has noticed “an increase in the number of publications.”
Carlos Ochoa, chief client officer at Netquest, a research firm focused on Spain, Portugal and Latin America, believes the loss of traditional media readers to the internet has been cushioned by the growth of “a new media consumer coming from the emerging social middle-classes of the population, particularly in countries like in Mexico or Brazil.” Although he noted that "the effect is transitory."
Indeed, in this time of transition, even Latin America’s biggest editorial conglomerates, which historically have leveraged their domestic market strength to become dominant players in the region, are facing challenges. Televisa recently relocated most of its South American operations to Miami and Mexico, and closed six titles in Argentina including Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Vanidades.
“There is a tendency towards digital because of its comfort and immediacy,” said Favio Barón, director of Fashion Market, a trade publication that specialises in Latin American fashion business. Grupo Clarín, Argentina’s biggest media company (which also publishes Elle), has reduced 20 percent of print over the past ten years, although their online platform has the most traffic in the country.
Peru’s largest publisher, Grupo El Comercio, has reduced circulation by 50 percent. According to one of the country’s most prominent fashion bloggers, Adriana Seminario, “almost everything fashion-related is moving through the digital channels, from influencers and brands to fashion entrepreneurs.”
Some of the most resilient Spanish and Portuguese-language titles like Spain’s ¡Hola! and Portugal’s Caras are celebrity-driven and include special fashion issues and runway coverage. Both brands have local editions in almost every country in the region, including the US Hispanic market. Similarly, regional titles like Cosas in Chile, Perú and Ecuador continue to be popular. “Women still go to the beauty salons to read their magazines while they're getting their hair done. It's still common in these markets,” said Blanco.
In Brazil, fashion titles have also suffered. "Convincing advertisers to be on paper has been a daily war,” said Schibuola. Last December Estilo (Brazilian InStyle) stopped circulating, while Gloss disappeared entirely in 2013.
Daniela Pizzeta, a consultant for Iguatemi Empresa de Shopping Centers, said that in Brazil, local editions of international magazines (like Vogue or Elle, for instance) have always been as strong as the homegrown titles because of their “unique and warm way of communicating local and global subjects.” But she explained that both the content and audience are very different from that of their parent editions.
But the fact that print is shrinking hasn't stopped other brands from entering the market. Take Mexico, for example, with the emergence of L’Officiel in 2014 and Conde Nast’s Vanity Fair in 2015, or even the birth of independent magazines like Revista 192, which will see its 10th anniversary next year.
“Contrary to popular belief, new generations are interested in having print magazines,” said Claudia Candano editor-in-chief of Elle Mexico, while acknowledging the importance of digital. She said this is why they’ve recently adapted print to be more inclusive and “speak to the mothers as well as the daughters.”
Revenues for media owners in Latin America are set to grow to $26.3 billion in 2018, a year-on-year increase of 9.3 percent, according to Magna’s global advertising forecast. And with a US Hispanic population of almost 60 million with purchasing power close to $1.5 trillion a year, it’s no surprise Time Inc. has also launched a new digital platform, Time Inc Latino, to cater specifically to this audience.
Adapting digital content strategies
“Before, the primary medium was the magazine, but print is changing," said Karla Martinez, editorial director for Vogue Mexico and Latin America. She explained that although fashion news is mostly consumed through digital channels, “some brands still want exclusives for print.”
By 2019, the Internet user penetration in Latin America is forecasted to increase to 60.9 percent, according to Statista. It’s no wonder that Condé Nast Mexico and Latin America appointed its digital director, Joaquín Colino, as the new chief executive last August, a move that suggests the publisher may intend to revamp its digital strategy in the upcoming months.
“We have to adapt to the current times where digital has a relevance that was unthinkable a decade ago,” said Carolina Babiani, editorial director of Argentinian glossy Para Ti, which recently partnered with digital publisher Infobae for the management of their online platform. “Paper continues to be strong because, in digital, we are still figuring out the business,” she said.
Revenues for media owners in Latin America are set to grow to $26.3 billion in 2018, a year-on-year increase of 9.3 percent.
According to Silvia Maggiani, director of Argentinian PR firm Urban Media, the crisis of legacy titles is not about them competing against each other, but with influencers and fashions brands that “have also become media themselves.” She added that brands continue to advertise in print because of positioning, but “publications [in Latin American] need to draw a lot more from the online conversation.”
"Brands are starting to get more creative," said Editorial Link’s Blanco, stating that although luxury fashion has been slow to tap the influencer opportunity in the region, they're starting to notice the potential, especially since there's a high return on investment when compared to traditional advertising.
Some of these influencers were already in the public eye before becoming online sensations, like actresses Tatiana Vargas, Andrea Serna, Calu Rivero and Marina Ruy Barbosa, as well as former Miss Peru Natalie Vertiz and model Jenny López. But others, like Pam Allier, Thassia Neves, Camila Coutinho and newer sensation Juanpa Zurita, built their names almost entirely in the digital sphere.
Gonzalez Litman agreed that influencers are gaining traction but argued that quality is still lacking. “There isn’t a Chiara Ferragni or a Man Repeller yet, who will go a little bit further. We’re still in a superficial phase of building looks and giving fashion tips,” she said, adding that brands are being cautious with their ad spend because of Colombia's recent economic hurdles.
In Brazil, magazine brands have been growing digitally and on social media, as Schibuola points out. Claudia boasts 1.7 million Facebook fans for instance, and teen media brand Capricho has over 3.3 and 7 million followers on Instagram and Facebook, respectively. But she says that despite the "heroic work" of digital teams and increasing online audiences, "revenue is still poor."
The importance of local content
“In Colombia, print editorials have to include products from their advertisers, which are usually big international brands. However, they also feature local designers because Colombians like to buy local talent; it’s the way it has always been,” according to Cloclo Echavarria, co-founder of Creo Consulting, a firm specialised in promoting Latin American designers internationally.
Martinez said it's important to feature content from Latin America, "so the world sees it." She added that doing local features is also key, and that this is why Vogue Latin America has special inserts for the editions in Colombia, Chile and Peru.
Cheryl Santos, editor of Vice Media's i-D México concurs, said: “New generations like to acknowledge and speak about their Latin heritage. They don’t look at external publications as the absolute source of information and they aim to consume content aligned with those values.”
This is, in part, why new and longer-standing independent titles have managed to carve their niches, like DMag, Remix and Regia in Argentina; Haunted, Código, DNA and Meow in Mexico; or Skin in Peru, for instance.
“Brands are opening up to do something unconventional and work with alternative media, even conservative ones," said founder and editor-in-chief of Revista 192 Fabiola Zamora. "However, it's clear that there is a need to maintain these traditional titles as allies." Nevertheless, she acknowledged that the importance of independent magazines is more understood and respected today than in the past.
“Big titles will always exist and will continue to offer a different platform to what independent magazines offer,” said Gabriel Valdez, editor of Mexico’s Haunted magazine. "Indies speak to a niche that consumes fashion, not only as an industry, but also intellectually."
Santos pointed out that Latin American readers want to see more progressive and fresh editorial ideas. “I’ve seen incredible [fashion] not being showcased because of fear that the public might not be ready for it [but] Latin America is not only ready, it appreciates being treated as an intelligent public, capable of absorbing the new, even if [it’s hard to digest at first].”
Editor's Note: This article was revised on 16 January, 2018. A previous version of this article misstated that Daniela Pizzeta is the marketing manager for Iguatemi Empresa de Shopping Centers. This is incorrect. Daniela Pizzeta is a consultant for Iguatemi Empresa de Shopping Centers.