Just a decade ago it would have been a rarity to find a marginal actress like Kate Bosworth in a bathtub on the cover of GQ (GQ, January 2005). (To Maxim’s credit, the pre-Maxim idea of the “man’s” magazine, outside Playboy, was fairly pseudo-intellectual and not entirely without its populist critics.)
In addition to the lowest-common-denominator boobification of existing men’s mags, Maxim’s success has also inspired numerous facsimiles.
The magazine has now grown to over 30 international editions boasting a circulation of over 2.5 million in the US alone, the median age of which is an advertising-wet-dream: 25.3. Maxim claims this 25-year-old average has a median income of US$ 63,000+ per year. Despite the UK version (third in its category after FHM and Loaded) being threatened by the launch of weeklies like Nuts and Zoo, and though the US version may soon face weekly competition as well, Maxim remains the most dominant fish in the global men’s lifestyle magazine pond. To maintain this dominance Maxim has devised a two-prong strategy.
First, in order to distinguish itself from the new and increasingly rabid competition, Maxim is taking action to solidify its core image against a trend that it largely helped create. Maybe because of a 2004 drop in ad pages (the Publishers Information Bureau reported an as-of-October-2004 decrease of 8.9 percent) or maybe because parent company Dennis Publishing smells a brewing backlash, Maxim announced in November that it would become the protectorate of real men against “mantropy,” a condition fueled by the proliferation of metro-sexuality.
The New York Times reported that, to promote Maxim as this new refuge for real men, a brochure titled “Are You Dying Inside?” will be sent to major ad agencies. Also, a hoax petition asking the government to list man as an endangered species was to be sent to advertisers in December and included in the entire print run of the January 2005 issue. (Brandchannel could find no such insert in the January issue.) Complementing the reported insert is the website endangeredman.com where the petition can be downloaded and visitors can electronically sign their names to “fight back” and “list man as an Endangered Species pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973” (New York Times, 9 November 2004).
Secondly, Maxim is gunning to capitalize on the term “lifestyle.” Heretofore thrown about in press releases and interviews with the convincingness of a Maxim-suggested pick-up line, the magazine has recently taken steps to go from men’s lifestyle magazine brand to men’s lifestyle brand.
Maximhas dabbled in brand extensions before, though with mediocre results. An October 2004 TippingSprung survey on brand extensions found that one of Maxim’s earlier forays into branded products (men’s hair dye) had finished second in the category “the extension that least fits the brand’s core values,” grabbing 24.4 percent of the vote (just below Hooters Air’s 27.8 percent). But recent efforts appear to have been undertaken with a greater scope, if not more sense.
In June 2004, Maxim entered into a licensing arrangement to create a Maxim-branded line of bathroom and bedroom products. Called Maxim Living the products will include bath mats, towels, shower curtains and more. Maxim also reported an agreement with Sirius satellite radio to supply Maxim-branded content. And in late 2004 Maxim announced plans to bring to market other lines of Maxim-branded products, including vitamins, beverages and foodstuffs.
The obvious subject in need of addressing is the somewhat confusing duality of Maxim’s current brand efforts. Where its petition points to scented candles and terry cloth wristbands as “Evidence of Threat” to man, its January 2004 issue clearly endorses scented candles on Page 119 (scented with tomato, lettuce and bacon, natch) while December 2004’s issue carries a huge jeans ad with a model in the aforementioned wristbands. And though “vitamins” have been singled out as an area Maximmay brand into, its January 2005 Editor’s Letter presents readers with the “more realistic option” for health: “Just accept that there’s more to life than monitoring your waistline….”
The best way to really sum up Maxim’s recent strategies is with the very Maxim-reader-friendly cult film “Fight Club,” a story of men looking for meaning, manliness and, well, fighting. (The 2003 December issue of Men’s Journal named the film the 20th Best Guy Movie of All Time, and Maxim itself said of the video release: “If you listened to the critics who recoiled from this gritty tale of two guys…you deserve a smack-down. Rent it…or stock up on Band-Aids,” May 2000). In a rant about how consumerism has turned men soft, “Fight Club” antihero Tyler Durden asks “Do you know what a duvet is? It’s a blanket. Just a blanket.” Meanwhile, according to a Maxim press release, the Maxim Living line of products plans to include duvets.
Maybe the first rule of Maxim Living is do not talk about Maxim Living, which would make the second rule of Maxim Living do not talk about Maxim Living.
Maybe Maxim’s strategic brand dualism is a commentary on the age-old idea of the duality of man himself. In many ways this was the underlying theme of “Fight Club,” a film very much about one man’s dualistic battle between his inner brand whore and his internal Neanderthal.