Lucky Magazine, Looking for a Turnaround, Starts With Print 'Evolution'

Once High-Flying Conde Nast Title Adds New 'Eye Candy'

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Lucky, once so successful a shopping magazine that it spawned imitators from Vitals to Shop Etc. to Cargo, is now striving to get its mojo back.

New Lucky: out of the studio
New Lucky: out of the studio
Old Lucky: plain white backgrounds
Old Lucky: plain white backgrounds

Amid rising digital competition and a steep decline in ad pages last year, Conde Nast in January named Gillian Gorman Round to oversee both Lucky's editorial and its business operations -- a management structure new to Conde magazines. Once the company had named Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour to the additional post of artistic director across its titles, Lucky became one of the first areas she was asked to examine. And Conde has now invested serious money in redesigning the print product.

The first iteration of Lucky's resulting evolution is reaching newsstands this month in a redesigned June/July issue that puts a premium on visuals. "There's the same amount of product in the magazine, but the presentation has completely evolved," said Ms. Round, who was previously Conde's VP of brand development. "It's more aesthetically stimulating. It's eye candy."

The new cover photo, for example, was shot outdoors instead of against a white backdrop in a studio. The grid-like way of showing products in the magazine, often as thumbnail images, has given way to livelier, larger photos as well as more images of models in real-world settings.

"The quintessential DNA of Lucky remains the same -- providing all the inspiration, personal service and access to great 'finds' that the Lucky reader craves," Lucky Editor in Chief Brandon Holley said in a statement. "Now, she will benefit from amped up visuals and new features."

According to Ms. Round, the redesign reflects a steep investment in the editorial product, saying that the brand is spending "substantially more" than was originally earmarked for the year. That investment can be seen in the beefed up editorial and the work of photographers such as Patrick Demarchelier, who has shot for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar but had not yet worked for Lucky.

Real-world settings and other aesthetic changes aren't meant to dilute the focus on shopping. "We are all about the girl and helping her define what she's going to buy for herself," Ms. Round said. "We are reasserting that position -- owning, occupying, and dominating that position and making sure that every part of our brand is exceeding that position."

The new editorial product feels a bit more like Vogue -- albeit Vogue lite -- which makes sense because Ms. Wintour, in her new role as Conde's artistic director, worked with Ms. Round and Ms. Holley on reimagining the magazine. But Ms. Round downplayed any similarities between the two titles, instead casting them as complementary.

"Our girl does read Vogue -- she loves it and she's inspired by it," said Ms. Round. "But she's coming to Lucky to take her wallet out, to be influenced by the ads and the editorial to do something."

An inside page from the new Lucky
An inside page from the new Lucky

The attempt to reenergize the brand follows a difficult 2012, when Lucky saw its ad pages decline 20.3%, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Circulation held roughly even in the second half of last year, averaging 1.1 million, down 1.2% from the second half of 2011, according to figures reported to the Alliance for Audited Media. But single-copy sales in the second half fell 31.1%, compared with just a 8.2% newsstand declines across magazines as a whole.

George Janson, managing partner and director of print for Group M, said the time is right to reimagine the Lucky brand. "Economic indicators are pointing in the right direction, as people have more disposable economy," he explained. "Plus, shopping is evergreen -- it never really goes out of style."

But Lucky needs do that reimagining quickly, he said. "They need to show some gains in the next year if they're going to reach adolescence," he remarked.

The next challenge for Lucky will be how it addresses e-commerce -- something Mr. Janson said the magazine "missed the boat on." Ms. Round has experience with e-commerce, having worked on such efforts for Lancome USA and YSL Beauty USA, and previously promised new moves on that front, but declined to discuss those plans last week.

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