Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Magazines: How 'Vogue' and the other cool prints stay ahead

Magazines: How 'Vogue' and the other cool prints stay ahead
By Sophie Morris

Sales of newspapers and magazines may have been hit at the news-stands, but print can still be cool, according to those polled in an annual survey of Britain's hippest brands.

True, it will not be the print brands that make headlines when the top 20 "CoolBrands", an initiative of the SuperBrands consultancy, are announced on Thursday. Nor will it come as a surprise to find global internet phenomena such as YouTube, Google and eBay among the highest ranked. What should turn the heads of those sounding the death knell for newsprint are the 22 publications that make it into the top 500.

"There is a misconception that to be cool you need to be new. That's not true," says Stephen Cheliotis, chairman of the CoolBrands council and managing director of SuperBrands. The list confirms this, certainly where print media are concerned. Vogue is 115 years old but is still seen as the coolest brand in print, at No. 69. Vanity Fair, still a few years short of a full century, is not far behind at 112. The Guardian (166), The Observer (207), The Independent (223) and The Sunday Times (367) show that newspapers can still be considered hip. Perhaps unsurprisingly, style magazines such as i-D (328), Dazed & Confused (311), Pop (201) and Another Magazine (365) all feature.

CoolBrands are not measured by traditional criteria such as size and sales. Cheliotis asks his judging panel - 25 arbiters of style from the creative industries, including Dylan Williams of advertising firm Mother London and Ekow Eshun, the artistic director of the Institute for Contemporary Arts - to remember that "cool" is subjective, and to bear in mind the words "stylish", "innovative", "original", "authentic", "desirable" and "unique" when ranking the thousands of brands picked by independent researchers. The list is eventually whittled down to 500 with the help of a YouGov public survey, and ranked based on a combination of public and expert opinion.

Dylan Williams joined the council back in 2003 when he was given the tall order of defining "cool" for a CoolBrands publication. He came up with: "an adherence to a belief system which champions something over time and pursues it with a degree of energy. The last mercurial little element I suppose you would call attitude. Muhammad Ali's stance on Vietnam conscription is as cool now as it was at the time."

Williams was pleased to see Vogue placed so high - "it stands the test of time within its market" - and he is a big fan of the art direction of fledgling style magazine Marmalade (458 on the list). Mainstream magazines such as Vogue, Grazia (243) and GQ (289) are perceived to be just as cool as their edgier competitors, but in the newspaper market only the quality titles get a look in; there is no sign of the red tops.

"I don't think any of the tabloids were on the radar because we found it quite hard to establish a belief system around The Sun or The Mirror compared to 10 or 15 years ago," explains Williams. "The Sun doesn't have a cause they advance in the same way they did in the Eighties." He says the Labour and Conservative Parties are not on the list for the same reasons.

The quality papers, on the other hand, move with the times and react to their consumers. The Independent and The Guardian, says Williams, "champion free, liberal thinking, and have confidence in the population to infer conclusions for themselves."

Cheliotis says: "You can be cheap and cool, but with certain brands there is a little bit of snobbishness. The Sun might be witty and original but people probably think it's a chavvy and white-van man. It's not cool."

How, then, will these brands benefit from acquiring CoolBrand status? "If something is thought of as being cool, it is desirable. People want to be involved with it and they buy it," says Cheliotis.

In his quest to nail down the biggest, coolest consumer brands, Cheliotis has been keeping an eye on anti-consumerist thinking. "After Naomi Klein and No Logo, some people were saying brands are dead," he says. "Actually, the opposite is true. We don't even trust non-governmental organisations at the moment - is that money I'm giving to WWF really going to the animals or is it lining a lawyer's pocket?"

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