A few weeks back, just before the total lockdown, as a small gesture to our advertising newsletter community we offered a free three-month magazine subscription for 100 readers who identified friends, family or indeed themselves as vulnerable people who were beginning to self-isolate.
We couldn’t have known then how wholesale and substantial the period and extent of the isolation would be but, even so, the response to the offer was quite overwhelming.
In the weeks since, some of the "winners" have started to receive their free magazines and we at Magnetic HQ have had more than one watery-eyed moment over the thank yous and responses from both the receivers and nominators.
It seems that, in these incredibly challenging times, two things are really striking:
First, how much small gestures and thoughts matter. We’ve seen the lift in appreciation and gratitude for our first responders and key workers more broadly, captured each week in the clapping at our front doors, and seen the stories about how neighbourhoods are pulling together.
It seems that receiving a much-loved magazine and being thought of by a son, daughter, friend, neighbour or grandchild is also a small moment of care and consideration.
But it’s also about the moment of pleasure or purpose that the reading occasion and content itself brings.
Obviously, most people are stuck at home for the majority of their time right now, consuming a hell of a lot more "indoor media" (who thought that would be a term three months ago?).
Indulging our passions through magazine media
One consequence of this confinement is the extent to which we can indulge our passions – from cooking to fitness and wellness, from video-gaming to TV viewing.
Previous research from TI Media shows that 66% of people claim that these passions help them through difficult times and last week it released new data showing that 77% of respondents agree hobbies and passions are more important right now.
Another recent insight piece from Bauer Media bears this out in terms of consumption, with 31% of people claiming to be reading more special-interest titles, including 28% more music, film and entertainment publications, 21% more TV-listings titles and 14% more women’s lifestyle magazines.
We know from previous work that magazines are top among channels for pleasurable reward moments and second only to search for purposeful information moments.
Magazines’ focus on these two core motivators of pleasure and purpose indicates why, after reading, consumers show increases in their subjective well-being.
Passion-based content alongside vast and trusted expertise is something that exudes from magazine editorial teams across the UK.
We have seen this in the range of ways magazines have evolved and adapted their content to be as useful, relevant and positive as possible in our new reality.
Bauer’s Grazia honoured NHS workers with a special print edition, featuring four covers that each displays a different member of staff, alongside online reporting of NHS staff stories.
At Dennis Publishing, The Week Junior’s podcast is placing the focus on helping children make sense of what’s happening.
Immediate Media’s BBC Good Food web content helped with where to get Easter eggs by post, Hearst’s Men’s Health is providing expert workout advice during isolation and TI Media’s Woman & Home is assisting with guidance on where to order food and drink without huge waiting times.
The surge in demand for subscriptions across all major publishers shows how real the need and want is.
Acquisition and renewal rates across the major publishers are strong and, in some cases, up by more than 200%.
I am very proud to be part of a sector that is responding so quickly and providing purposeful and pleasurable content for so many people in need right now.
But I’m also impressed by how it has shown its mettle in responding at speed to changes in demand and distribution.
Publishers are focused intently on maintaining distribution and on redistribution around the retail estate to optimise availability.
The value of the sector was reflected in news and magazine wholesale workers being identified as key workers by the government to enable the continued distribution and delivery of our publications.
As one respondent in the recent Bauer research stated: "Just make sure the magazines keep coming!"
What does all of this mean for brands and advertisers?
TI Media’s latest weekly insight findings show intent around spend is aligned to passions, with half of all ABC1s surveyed indicating they are more engaged than ever in their hobby, with a third suggesting that they intend to spend more money on them in forthcoming weeks.
So, despite the same group saving around 35% of weekly expenditure right now, there is a desire to engage and spend around the areas that bring most personal joy.
Previous work from Hearst UK – The Power of Positivity with MediaCom – showed the link between positive mindset and predisposition to advertising, with a 22% difference in consumers' likelihood to take action.
Positive people are 90% more likely to try new things and 35% more likely to buy an advertised product, and we know that people’s passions are a huge driver of their mood.
Despite the obvious need for advertisers to pause and reflect sensitively on their marketing, brands that can deliver from a supply chain point of view, and take advantage of the strong attention that consumers are paying to their favourite content, could enjoy a significant upside.
Sue Todd is chief executive of Magnetic