If the Daily Mail is to be believed, 2010 is not a great time to be a man: the pressure is on to be a brilliant cook, a high-flying professional, a stylish dresser, a top sportsman, a hands-on parent and, of course, a fantastic lover.
Nor is it is a great time to be a men’s magazine, with pretty much every title in the mainstream paid-for men’s market in significant decline since the middle of the decade, down from the heyday when Loaded’s mix of donkey-racing dwarves and radioactive wolves sold 450,000 copies on the newsstand every month.
Dennis gave up the ghost and closed Maxim, Bauer threw in the towel and shut Arena and, most recently, IPC ran up the white flag in the bloody battle for men’s attention and offloaded Loaded to Vitality Publishing, leaving Bauer as the only major publisher with more than one men’s title in the cut-throat market.
The fortunes of Bauer’s FHM and Zoo have been chequered over the years, with FHM losing its editorial way at certain periods and Zoo becoming embroiled in an unfortunate fracas involving columnist Danny Dyer, who has since been replaced by outspoken sports personality Ricky Hatton (just as soon as he is out of rehab).
As one rival publisher notes with a hint of schadenfreude, Bauer will need "a grand plan to restore FHM and Zoo", which dropped 16.7% and 21.6% period on period to 192,586 and 80,026 copies respectively in the August 2010 ABCs, with FHM overtaken by NatMag’s Men’s Health in August last year (see box, below).
The man in charge of that plan is Geoff Campbell, who first read FHM on the beach in Australia with his friends back in 1995 and has grown up with the magazine ever since, becoming publisher of the Singapore edition in 1997 and the Australian edition in 1999, before returning to the UK three years ago to become publisher of FHM and Zoo. "Cut me and I will bleed men’s magazines," he says. "I have men's magazine ink in my veins."
The rise of '4D Man'
The bespectacled Campbell, soberly dressed in a navy suit, is not the cartoon-like, larger-than-life character you might expect to find in the testosterone-fuelled world of men’s magazines - Martin Daubney, stand up - and he further confounds the stereotype by quoting Aldous Huxley. "In life, try to learn something about everything and everything about something."
In short, the 47-year-old Campbell isn’t a lad, he is a "4D man": a rounded individual who takes a selective approach to building his male identity, as illuminated by Bauer’s "4D Man" research presentation in August.
The swaggering 'lad' may have been the cohesive, binding force of the Britpop generation, but today’s 4D Man is a more sophisticated creature altogether - "diagnostic", "diverse", "dynamic" and "deep", in fact. "The 4D man is a really interesting encapsulation of the change that has occurred in men’s culture over the last two decades," Campbell says.
"The lads’ group has not ceased to exist - it is still a life-stage - but that life-stage has compressed as the expectations on men have multiplied and hit them much earlier in their lives. Girls matured much faster culturally than men in the 1990s and men are only just catching up now."
The editorial response to the squeezing out of lads’ culture has been to "refocus" FHM, introducing three clear sections - Access, Filter and Upgrade - to fulfil the Huxley mantra of offering "something about everything". "Like the new Mini, we have completely reinvented an old product while remaining true to the core values of the original idea, bringing it up-to-date for 4D man."
Campbell is proud of FHM’s 750,000 ABC1 readership - which he claims is almost double the total ABC1 readers of GQ and Esquire combined - and of the newly reintroduced fashion and style supplement FHM Collections in October, which contributed to the biggest FHM advertising issue for two years.
FHM has also launched its annual Stand Up Hero six-part competition to find Britain’s best undiscovered comedian, in partnership with ITV4, Signal TV and Steve Coogan’s production company Baby Cow.
Safe to read on the bus
Meanwhile, the latest issue of Zoo, under the guidance of new editor Damien McSorley, features 12 pages of "Posh Girls Get Naughty" - just in case there was any doubt this is still "unashamedly a lads’ mag".
Regulars such as "WTF?" and "The Week in Boobs" contribute to the weekly magazine’s "irreverent, devil-may-care" tone but, as Campbell is keen to stress, it is a publication that is "safe to read on the bus".
"There was a time when Zoo and its rival Nuts were pretty difficult to read in public, and our view is we want to change the focus to being topical, funny, cheeky and relevant [to the lads’ life-stage]. Zoo should sometimes be controversial and in your face, but in a positive, fun way."
Illustrating the point, he holds up Zoo next to Nuts to compare the treatment of two Big Brother girls. "You would be happy to take Zoo home and have it lying around your house, but as for Nuts…" he trails off.
Campbell compounds the insult with a dig at Nuts’ 3D issue (see below), but claims Bauer is not driven by constant glances at its competitive set. "You can’t escape your shadow," he says. "We don’t focus on making ourselves distinct from Nuts; we focus on making a brilliant magazine for our consumers. To thrive in the men’s market you have to focus on producing an outstanding, innovative product - quality separates our titles from the lowest common denominator."
And in the week Bauer reveals its plans for the long-rumoured new men's weekly, Campbell points out the publisher’s engagement with the male audience is increasing. FHM has 100,000 Facebook followers, 15,000 Twitterers, 1.2 million unique users on FHM.com and an FHM YouTube channel, where Kelly Brook’s World Cup video shoot generated 500,000 views.
All well and good, but it is not 1995, Oasis have disbanded and Abi Titmuss was last spotted playing Lady Macbeth in the Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft. So can the ever-dwindling lads’ mag industry ever get its buzz back? "The lads’ market won’t reach the scale it reached in the past," admits Campbell. "It is a tough market and no-one in my position would say otherwise."
But, ever the optimist - or perhaps heartened by the thought of Prince Harry giving FHM Royal approval by flicking through the magazine on duty in Afghanistan - he adds: "I still think lads have an enthusiasm for being entertained, and it is our challenge to provide that for them every week."
FHM being overtaken by Men’s Health in the August 2010 ABCs "We don’t compare ourselves directly to Men’s Health. We don’t think anyone ever makes a choice at a newsstand between a health and fitness magazine and a men’s entertainment lifestyle package - it is not a binary choice."
Free men’s magazine Shortlist "You can’t compare paid-for circulation with free distribution - the two just aren’t comparable in our view. And it is really hard to understand just how successful Shortlist is without any National Readership Survey results. Where is the NRS figure that was promised 18 months ago? We are just as intrigued as everyone else."
Danny Dyer-gate "We think that is ancient history. Danny is no longer a columnist with Zoo and we have made our statements. It is water under the bridge."
Nuts magazine publishing a 3D issue "The comparison between our 3D issue and Nuts’ 3D issue is really clear. We booked 14 pages of 3D advertising in our 3D issue, which took several weeks to sell in. Perhaps you should ask IPC how many ads they sold into their 3D issue."