In 1996, when Elle launched its edition in India, Indian women readers had only a few titles to choose from. Femina was - and continues to be - the market leader; while Savvy and Women's Era were among the important players. Most of these titles positioned themselves as complete women's magazines, rather than focussing on a certain segment.
Then came international titles such as Cosmopolitan, which delved into niche segments, such as relationships. However, with growing exposure to international media and fashion trends, there was a need for a complete fashion and lifestyle magazine, especially for the upmarket metro women. The launch of Elle by Ogaan Publishing tried to fill this gap.
The magazine completes 13 years in India, this month. For the anniversary celebrations, the magazine will have reader reward programmes, such as 'beauty and spa indulgence', where readers will be invited for spa and beauty treatments at leading salons and beauty stores.
However, the magazine took a conscious step not to bombard Indian readers with international content initially. The idea was to be as local as possible; and gradually expose the readers to international trends. Back then, almost 90 per cent of the content was local. Amrit Rai, executive publisher, Elle India, says, "Globally, Elle has believed in this policy of adapting to the needs of the local market."
RS Suriyanarayanan, media director, LMG, says, "Back then, magazines had just started entering niche segments and Elle was one of the first serious attempts in the fashion and lifestyle genre. Its contribution in helping the fashion and lifestyle category to evolve cannot be ignored."
Today, as per industry estimates, women's magazines contribute around 15-20 per cent to the total magazine readership in the country; of this, 60 -70 per cent comes from the lifestyle and fashion genre.
Sandeep Goel, vice-president and branch head, Mudra Connext, opines that after Elle's entry, even other women magazines were forced to focus more on lifestyle and fashion sections.
In the last three years, the fashion industry has seen a lot of activity, with a multitude of fashion events, and fashion magazines such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, Grazia and many more international titles targeting the niche audience. Now, the Indian market has as many as 10 titles in the lifestyle and fashion space.
When Elle was launched in India, most women magazines were priced between Rs 20-30. Only Cosmopolitan India came at a cover price of Rs 50, and Elle was priced at par. Though the price was higher with respect to the Indian market, the magazine was priced much lower as compared to its other international editions.
According to Goel of Mudra Connext, the high pricing strategy did not pose an obstacle in the magazine's connect with its readers. "It was a low circulation and high quality model. For their target group, pricing was never an issue; rather, it is the quality that matters. For other titles such as Femina and Savvy, which were targeting the middle class, affordable pricing was a vital element."
However, for the first 10 years, even Elle did not or could not increase the cover price in India, considering the price sensitive nature of the market. After completing a decade, it increased the cover price by 50 per cent to Rs 75.
The magazine still believes in limited circulation, but quality readership. In fact, the magazine's print run is on the lower side, compared to its competitors. Femina claims a circulation of 2.25 lakh copies, while Women's Era and Savvy claim 1.8 lakh copies and 1.25 lakh copies, respectively.
In comparison, Elle claims only 81,000 copies, even lower than Cosmopolitan, which claims a circulation of 1 lakh copies. However, going by the claims, Elle is ahead of another fashion title, Vogue, which claims a circulation of 50,000 copies. There are no ABC certificates for any of these magazines; and media planners discount 20-25 per cent on the claimed figures. Vogue has a certification from KPMG for its print run.
The quality readership has helped the magazine in getting premium and lifestyle brands on- board. The company maintains that it has retained its business partners since the launch year. And brands such as Estée Lauder, Chanel, Clinique, Louis Vuitton, Lancôme, Cartier, Dior, Ferragamo, D&G, Prada, L'Oreal Paris, Lakmé, L'Oreal Professional, Garnier, Ponds, Dove, Sunsilk and Baccarose have been with Elle for more than a decade.
Rai of Elle informs that advertising in the magazine has witnessed a growth from an average of 44 pages of advertising in the launch year to an average of 140 pages per issue in the current year. Also, the content-ad ratio has changed from 77:23 in 1996-97 to a present ratio of 53:47.
Industry observers estimate that the magazine has 50:50 share of luxury brands and regular lifestyle brands.
Abhishek Jain, director, investments, MPG says, "Advertisers looking to reach out to the classes go in for such titles. From selling a cream to a business suit to a luxury car, fashion magazines are preferred partners. But when it comes to targeting the audience with a bend towards fashion and lifestyle, there are not many options in the magazine genre; and it's the task of the media planner and buyer to select the best out of the niche to reach the best within the budget."
Ad rates at Elle have been on a plateau for the last many years. With a marginal increase over the last one decade, a full-page colour ad in Elle today costs between Rs 1.3 and 1.4 lakh, which, media planners say, is 30-40 per cent less than Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.
Elle will also associate with brand launches, inviting the readers for free trials and gifts at premium malls, such as Inorbit, DLF Emporio, Select Citywalk and Phoenix Mills; and co-host events with luxury brands and invite readers for a first look.
Talking about the magazine's plan to take forward the association with its advertisers in a strategic manner, and not resort to only vanilla advertising, Rai adds, "Our focus is on strategic partnerships and integrating brand synergies through the internet, advertorials, contests and on-ground partnerships with our clients."
The magazine is also making its presence felt on television through its association with MTV. The show, Making the Cut has a fashion designer and two models being chosen by editor-in-chief of Elle India, Nonita Kalra, model, Dipannita Sharma and fashion designer, Narendra Kumar Ahmed.
In another such association, Elle has partnered with Aisha, a film starring Sonam Kapoor (also the brand ambassador of Elle Breast Cancer campaign), who aspires to become a fashion editor at Elle.
As a build-up to the anniversary issue, the media house recently organised events and carnivals in Delhi and Mumbai. In one such attempt, Elle partnered with Estée Lauder to light up the Taj Mahal and Palace Hotel in Mumbai in pink, in order to build awareness about breast cancer. In Delhi, DLF Emporio was lit up in pink from November 21-29, also providing consumers an opportunity to donate to the cause through purchases.