Lads' magazines tone down covers to avoid ban by Tesco

Lads' mags Zoo, Nuts and Front have agreed to produce “more modest” covers in order avoid being placed in protective bags by retailer Tesco.

The supermarket giant has also agreed a deal with the three titles that its stores will only sell the magazines to over-18s.

Tesco also plans to ensure the magazines are placed at the back of racks so that the covers are obscured with only the title visible. Dennis Publishing, the publisher of alternative culture magazine Bizarre, will supply its magazine to Tesco in a bag.

Tesco, which has 3,000 stores in the UK, said that while approaches from campaign group Lose the Lads' Mags ad an effect on the decision, its primary concern was what customers thought.

A Tesco spokesperson said: “We have had in-depth conversations with our customers about this issue and we're putting new measures in place based on what they have told us they want. We've listened carefully to the concerns raised by the campaign groups but our priority is to make sure we meet our customers' needs and expectations.”

Speaking to Press Gazette, they added that the conversations had taken place through focus groups and surveys held both in store and online. The decision of which magazines to strike a deal with was, they said, “a judgment-call based on customer feedback”. Asked what "more modest" covers entailed, the spokesperson answered that it signified an end to nudity on covers, and toned-down language.

The move comes after campaigning in recent months by Lose the Lads’ Mags, whose members insist these magazines’ front covers, which traditionally feature images of semi-nude models, treat women as sex objects.

The feminist campaign group expressed its disappointment with the deal. The group’s spokeswoman Sophie Bennett said: “Tesco has been forced to act because of the thousands of people who have protested against their sale of sexist, harmful lads’ mags. Yet age-restricting lads’ mags is a half-measure which fails to address the harmful impact of stocking these sexist publications and ensures Tesco can continue profiting from them.”

A spokesperson for Zoo publisher Bauer Media said that “Zoo have addressed the cover by toning down the look and feel whereby models are now in lingerie or bikinis only, there are non-salacious cover lines and more non-girl editorial. The covers appeal to a target audience of young males with fun and entertaining content.”

The spokesperson confirmed the new covers for Zoo have been in operation already “for three to four weeks”. The new covers apply to all copies of the magazine, not just those sold in Tesco.

A spokesperson for Bizarre told the BBC that its decision to supply the magazine to Tesco in a bag would allow it to "stay true to our brand, as well as respect the retailers' request".

Nuts magazine has initiated a ‘Hands off our Nuts’ counter-campaign after the Co-operative Group went one step further in its restrictions.

The supermarket chain has introduced opaque screens for lads’ mags, and has instructed all publishers that unless they seal the magazines in "modesty bags", the supermarket will take the magazines off sale. Loaded, Nuts, Zoo and Front have been given until 9 September to make these changes.

Bauer Media stated in a press release that: “We are aware of The Co-operative’s request for Zoo magazine to be put in sealed modesty bags in its stores.  

“Bauer Media is a responsible publisher and supports the existing best-practice guidelines for the display of men’s magazines, which have been drawn up by the PPA in association with the National Federation of Retail Newsagents and endorsed by the Home Office. We are sensitive to the mood of the public, to that end we have responded accordingly and have changed Zoo magazine's cover imagery and phrasing.”

“We already have agreements in place with all major retailers, including Co-op, to ensure Zoo magazine is displayed appropriately and we work closely with all our retailers to ensure they are adhered to.”

In the second half of 2012 Nuts sold 80,186 copies a week (down 29.7 per cent year on year), Zoo 44,068 (down 19.3 per cent), Front 30,061 (down 11.8 per cent) and Bizarre 17,088 (down 16.4 per cent).

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