Looking through magazines in what is irksomely termed the ‘mature’women’s sector, I am reminded of a famous remark by Gloria Steinem. When someone said that she didn’t look 50, she replied ‘But this is what 50 looks like.’
Likewise, these titles are not sedate and elastic-waisted, but vigorous, stylish, even libidinous. Look, there’s Kylie on the cover of Woman & Home! (2) Good Housekeeping has introduced a hunk to lust after, the first month is Ashes to Ashes’ rugged Philip Glenister (3). No wonder its sales are steady and rising (GH is rock solid on 461,000, W&H up 6.3 per cent to 336,000) while younger women’s magazines fight harder than ever to retain fickle readers.
These are mags slap bang in middle England, and getting them right echoes Stuart Rose’s challenge at Marks & Spencer: be contemporary but not muttonish, retain timeless values without being dull. The average British 40 to 60-year-old may consider a bit of Botox but would recoil from facelift, still has home at the centre of her heart, but is more than a homemaker.
Because the younger glossies are now a dreary, homogeneous soup of celebrity and shopping, they look and feel interchangeable. Because they address readers only as consumers, they don’t engender any more loyalty than you’d give to your latest lipstick. But these older titles successfully evoke a community of readers and tap into a latent female desire to connect; in Woman & Home’s case literally with its own readers’ book, walking and supper clubs.
And how refreshing to open a magazine with something to read. I am not being glib here. Apart from celeb interviews, feature
content has been sucked out of editorial, replaced with page after page of advertiser-pleasing ‘hot buys”. Woman & Home has a delightful feature about the Oscars (1) by Helen Mirren’s sister, plus well-written, intelligent first-person accounts of deciding to have a baby alone, and selling up the family home.
Good Housekeeping has, outside of Which?, the most authoritative consumer research in publishing: readers know that when they are recommended a washing machine it is not a whim plucked from a press release, but because the Good Housekeeping Institute has had a dozen models full of carefully stained garments, thumping away for weeks. Now that editorial content is free and omnipresent in a multitude of media, it is authority that readers truly value.
The mature market has also lately become more aspirational, reflecting modern consumer desires. Clunky page design and an old-fashioned palette has been replaced with modern, clean lines. And the clothes and homes featured are no longer bread and butter fare but the stuff of (broadly attainable) dreams.
It would seem that the revival of Essentials (4) (up 28.9 per cent to 94,122 in the latest ABCs), as another ‘older’title, comes from a surge of weekly readers who find their old mag too dowdy and downmarket. Indeed, Essentials now looks like a glossy, tidied-up version of Woman (5).
On their trickiest topic, growing old, both Good Housekeeping and Woman &Home steer a careful course, ‘alleviating the signs of aging”, in beautyspeak, without making readers feel bad about the inevitable. In this, they are aided by an extraordinary damburst of older, likable cover-worthy women celebrities – Mirren, Nigella, Trinny & Tranny, Sharon Osbourne, Amanda Redman (6) – who seem at ease with their maturer selves.
But real people are featured too – and not just the ‘real beautiful people’allowed in CondÃ© Nast titles. The mature titles are thriving because they are the only sector which reflects women’s lives in the round. Unlike the glossies they don’t leave you feeling inadequate or ugly – just to make you buy more stuff – but optimistic, warm-hearted and can-do.