Marie Claire 30 years on: From Benson & Hedges to a female Doctor Who

Justine Southall, managing director of Marie Claire UK at TI Media, on how the magazine has evolved to respond to the changing needs of its audience.

Let’s rewind to September 1988: the very first edition of Marie Claire UK had just hit newsstands and suddenly women across the UK had their eyes opened to a new world. One not only centred on their passions for fashion and beauty, but combined it with thought-provoking journalism that spoke to smart, fashionable, discerning women with a global outlook.

Fast forward to 2018 and this month marks Marie Claire UK’s 30th birthday. And while a lot has changed in the world over three decades, not least in media, staying relevant after 30 years and standing the test of time has required quite a transformation.

Marie Claire started out with a purpose: to talk to all elements of a woman’s life, beyond just what happens in her home, her wardrobe and her backyard. It brought something new - the idea and understanding that there are women looking beyond their own parameters and by having a global point of view and writing about how women are influencing thought and supporting each other in a more global way.

We now take it for granted that women can be intelligent, interested in politics, their own self-improvement and also fascinated by other women around the world, but also still love shopping for clothes and makeup, but in 1988 that was considered groundbreaking.

The key with Marie Claire has been to have just enough really energising good-for-you "food", alongside pure indulgence – so your sugar free muesli with a big dose of Coco Pops. Fundamentally, that mix has not altered and while Marie Claire has been through iterations containing those two elements, it has never strayed from that.

The changing face of Marie Claire

The first cover of Marie Claire UK in 1988 (see above) was a very different visualisation to what we know today: it featured a model taken from a fashion shoot. It wasn’t until around 10 years into Marie Claire UK’s life that celebrity started to take form.

In 1992, Marie Claire was the first women’s magazine to feature a black model, Naomi Campbell, and in May 2001, under Julie Warkentin’s editorship, Marie Claire UK launched its first celebrity cover featuring Geri Halliwell.

Since then we continued to break new ground by featuring the first male cover star in 2002 (David Beckham) and, celebrating our current focus on female empowerment, the 30th birthday issue cover star is British actress Jodie Whittaker, the thirteenth and first female incarnation of The Doctor in the British TV series Doctor Who.

Ads then and now

The fact that this was a premium glossy brand with a purpose, and one that tapped into an intelligent and influential attitude, meant that the advertising base for Marie Claire UK 30 years ago was very broad.

Some of the earliest advertisers in Marie Claire UK spanned everything from homes, cars and food to the obvious fashion and beauty brands. The flat planning was very different though and much looser in terms of the positions, categories and running orders and this has become far more restrictive and complex over the years.

Many of those original advertisers are still big business - Peugeot, Ford, Wedgewood, Sanderson, Dulux, Twinings, to name a few. Yet some of the brands, particularly in the more fickle fashion and beauty space, either no longer exist in the UK or were huge back then but now not so much (anyone remember Country Casuals, Alexon, Viyella or Helena Rubenstein?). And, of course, the first edition of Marie Claire even featured ads for Vogue, Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut cigarettes!

The 30th birthday issue, in comparison, still has a range of categories and includes a raft of brands and advertisers, from Dior and Chanel, to Omega and Land Rover.

Adapting for the future

What has fundamentally altered when we talk about consumers is the abundance of choice and noise in the market. The challenge for any product is about making sure that you are the brand that they will chose to spend their time and money on. The biggest challenge is being part of that choice..

That’s not to say you can’t have long term success within these well established media products or brands, but it means that Marie Claire and other magazine brands have to adapt. The job we do as magazines is curate, edit, recommend and help make choices for readers and customers.

If you have a strong brand and footprint, it’s about expanding into other areas and following where consumers are going. For Marie Claire, this was a natural extension into ecommerce, leading to the creation of our premium beauty store Fabled by Marie Claire and Fabled.com, and the recent launch of The Marie Claire Edit, a new fashion shopping portal.

The next 30 years

If you look at the magazine market in its entirety across the UK, we have more magazines in circulation than we’ve ever had. There is still a desire and an appetite to read stuff that’s printed on paper and it’s down to us, as publishers, to find the ways of being relevant for those audiences that want that experience.

I can’t think of a better way to summarise what the future might hold than in the words of Marie Claire editor in chief Trish Halpin: "As we look to the future, whatever disruptors lie ahead in the next 30 years, we promise to remain a brand with purpose."

Happy 30th birthday Marie Claire!

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