Better Homes and Gardens, founded in 1922, is the flagship property of Meredith Corporation, a major American magazine publisher. The magazine’s US circulation of 7.6 million, with readership of 39 million (80 percent women, and most over 35 years of age), makes it the nation’s third-largest magazine in paid circulation. This constituency is responsive as well: virtually all readers make a direct purchase by mail, phone or online; 90 percent of readers take action as a result of reading an article or ad; and 84 percent of readers visit a website mentioned in an ad.
The magazine’s editorial has always been devoted to homemaking in the broadest sense of the word. It covers cooking, decorating, building, remodeling, design, crafts, entertaining and gardening. Each issue is a treasure trove of information, with product reviews, step-by-step instructions, practical tips and suggestions, and reports on trends. That’s why Better Homes and Gardens is a trusted source with a credible reputation; in effect, it has become more of an institution than a publication.
This may explain why Meredith regards Better Homes and Gardens as a valuable brand property and has leveraged it accordingly. What Meredith has done with this magazine is a lesson in print survival in an age of electronic media. The company has aggressively marketed Better Homes and Gardens not just as a magazine, but as a brand name that can be applied to numerous related products and services—even as it has continued to expand the reach of the magazine itself on a global scale.
Better Homes and Gardens magazine in Australia was launched in the 1970s and won an award in 2005 for general excellence in the home and food category at the annual Magazine Publishers of Australia’s Magazine of the Year Awards. Meredith launched a Chinese-language edition in China and an English-language version in India in 2006. In 2007, the US edition of the magazine was named Magazine of the Year by Advertising Age, which cited the magazine’s redesign, its new video channel, Better, and an improved website. The magazine’s website is rich and deep, including a wealth of information for consumers as well as an online store.
The magazine has been a launching pad for brand extensions that capitalize on the Better Homes and Gardens name in a way few magazines can match. Meredith publishes a complete line of books under the brand name and produces a television show with content based largely on the magazine’s content. Better Homes and Gardens Furniture is a separate entity, selling a “multi-functional, affordable collection…” from “the brand you trust for expert style guidance.”
In 2008, Better Homes and Gardens launched a “Living Green Tour” across the US to showcase eco-friendly designs. Later that year, a line of over 500 Better Homes and Gardens licensed home and garden products was introduced in Walmart stores in the US. In early 2009, Meredith announced an agreement with Walmart Canada to market Better Homes and Gardens products exclusively through over 200 Walmart Canada stores by the end of 2009. This will mark the first time Better Homes and Gardens licensed products will be made available outside the US.
Perhaps the most intriguing and potentially risky extension has been the brand’s foray into real estate. Better Homes and Gardens started a real estate venture more than a decade ago, but it was purchased and rebranded by GMAC Home Services. In 2008, however, the brand was resurrected through a license with Realogy, a major real estate firm. Realogy will use the brand as both a new division and a franchising opportunity.
“Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate is a highly strategic addition to Realogy’s premier portfolio of real estate franchise holdings, a brand that comes with well-established equity and one that we expect will compete well in the marketplace,” says Realogy Chairman Richard Smith (“Realogy Resurrects Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate,” RealtyTimes.com, October 8, 2007).
In July 2009, the company launched a major revision to its website, BHGRealEstate.com. In keeping with the visual quality of the magazine, the real estate site is unique, says the company, in that it uses the same video platform employed by media companies “to implement a national and local video strategy all controlled centrally by the brand.” In addition, the site offers the ability to showcase a new area for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate luxury properties.
In a competitive and currently depressed real estate market, it is difficult to predict whether or not Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate will be successful. But there is an element of safety and security in a brand that has been part of the American scene for more than 80 years. If that feeling transfers to potential home buyers and sellers, the gamble could pay off.
In the meantime, Meredith will undoubtedly continue to look for new ways to add to the Better Homes and Gardens brand portfolio—and to make sure both the magazine and its offshoots get the visibility they deserve.