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07 . 08 . 20

How to use magazines effectively in the media mix

Words by: Print Power
Magazine media reach up-market audiences who tend to be light television viewers. Increasingly, however, magazine media’s expanded reach on mobile and social media means that they can also be deployed on a more tactical basis. Evidence from multiple studies demonstrates that magazine media also deliver short-term ROI. The targeted nature of magazine media heightens perceptions of relevancy for consumers. This environment means consumers are more open to advertising messages placed here, a key strength in an era of adblocking.


It may be easy to associate magazine media with the traditional print format, but in the last decade magazine media brands have evolved into full multi-platform offerings which span print, digital editions, apps, desktop, mobile, social media, radio, video and TV and even live events. Magazine media are increasing defined by content rather than platform. From this perspective, magazine media are best described as professionally edited, original content that focuses on a particular passion point shared by the brand and the reader.

Where to start

Magazine media continue to enjoy substantial reach in developed nations. In the US, where consumers tend to purchase magazines on an annual subscription basis, the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) reports that magazine media reach more than 90% of the population. In the UK, The Publishers Audience Measurement Company (PAMCo) reports reach at 72% of the population. Many will be surprised, however, to learn that millennials are more likely to be consuming magazine media than their older counterparts in both these markets. In the US, magazine media reaches 95% of millennials and the UK this figure stands at 76%

The total penetration amongst millennials is of course supported by their use of magazine media on mobile devices, yet print readership amongst this age group remains robust and comparable to older age groups. 

Reach is, however, of secondary importance when planning magazine media because it is magazine media’s ability to deliver highly engaged, highly targeted audiences with little wastage that makes them an essential part of the modern media mix. Due to magazine media’s highly selective content approach (i.e. specialisation in a particular topic or range of related topics with a high level of relevance to the reader’s interests), magazine media are, in effect, self-targeting by nature.

Due to the high level of personal relevance that magazine media content provides, the magazine media reading occasion, particularly in print, it is a deeply engaging and immersive experience which enjoys the full attention of the reader. Various neuroscience studies have confirmed the depth of this reading experience and have shown that magazine media is highly adept at stimulating the three key drivers of long-term memory encoding: narrative, emotion and personal relevance.

In fact, the process of long-term memory encoding (essential to the ability to recall messages at a later date) begins almost immediately once a consumer starts reading a magazine. Of particular importance for advertisers is that long-term memory encoding extends beyond editorial content and applies to advertising as well. This confirms at a neurological level the findings from Magnetic Media’s Moments that Matter study which shows that magazine media offer the highest levels of advertising receptiveness of all channels.


Traditional use of magazine media in brand campaigns

Magazines are probably best known for their ability to augment television brand campaigns. A plan following such a traditional approach would have led with an initial burst of television activity to ensure the broadest possible reach, following which magazines would be deployed to target tightly defined audiences which tended to be light television users. This made magazines an affordable and low wastage option to extend the life of a brand campaign and increase the frequency of exposure among key target audiences in a cost-efficient manner.

But in recent years, a number of studies have shown that magazine media can, and should, play a more prominent and diverse role on the media schedule. In particular, these studies challenge the notion that magazine media should purely be used in a brand building capacity and also clearly show that magazines have a vital role to play in generating a sales uplift in both the short and long term. In fact, magazine media are so effective at generating short-term sales that Meredith Corporation in the US launched a magazine media sales guarantee which has now been adopted by the industry as a whole.

Magazine media’s role in building brands and influencing consumer choice

Building brands and achieving sales success are inextricably linked. Millward Brown has explored this topic in depth using its Meaningfully Different Framework and extensive international database of campaign results. This shows that successful brands share five key characteristics:

  • They are top-of-mind to consumers (salience).
  • Consumers feel an affinity for them (meaningful).
  • Consumers think they will meet their needs (meaningful).
  • They are seen as unique (different).
  • They are dynamic and set category trends (different).

Millward Brown’s work confirms that brands with a strong focus on salience can show long-term growth and achieve sales success. But this work also shows that brands that perform strongly on the metrics related to being meaningful and different achieve twice the sales success and generate much higher customer loyalty in comparison to brands that focus on salience alone.

This work further highlights the role that different channels play driving the five key metrics required for creating meaningfully different brands:

  • Audio-visual channels like TV and online video play the strongest role in driving salience.
  • Big visual media like cinema and OOH are most likely to deliver affinity (brand love).
  • Informative media like newspapers and TV best help consumers understand whether a product meets their needs.
  • Targeted media like cinema and magazines are most powerful at helping consumers understand what makes a product unique.
  • Specialist channels like magazines and radio are more likely to help brands achieve dynamism (sets the trends).

The work highlights the role that different channels play in the brand building process, but the work also shows that magazines rank in the top three across every metric. Their particular sweet spot is to act as a key driver of the metrics that help consumers understand what sets one product apart from another (dynamism and uniqueness), a critical element in helping consumers narrow down product choices immediately prior to purchase. More importantly magazines are the most cost-efficient vehicle to drive all five KPIs combined.

Using different magazine formats and platforms in combination

The Millward Brown work is limited by looking at print magazines in general. Further work by Carat and Magnetic explores this topic in greater depth. The Carat work, Metrics That Matter, confirms print magazines’ ability to drive key brand building metrics, but provides more granular information on how different magazine media platforms and advertising formats work together. 

The work highlights how important it is for advertising to utilise the full spectrum of magazine media options to achieve the best results. In particular, it shows that:

  • Combining print and digital doubles the impact on brand KPIs.
  • Deploying display and advertorial/native is 20% more impactful than using display in isolation.
  • Print and digital make different contributions to KPIs. Print’s strength lies in delivering relevancy, whereas digital builds quality perceptions.
  • Native and advertorial solutions are ideally placed to deliver against multiple KPIs because they allow more detail to be communicated.
  • Native and advertorial solutions perform particularly well in terms of conveying trust and innovation, the attributes where more convincing is generally required.
When it comes to demonstrating the power of magazine media assets in all their evolving forms, we see that combining print and digital has double the impact on brand KPIs.
Anna Sampson
Magnetic - Head of Insight

The strength of magazine media online

The Carat work highlights some of the benefits in using different magazine media formats in combination, but there is also evidence which suggests that magazine media’s online formats outperform online options provided by social media, portals and content aggregators.

Work by IAB has endorsed data from analytics provider Moat, included in Metrics That Matter, that found that that magazine media showed 18% higher interaction rates and up to 30% higher interaction times relative to their benchmarks for online environments.

A separate study by Yahoo, which partnered with Innerscope, further validates the value of premium publisher environments. This research used a biometrics to invite 65 respondents to test campaigns using eye tracking and biometric responses. It find that Premium editorial environments generate:

  • Three times the lift in emotional resonance.
  • 72% lift in ad recall.
  • 26% more positive emotional resonance.

Magazine media effectiveness 

Meredith Corporation in the US provides one of the clearest indicators of magazine media’s ability to generate almost immediate ROI for advertisers. The company possesses a substantial database of controlled studies which tracks the actual purchase behaviour of consumers exposed to advertising in its magazines. It has also introduced the Meredith Sales Guarantee which measures and guarantees advertisers a pre-determined ROI for campaigns featured in its magazines. 

In each of the 66 campaigns tested this way, every single campaign showed a positive ROI. ROI varies from campaign to campaign and Meredith has recorded an ROI range from $1.16 to $27.80 for every media dollar spent. Across all campaigns, magazine media average a 10% increase in incremental sales for the products advertised.

Further work by the Advertising Research Foundation, in partnership with Yahoo, CBS, Nielsen Catalina, Meredith and Sequent Partners, explores this phenomenon in more detail and across multiple channels using more than 1,400 case studies. The findings offer a basis of comparison across multiple channels.

The study looks at effectiveness based on three different measurements:

  • Increase in household (HH) expenditure (increase in absolute spend per HH).
  • Incremental sales increase per 1,000 use impressions.
  • Return on advertising spend (incremental sales revenue relative to amount invested in channel).

The results show that TV is most effective at increasing HH expenditure, and that mobile is most effective at increasing incremental sales per 1,000 impressions, but overall it is magazines that show the highest return on advertising spend (ROAS), returning $3.95 in incremental sales for every $1 invested in marketing in the channel. By comparison linear TV shows an ROAS of $2.55 and mobile $2.45.

... overall it is magazines that show the highest return on advertising spend (ROAS), returning $3.95 in incremental sales for every $1 invested in marketing in the channel.
Leslie Wood
Nielsen Catalina Solutions

Effective frequency

Effective frequency data is challenging to come by for magazine media. When accessing metadata, magazines are frequently bundled together with newspapers in a print category and their digital assets are inevitably bundled up with online making it challenging to find a source that can provide a definitive guide on the most effective planning frequency for magazine media. But the ARF work referenced above does provide some data which can be used as a guide for all channels.

This data shows that across all brand metrics and across channels that include TV, online and print, the most significant uplift in metrics occurs across after five or more exposures. While the data doesn’t allow us to make assumptions about a maximum frequency cap, it does suggest that the minimum number of exposures to a particular campaign on any channels should be at least five.


Article first published by WARC