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Monday, August 29, 2005

Turning pages

All year long I look forward to a 20-year, late-August tradition: hunkering down on our family’s Cape Cod beach and devouring the four inch thick September fashion magazines.

I’ve driven miles to find newsstands selling Vogue, and then Harper’s Bazaar. Lugging my magazines and beach chair to the edge of the water and shutting out the world while I turn each glossy page has always been a sort of bliss.

But while the beach weather is spectacular and Vogue is as thick as ever, I’m feeling a little melancholy.

Vogue seems to have lost its appeal. The 17-year-old anorexic models wearing $10,000 designer outfits that no real woman would ever wear seem boring and out-of-touch. The magazine no longer seems glamorous and alluring; instead it seems self-absorbed and written by and for some small inner circle of jet-setting fashionistas. My once devout loyalty to this magazine is ending.

Some of the newer magazines seem much more appealing. Lucky, In-Style, and Oprah’s “O” are appealing in ways that my former favorites are not. Their formats are much different from the traditional fashion magazines. The mix of features is broader, the fashion advice more realistic, and the clothes and make-up are things that I might actually buy.

I suppose this is the struggle for all marketers: how to stay relevant, fresh, and connected in some emotional way with your consumers.

This is especially challenging when revenues are chugging along fine, thank you very much. Why bother changing something that seems to be working?

Because upstarts know that even the biggest brands can get stuck in once-winning formulas and that there’s always an opening for something new that connects with consumers in new ways. (Hello Lucky.)

Just as many of us annually purge our closets, maybe brands need to more regularly step back and toss away what worked for years and do a makeover, maybe even an extreme makeover. At a minimum, set up the right consumer panels, and then pay attention to emerging patterns.

Good-bye Vogue. It was great for a lot of years. Time for a swim.