MEDIA: Lads’ mags in branding risk - Loaded and FHM’s decisions to stretch their brands into an underwear range and a credit card respectively are risky in such an immature market, writes Anne-Marie Crawford

A year ago most pundits were shaking their heads when market-leading men’s magazine FHM posted an ABC of 504,959, saying it could not climb much higher.

A year ago most pundits were shaking their heads when

market-leading men’s magazine FHM posted an ABC of 504,959, saying it

could not climb much higher.



But this month the title again proved the doubting Thomases wrong by

soaring 53.6% year on year to 775,451.



Loaded may be trailing a little in its wake but still managed a

more-than respectable year-on-year hike of 20% to 456,373.



As a result of their success, both titles have rushed headlong into

brand extensions.



Loaded is to launch a range of branded underwear next year (Marketing,

August 20), while FHM has plans for a credit card.



But, in a relatively immature market, are these magazines established

enough to support such brand stretching, or are their publishers simply

eager to milk all they can from their titles before the bubble

bursts?



Test of loyalty



Richard Britton, media director at CIA Medianetwork, believes there is

an element of cashing in and warns that a title must think carefully

before testing its readers’ loyalty in other areas. ’FHM is in vogue,

but if it suddenly took a tumble it might be left with a whole range of

products to get rid of,’ he says.



Sally Cartwright, publisher of Hello! magazine, which launched its own

credit card two years ago, also advises caution. ’We have 3000

subscribers (to the card) and regard the concept as moderately

successful. But it’s not a golden opportunity as a brand extension or a

chance to make money.’



Some observers say a lads’ mag and financial services are a poor

fit.



Britton says: ’Banks tend not to want to give much money to younger

people, especially men.’



Commenting on Loaded’s underwear range, Cartwright says: ’It’s an

amusing idea but I don’t think it’s a serious, long-term fashion

item.’



Ironically, both Emap Metro, owner of FHM, and Loaded’s publisher, IPC

Magazines, are keen to distance themselves from each other’s

concepts.



’I don’t think FHM pants would be right for our brand,’ says Simon

Greves, business development manager at FHM.



’We wouldn’t consider clothes either because that would compromise a lot

of our advertisers. We’ll only go into areas which would not be damaging

to the brand and where we could retain brand values.’



And Robert Tame, publishing director of Loaded, believes a credit card

would not add value to his brand. He does not dismiss the idea totally,

but says: ’Unless there’s some unique mechanic which adds value, it’s a

bit gimmicky.’



Both IPC and Emap Metro say they have had approaches from a raft of

potential business partners.



Loaded is in talks with a number of automotive clients about a Loaded

jeep and has also produced a pilot series called Loaded at the World Cup

in association with Yorkshire TV.



There are many tentative discussions taking place at the moment, but a

magazine must be absolutely sure of its brand positioning before

embarking on really radical moves.



Britton points out: ’The fact that FHM sells 775,000 copies doesn’t mean

it’s a strong brand.’



Mature approach



Women’s magazines have been much more cautious about launching brand

extensions, although a number of them have their own clothing

ranges.



Britton believes this is because the women’s market is more crowded and

segmented and warns that the men’s sector will change accordingly as it

matures. ’In five years the men’s market will have similar problems.

We’ll see many more entrants and static circulations,’ he says.



Brands will have to fight harder to find a point of difference and may

well be forced to concentrate resources on their core proposition,

rather than supporting a raft of costly brand extensions.



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