For a time late in the last decade, seemingly every mattress brand, travel site, shaving kit and luxury retailer published a magazine. These companies saw slick publications filled with edgy articles and lavish photo spreads – sometimes produced by the same publishers behind fashion glossies – as the key to standing out in a crowded marketplace.
Suffice to say, brand-owned magazines didn’t take the publishing world by storm. Some quietly folded after a few issues — or just one, in the case of the dating app Bumble. Others linger on, publishing sporadically in print or as half-forgotten websites. Among the biggest success stories was Mel, the digital zine launched by Dollar Shave Club in 2015, which reliably generated buzz with articles about male escorts and cuckold consultants. It stopped publishing in April and was acquired by a private equity firm in July.
But even as the first wave of publications fades, a new generation is giving the magazine-as-marketing tool a try. Thakoon Panichgul launched the magazine HommeGirls — which he runs separately from his eponymous direct-to-consumer line — while maternity brand Hatch launched Babe by Hatch in 2020. Even the department store Neiman Marcus is resurrecting its editorial project, The Book.
Why do they bother?
Brand magazines, at their core, offer a way to build brand awareness and create deeper relationships with customers. The best will draw consumers deeper into a brand’s world without directly trying to sell them anything. This is especially important for DTC brands that have to fight for attention in a crowded field online.
“It’s my opinion that every consumer brand at some stage in their lifecycle should explore opportunities in publishing,” said Chris Cantino, partner at venture capital firm Color Capital which has invested in beauty brand Hero and apparel retailer Italic. “Brands that embrace this philosophy are able to respond quickly to cultural moments, celebrate influencers and thought leaders on their platform, and generally become seen as curators, putting them in a strong position to establish meaningful partnerships and campaigns.”
More Than a Catalogue
A brand’s magazine has to stand on its own, even if it ultimately exists to sell mattresses or lingerie. The best of the genre are filled with unique images and text, rather than user-generated content or repurposed Instagram posts.
That requires time and resources that many brands aren’t willing to devote, especially when the immediate returns are harder to measure than an image shared on social media.
“The effort and attention that the production of these magazines requires is a commitment, and as an experiment, it’s probably very fulfilling,” said Michael Miraflor, a brand strategy and media consultant who has worked with companies including LVMH, Richemont and Kering. “But as an extension of the brand’s business, the decision would have to be made whether it is an investment or a cost centre because magazines are very expensive to publish, especially when you can’t take advantage of economies of scale.”
BodyTalk — a digital publication that intimates and swimwear brand Cuup began producing in 2019 — seems to be a mix of articles about Cuup products and broader, women’s-focused lifestyle features like personal essays on breast augmentation procedures.
Topic selection is determined by how they’ll resonate with Cuup customers, even if they have nothing to do with intimates or swimwear. BodyTalk also features unique images and text, rather than repurposing content from social media.
“There wasn’t this place, from an intimates brand perspective, leading the cultural conversation and being a bit more intellectual about it,” said Abby Morgan, chief marketing officer at Cuup.
For Mytheresa, which doesn’t operate any physical stores, its biannual magazine, The Album, is a way to reach customers in the real world. Published since 2018, The Album is typically around 140 pages, and features fashion and fashion-adjacent figures such as the director Gia Coppola and the Bulgarian artist Oda Jaune. Its fifth edition, a coffee table book, included recipes from designers including Donatella Versace, Gabriela Hearst, Olivier Rousteing, Silvia Fendi and Lucie and Luke Meier.
“As we are a fully digital company, the idea of The Album was to set a counterpoint and create something tangible that shows you personalities, designers, fashion in a very different way,” said Isabel May, Mytheresa chief customer experience officer and managing director.
At many DTC brands, magazines can play a similar role to Instagram posts or email newsletters. The business goals of BodyTalk are to boost engagement with the brand on social media, amplify its influencer strategy and improve Cuup’s rank in web searches, Morgan said. How the magazine’s content performs when reposted on TikTok is one measure of success, she said.
“We can focus on the story behind [influencers] that we want to be a part of the brand … without having to just have that visual, billboard-like social component,” she said.
Analysing the performance of articles can help inform everything from product development to marketing campaigns and brand positioning, Cantino said. Using a shortcode or QR code to access the digital magazine can aid in tracking customer use of the magazine. Top-performing content can be repurposed into ads.
Still, there’s a finger, less tangible measure of success for many brand magazines.
“People appreciate when you can put [a brand magazine] up on a shelf or on a coffee table and admire it right versus your standard ... glossy fashion magazines,” Miraflor said. “There’s a different appreciation that comes with a brand magazine that’s very well done.”