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PARIS-Magazines like Marie Claire and Elle have long capitalized on the French reputation of art de vivre to sell copies worldwide.

Now another French export, monthly Madame Figaro, the conservative daily Le Figaro's weekly women's magazine, is adding to the competition in five new countries as a standalone monthly.

The Paris weekly, distributed as part of a weekend package with newspaper Le Figaro and its general interest magazine of the same name, has a circulation of 546,000 in France alone, leading the well-known monthly Marie Claire, at 461,000, and France's weekly edition of Elle, at 299,000.

Madame Figaro's international expansion began in 1988, when all three magazines went into Portugal simultaneously. "Portugal was a good spot to learn how to go international," said Publisher Patrick Moreau. But "We didn't want to risk the reputation and value of the Figaro name, so we called it Maxima," he added.

Seven years later, Maxima's circulation of 49,000 makes it Portugal's fifth-highest-circulation women's magazine, Zenith Worldwide said, leading No. 7 Marie Claire's 40,000 and No. 9 Elle's 37,000.

"Maxima has done a lot of promotion we haven't done," said Marie Claire's international advertising director Anna Entraygues.

Heartened by the success of Maxima, Madame Figaro added Greece, Korea, Japan and the U.K. under its own name, with plans for China and Italy this year and Spain, Hong Kong and Taiwan for 1996.

"If we can succeed in Japan, we can succeed anywhere in the world," Mr. Moreau said.

Mr. Moreau estimated Madame Figaro's readership in Japan is 120,000-less than half of Marie Claire's estimated 300,000 and well behind Elle, in Japan since 1976.

Madame Figaro's approach to global expansion is to let rivals test the waters. "We have gone to Asia and Southern Europe first because the economic growth that is happening in those places is attractive to advertisers," Mr. Moreau said.

"We can attack major and stable markets like Western Europe later, whenever we want."

Madame Figaro derives 43% of its advertising from perfumes and beauty products, including Guerlain, Lancome, Helena Rubenstein, Christian Dior and Chanel perfumes. Fashion accounts for another 30% of ad sales.

Despite its extensive reach, Madame Figaro doesn't offer advertisers a buy in all editions.

Ben Atherton, international media executive at Abbott Mead Vickers/ BBDO, London, uses Elle and Marie Claire regularly for clients including Rimmel International Cosmetics, and believes Madame Figaro could fill the gap between mid-market glossies like Elle and the upscale Vogue. "It could become a more accessible version of Vogue, which is a little too upmarket for a lot of women readers," he said.

But Madame Figaro, unlike Marie Claire and Elle, doesn't clone itself from country to country. International editions operate under licensing agreements that offer 70% of the French content to international editions, of which they use an average of 30% to 40%, often costly fashion, beauty, home decorating and cooking features.

"The idea is to produce a magazine with the flavor of original French and fully adapted to local readership," Mr. Moreau said.

After Italy and China this year, Madame Figaro will enter Spain in 1996 and seeks Hong Kong and Taiwan licenses.

While Mr. Moreau said his goal is "to go everywhere we can as a standalone monthly," Madame Figaro adopted a different strategy in the U.K. In that saturated market, Madame Figaro teamed with successful left-wing daily The Guardian in 1993 and debuted as a twice-per-year supplement.

Katherine Almond, associate media director at BBDO, London, is critical of the current U.K. Madame Figaro, which she said is inferior to Elle and Marie Claire. "As it is, it won't take business away from Elle or Marie Claire, which is one hell of a brand."

Juliana Koranteng contributed to this story.

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