Up in the Air: The rise of corporate branded magazines

On a recent flight, I found myself at the dreaded holy trinity of a boring flight: no in-flight wifi, not long enough to watch a movie and I had forgotten to bring my usual issue of Vanity Fair. Wondering how to keep myself busy for the next hour and a half, I noticed the oft-forgotten magazine sitting in the seatback pocket in front of me. Resigning myself to flipping through pages of timeshare advertisements and sponsored content, I was pleased to notice a few pages in that the sumptuous images of food and beaches adorning each page were surrounded by truly creative, interesting content – much like what I would read in the travel sections of my favourite normal publications.

The rise of the branded magazine has been a slow creep – though its perseverance, contrasting with the downfall of traditional print magazines, has been obvious. Backed by retail, leisure and luxury companies with massive budgets, branded magazines are fundamentally different from those sold at news agents and through subscriptions as a part of the company’s marketing platform rather than the final product. The resulting freedom means that corporate magazines as a whole have slowly been transformed from ad-laden phonebooks to pieces of editorial mastery with a substantial reader base.

KLM’s ‘Holland Herald’ is the longest-running inflight magazine

Although the now-defunct Pan Am airline is widely credited with creating the first inflight magazine, KLM’s Holland Herald is now the longest running, with its first issue published nearly 51 years ago in January 1966. The airline notes that its passengers are upmarket and affluent business and leisure travellers – and featuring cover topics including businesswoman Neelie Kroes, Amsterdam’s canal district and the Rio Olympics, the magazine undoubtedly catches the eye of many of its 2.35 million passengers. Perhaps the most well-known in the UK, British Airways publishes two editions of its magazine – High Life and Business Life – the latter of which most recently featured a fascinating interview with Crowdcube CEO Darren Westlake on the impact of crowdfunding on the equity finance sector.

Although the inflight magazine is perhaps the most well-known example, the concept also exists in realms including luxury. With only around a dozen issues in its six years of existence, Karl Lagerfeld’s 31 Rue Cambon, created in collaboration with Purple Fashion Magazine editor Olivier Zahm, is perhaps one of the more exclusive editions out there, available to new customers throughout Chanel stores globally. Swedish denim brand Acne’s biannual publication has included work from a number of impressive names, such as Mario Testino, David Bailey and Tilda Swinton. And Italian fashion label Benetton’s Colors is widely regarded throughout the industry for its unique approach: as an independent project with the brand’s name attached, the magazine’s editors have a plenty of freedom – and have thus created a platform to discuss thorny, cool and interesting issues.

More recently, pure-play digital companies haven’t even questioned the need to have a publishing platform to establish themselves as omnipresent brands – even if only available to consumers via a screen. Asos’ magazine, launched in 2007, has an audience of over half a million people, most of whom are reading the print edition. Net-a-Porter has a similar concept with Porter launched in 2014. But unlike most other branded publications, Net-a-Porter’s edition is sold in over 300 retail stores and features over 300 pages of fashion content – and that’s in addition to its shopping digital magazine format. Former CEO Natalie Massanet noted the brand’s goal to “create a physical temple to our brand – like Apple did with stores”.

British Airways’ ‘Business Life’ and Net-a-Porter’s ‘Porter’

In the past decade, easyJet has shifted its marketing from presenting itself as a cheap budget airline to focusing on destinations instead – a brand revolution which has been reflected in its inflight magazine, Traveller. This strategy, along with those of other companies that have entered the realm of publishing, allows brands to curate content around a singular brand image, developing the platform from which further marketing and initiatives can be based.

For the past few years, social media has created a platform for this – luxury companies such as Burberry have used Snapchat to show their inner workings, giving consumers better access to a brand story and philosophy. But with the ‘offline’ trend rapidly taking over and consumers facing an unstopping flow of information from online, there’s no question that a strong paper publication could give brands the upper hand in establishing themselves as industry leaders and trend creators.

I doubt that we’ll be replacing our issues of Vogue and Vanity Fair in our meeting rooms at the MBS office anytime soon. In the meantime, though, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for interesting pieces in magazines next time I fly, shop or dine.

Moira@thembsgroup.co.uk | @MoiraBenigson | @TheMBSGroup