In an era of increasingly uncertain sales, magazines have to use their cultural currency as a form of financial guarantee. They’ve always excelled at selling things for other people, through both their advertising and their own editorial. So why not sell direct to their audience?
A deep-caramel leather sofa named Triple Whiskey Collins is evidence of smart thinking by a storied magazine brand that might not be making money the same way in 20 years. It’s a signature piece of Esquire Home Collection, a line of furniture and accessories launched by the magazine which is finding its way into retail locations this month.
While launching a furniture line may appear to be the latest gimmick to bolster sagging magazine subscriptions, Glen Ellen Brown, vice president of Hearst Brand Development, says that Hearst has actually been focusing on brand extension for 20 years, including popular product lines for other properties like Country Living and Seventeen. “We really have the expertise and depth of doing this for decades and we work hard to bring integrity to that,” she says. “You have to be really careful because brand dilution is right around the corner from brand extension.”
While Hearst may have been doing this for decades, a new surge of brand extensions have become commonplace for emerging magazines. Perhaps the best example is Monocle, Tyler Brulé’s lifestyle-brand-in-itself, which has lobbed pricey co-branded Comme des Garçons cologne and a Skeppshult V-Bike at its fans. Monocle’s subscriber base may only be 60,000, but they’ve used branding to leverage the brand into something much more visible.
And even the media giants are surveying the product field. Bob Sauerbrauter, the new president Conde Nast, is implementing a similar program for their series of properties that are seeing less of a reliance on advertising, overseeing the “integration of the company’s print, digital, social, e-commerce, consumer insight and other assets to create comprehensive marketing solutions.”
Magazines are awash in consumer insight about their subscribers, which gives them a unique advantage for creating product. When surveying the landscape to see what to offer its audience as the perfect Esquire brand extension, Brown says the choice became obvious when, through market studies, Hearst noticed that men were taking a more active role in purchasing furniture. “We started to do research and saw that men were much more involved in shared leadership decisions about their space — they were interested in a space that was theirs,” says Brown. “We really felt we could grant that wish.”
So this isn’t a first-apartment, bachelor-pad starter kit, rather it’s a selection of pieces that fit what Hearst knows to be the personality of Esquire‘s subscriber. “He’s really comfortable in his skin,” says Brown. “He’s figured out his look and he knows where he’s going and what he wants to be.” So the collection is designed to insert right into his existing lifestyle — an ottoman here, some lighting there — with an aesthetic that aligns with his own collection of vintage furniture and found items that showcase his travels around the world. The price points also hit in that sweet spot, just below high-end design stores but far above Ikea: sofas start at $2,500, lighting starts at $200, rugs start at $50 per square-foot. Pieces are available for purchase through the website and at some retail locations.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in creating branded product, says Brown, and a mistake that other publishers make, is that extensions should complement, but not cannibalize advertising sales. So that’s why Hearst partnered with furniture company Go Home Ltd. and rug manufacturer Asia Minor. These companies are known as world-class within the furniture world, notes Brown, but they’re not household names, which might be a problem if they partnered with, say, Restoration Hardware, then lost the ad business of Crate and Barrel.
Another advantage of co-branding with magazines are their at-the-ready connections with the big names that grace their pages. One of Esquire’s most high-profile extensions — the branded environment — will give the Esquire Home Collection a boost later this week at the opening of its Esquire House. This annual showcase of Esquire-approved products and design which has alternated between New York and Los Angeles for eight years. Esquire Home Collection pieces will be situated in the home office of the 9,000 square-foot home in the Hollywood Hills where dozens of celebrities will be paraded through (and photographed at) over the next few weeks.
And even though the line is being debuted in what’s dubbed as “the ultimate bachelor pad,” Brown cautions that the line is not exclusively geared toward men: 30% of Esquire‘s subscribers are women.
[Esquire House photo by Zach Desart]