It’s funny to think how the origins of this article lie in a wheat field worked by an ox-drawn plough.
Planes have yet to take to the skies, the novels of Jules Verne are bestsellers, and brilliant inventors are developing exciting new technologies like the radio and cinema: it’s 1895 and in this most creative of years one of the most iconic corporate magazines was born: The Furrow. It was published by John Deere, then a small company that produced steel ploughs, but which would go on to become the world’s leading manufacturer of tractors.
The Furrow is a magazine written for farmers: it helps them solve their day-to-day problems, gives them new ideas for improving their business and aims to grow the industry in general.
The first modern corporate magazine, The Furrow is still published today, 120 years later, and has a worldwide circulation in the hundreds of thousands.
What is a corporate magazine?
A corporate magazine is a publication aimed at customers, both existing and potential, not to sell them products, but to share knowledge and help them succeed.
Unlike a catalogue, it has genuine editorial content written by journalists and experts from fields such as science and the arts.
It should not be confused with the house organ (inserire link) because it is aimed at people outside the company rather than inside it; it doesn’t speak to communities of employees or partners, but to users, consumers and fans.
The better the content, the more the magazine will be able to take on a life of its own and forge a reputation which, obviously, will be benefit the company that publishes it.
In recent years, corporate magazines, also known as brand magazines, have flourished, with many large companies launching their own titles. Examples include Uniqlo, Allianz, Walmart, Ssense, Lincoln Electric, and Harley Davidson.
In the world of fashion and luxury goods, corporate magazines are becoming an increasingly important tool for brand promotion.
Interesting examples of this type of magazine can be found all over the world. We’ve picked out a few titles to give you an eclectic – though by no means exhaustive – overview of this genre.
The graphic design tends to be rather basic and covers don’t stand out for their originality: this is unsurprising, because what counts in these publications is their content. What’s more, they aren’t competing with other magazines for readers as they are distributed with product purchases or through subscriptions to services.
One of the most common types of brand publications is the travel magazine: train companies and airlines often produce glossy magazines full of destination guides, lifestyle articles, event calendars and more.
They are intended to help passengers pass the time on their journey (and often to encourage them to buy some of the many products advertised inside).
In Italy, an example familiar to many is La Freccia, the onboard magazine produced by Ferrovie dello Stato, the state-run railway company. It’s a glossy magazine that features a famous face on the cover, while inside, as well as an interview with the cover celebrity, there are travel tips, recipes, photo shoots and information about the company. Though most readers likely give La Freccia little thought once they get off the train, it undoubtedly provides welcome entertainment for many, especially on long journeys.
Airlines have always invested heavily in magazines, not just in flight titles, but publications used for brand storytelling too.
Covers (i.e. the image and title) are used strategically to promote and position the brand.
Large airlines devote big budgets to publishing eye-catching magazines that follow the latest trends in graphic design and use high-quality photos and illustrations.
Below are some examples of magazines from the world’s biggest airlines, as well as a couple of examples of well-produced titles from smaller carriers.
British Airways publishes four different magazines: High Life, which is found onboard all its flights; Business Life, which is only available on domestic and short-haul flights; First Magazine, a quarterly luxury title for first-class passengers only; and High Life China, aimed specifically at the Chinese market.
BA’s magazines more than hold their own against the titles you’ll find in a newsagents, even in terms of circulation. And they change with the times too, as the airline is keen to point out to potential advertisers: “High Life has been redefined for a post-TripAdvisor, post-Instagram generation”.
Air France and Lufthansa too have always offered high-quality magazines to their passengers; indeed, in 2022, France’s flag carrier launched its new magazine, EnVols, which it describes as “an invitation on a journey”.
Consciously less luxurious is Blue Wings, Finnair’s magazine, which, in line with the company’s sustainability goals, is printed on special paper that is lighter, more environmentally friendly yet still offers outstanding print quality and feel.
The aviation crisis caused by the pandemic and a desire for greater sustainability convinced American Airlines to stop publishing its iconic “American Way” magazine, which had been read by millions of passengers a year since 1966.
Magazines by famous brands
Many major global brands publish magazines aimed at articulating their vision and values to their target market.
Good examples include The Red Bulletin, the “active lifestyle” magazine from Red Bull, and Fresh Thinking, the entertaining magazine produced by Lush.
Other brands, like Ferrari, put out carefully curated content in a large annual publication, like a sort of year book.
Staying in the car world, Porsche publishes a magazine on automotive design, Porsche Engineering. Other manufacturers, such as BMW, prefer to focus on showcasing their own products with magazines aimed at loyal customers and fans of the brand.
Brand magazines and art
Some brand magazines – despite being mouthpieces for major companies – have succeeded in sparking wider discussion and debate. One of these was Benetton’s magazine, Colors, especially when photographer Oliviero Toscani was at the helm. In keeping with the brand’s style and values, Colors was creative and provocative, a rare example of a true art magazine in the often staid world of corporate editorial content.
Also worth a browse for its interesting experimental approach is Illy Words, an art magazine produced by Italian coffee brand Illy.
What’s the point of brand magazines?
These examples show how many company magazines offer compelling content, albeit often accompanied by somewhat conservative graphic design.
They are powerful communication tools that can increase brand awareness and shape people’s perceptions of a company.
In the cases above, we’ve seen how some brands prefer to speak to a narrow, industry-specific audience, while others, like airlines, try to appeal to the general public.
What’s more, although lots of corporate magazines are now published in digital format, or as blogs or newsletters, there are still many companies that continue to invest in print magazines, especially when they wish to convey a sense of exclusivity or want to be sure of reaching as wide an audience as possible.
The world of brand magazines is rich and varied (we’ll be taking a closer look at some of these titles in future articles) and shows us how this traditional format can reach and appeal to the public: it enables any business to express its values and vision in a less commercial and more compelling manner.