The 1990s has seen a huge increase in the number and frequency of
loyalty magazines mailed out by car companies in the UK. According to a
recent Mintel report, the automotive sector now accounts for 6% of the
contract publishing market, investing pounds 11m in magazine
While not the largest user of contract publishing - travel, financial
services, retail, business-to-business and leisure and sport all come
ahead of it - car makers are increasingly embracing magazines as part of
their marketing strategy.
Increased competition has brought the cost of finding new customers into
sharp relief against the benefits of retaining existing ones. The
recession of the early 90s proved a tonic for car manufacturers in this
respect, bloated as they were by the illusion of an all-powerful car
economy and ever-shortening purchase cycles.
But along with the recession came a reappraisal of the car culture.
’Banana mould’ technology meant more lookalike cars, undermining some
manufacturers’ carefully established brand values.
But the past couple of years have seen marked change. Car design has
improved and with it has come a renewed sense of individuality. Car
makers have learned not to brag about the wonders of high-speed,
wind-in-the-hair motoring and instead to focus on ways of relating cars
to other aspects of consumers’ life, such as young children, the
environment and surviving the urban jungle.
This can be traced to the arrival of MPVs (aka ’people carriers’ such as
the Renault Espace) and four-wheel-drives, but today’s car marketers are
a generation that understands the critical importance of brand evolution
and customer segmentation.
Meeting the market’s needs
Hence the prominent role now played by loyalty magazines - a marketing
tool that creates a stronger sense of family than perhaps any other.
And with purchase cycles retreating from the manic frequency of the
late-80s, keeping existing customers in ’the family’ will become more
important than ever.
According to Mintel’s research, almost 40% of consumers keep loyalty
magazines for future reference, 38% appreciate the special offers and
money-off coupons attached, and 30% find the articles interesting. This
helps explain why the average client involved in customer magazine
titles now spends 23% of its total marketing budget on contract titles,
with more than 40% expecting to increase spend in the future. The 23%
figure sounds high, but when you look at the number of loyalty magazines
out there - and the high production values involved - it seems
In 1996, the number of car loyalty magazines was just into double
Now, there are few car makers who don’t have one. The list of those who
do includes BMW, Ford, Vauxhall, Saab, Peugeot, Volvo, Toyota, Lexus,
Jaguar, Rolls-Royce, Nissan, Land Rover, Renault, Porsche, Mazda, Fiat,
Audi, Mercedes, Lotus and MG.
Reaching the top end
Recently rejuvenated Lotus Cars has just launched its loyalty magazine,
produced by River Publishing, which also does BMW’s magazine.
River marketing director Nicola Murphy believes magazines are ’perfectly
suited to the car buyer, particularly at the top end of the market. It
helps to develop the brand world that the customer has bought into.’
It does this, she says, by presenting relevant lifestyle editorial,
sympathetic advertising, exclusive promotions and incentives targeted at
the needs of the reader. It’s important to remember that often this
reader will be a prospect rather than an existing customer.
As we move into the last year of the database decade, these kind of
publications are being allied more strongly than ever to car firms’
direct marketing activity. Gone are the days when DM was considered far
too grubby for the pristine pages of a loyalty magazine.
Indeed, Murphy takes great pride in the fact that BMW has increased the
accuracy of its customer data by ’over 100%’ by using the offers and
promotions in its magazine to mine lifestyle data.
Flushed with this success, River is setting out to use its Lotus
offering, Pure Lotus, ’to enhance and grow their database’.
As well as capturing data and creating a two-way communications channel
with customers, loyalty magazines are a useful way of flagging new car
launches, company-sponsored events, supporting high-profile ad campaigns
and even creating new direct sales channels.
BMW has done this by launching a loyalty magazine spin-off, mailed out
alongside the main title and dubbed a ’magalogue’. It has high
production values to tantalise readers with an array of BMW fashion
items and accessories.
Ironically, BMW has had to put extra emphasis on its magazine because
service intervals have become much longer, according to spokesman Chris
BMW’s engineering prowess and reliability was undermining its customer
relationships - because BMW dealers were seeing owners less often. ’Our
magazine is a way of keeping customers aware of things about the BMW
brand which they otherwise wouldn’t have heard,’ says Willows.
But how cost effective are loyalty magazines for car makers? Not
surprisingly, this notoriously secretive bunch - at least, when it comes
to below-the-line spend - are reluctant to provide details.
What many of them say, however, is that magazines are cheap compared
with mainstream advertising - estimates range from 50p to 80p a copy -
and have the benefit of intimacy between customer or prospect that
other, less personal, media lacks.
Toby Smeeton, a publisher at TPD, which produces In Front for Toyota,
says: ’The message that goes out is not as simple as in, say, an
expensive TV campaign. Relatively speaking, customer magazines can
transmit quite complex multiple messages much more cheaply.’
Things are a lot more scientific in this area nowadays, with consumer
focus groups playing a prominent role in the design and strategy of car
According to BMW research, 77% of its readers say the magazine makes
them feel more positive about the BMW brand.
As with other high-profile loyalty magazines, car company titles now
include a fair bit of advertising. This non-editorial content can have
the effect of making a corporate publication seem more like a consumer
magazine than a showroom brochure.
There is one caveat, however, which is that ads, and the magazine
generally, must be in line with the brand values. Sunday supplement-type
ads for naff china dolls are given a wide berth by every car loyalty
magazine worth its salt. For instance, advertisers in BMW magazine are
typically upmarket holiday resorts such as Sandals, jewellery makers
such as Wellendorff and speed-boat manufacturers.
Since they don’t need to break even, let alone make a profit, car
company magazines can be selective about ads. A title such as Queste,
mailed to Rolls-Royce owners, is inundated by eager would-be advertisers
but sends most of them packing.
David Fernando, publishing director of Premier Magazines, which produces
Queste and VM, Vauxhall’s title, says the Rolls-Royce offering is
’hardly likely to make anyone go out and buy a Rolls or a Bentley. It’s
there to reflect the panache, exclusivity and so on of being part of a
select group, so any advertising we carry must also reflect the stature
of the brand.’
The VM title, while just as obsessed about providing an intense brand
experience, obviously caters to a much bigger and more diverse
With a circulation of 651,816, it has replaced a number of much more
segmented Vauxhall loyalty magazines as the company’s main communication
channel. The savings are reputed to be considerable, running into
several million pounds, and Vauxhall is now expected to increase the
frequency of VM from its current three mailings a year to four.
Paul Confrey, manager of Vauxhall’s newly established relationship
marketing and new media division, is in charge of VM. He says Vauxhall
has recently undertaken some strategic navel gazing and concluded that
customer retention should be given even higher priority.
Changes to VM will be just one part of a programme of marketing events
designed along these lines this year.
And while Confrey admits that a few years ago it could be hard work
fighting for marketing budget against better established channels, the
tide has now moved decisively in his direction.
’Senior decision makers at companies have come to realise that keeping
hold of what you’ve got, especially in times of media fragmentation and
TV inflation, is more cost-effective. It’s seen as a no-brainer and
anyone involved in relationship marketing and contact programmes is
pushing at an open door. Arguing my case is getting easier by the
The two-way communications channel sounds impressive, but does it
Absolutely, says Jim Addison at Specialist Publications, which produces
the Peugeot magazine, Rapport. As well as running plenty of news and
lifestyle articles, it also carries a generous dollop of special offers
’We get a substantial number of people who write to us after every issue
(it goes out three times a year with a circulation of 250,000) and
provide loads of feedback,’ says Addison.
This might range from asking Peugeot to keep them on the mailing list
because they are moving house, to an enthusiastically returned
’We get a pretty dramatic response to promotions - about 8% on our last
prize draw, which would be the envy of many sales promotion agencies,’
Just as Premier Magazines works closely with GGT Direct on its VM title,
so Specialist Publications has strong ties with Peugeot’s main DM
’If, for example, we’re including a reader response card,’ says Addison,
’we’ll work in conjunction with Brann to ensure that data is collected
in a way which allows it to be easily manipulated on the existing
Peugeot customer database.’
Of course, what car marketers must not lose sight of is the emotional
experience at the heart of these publications.
Industry research shows that at least half all car buyers are much more
emotional about this particular purchase than almost any other - often
including their own home.
Chris Thomas, chief executive of ad agency Ammirati Puris Lintas, is
four editions into a new customer magazine he is producing for Rover’s
’It’s about fuelling people’s passion,’ he states, emphasising that it’s
not just sexy, exotic cars that exercise the emotions.
Having previously worked for six years on the Volvo magazine, Thomas
vividly recalls the ’hundreds of letters’ that would pour in from Volvo
loyalists, singing brand values like sturdiness and safety to the
But of all the justifications for having a car loyalty magazine,
Toyota’s contract publisher, TPD, must have the simplest and most
The rationale behind In Front magazine, says publisher Toby Smeeton, ’is
to drive brand loyalty so that repurchase becomes an instinct not a
TOP TEN CAR MAGS
Title Circulation (ABC Jan-June ’98)
AA Magazine 3,986,272
Ford Magazine* 769,231
VM - The Vauxhall Magazine* 651,816
Motoring & Leisure 321,547
Top Gear 181,138
BMW Magazine* 172,661
What Car 158,265
Auto Express 91,723
* Contract magazines