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Ladymags for Olds: Good Housekeeping

A couple of weeks ago, I gave Woman’s Day the once-over with my critical lady side-eye, and what we discovered wasn’t pretty.  Woman’s Day did have many decent points; including a reasonable exercise routine, a handful of engaging human interest stories and a recipe for very cute cupcakes.

On the other  hand, the majority of the “solutions” content focused on pushing advertiser products, the diet section conflicted with the recipe section and the intended audience seemed to be a limited segment of middle to upper class, middle-aged white ladies. I gave WD a C- overall.

Good Housekeeping, the focus of today’s piece, fares a little better in many areas, while doing about the same in others.  Let’s dig in!

The Crime: Manipulating women consumers into making purchasing decisions out of fear, disgust or jealousy.

The Accused: Good Housekeeping, July 2011.

The Money

Like WD, GH is about 50-55% advertising content, including products featured within articles with a price and point-of-sale location information.  The products and services advertised in GH are similar to WD, in some cases the same exact ad or ad spread ran in both magazines. in the 7/11 issue.  Here’s a breakdown of who is advertising in GH:

Lotion, hot dogs, vitamins and Botox make the world go 'round.

 

GH has one win over WD in this area, GH has a twelve page section which is completely free of display ads.  The content on those pages does contain shopping information, so we’re not completely free of the influence of marketing, but the lack of full page display ads is briefly refreshing.

Fear (and Loathing) in the Features

GH has a fairly balanced array of content aimed at its primarily female demographic.  The bulk of the magazine is covering health & wellness, food & nutrition, and diet & exercise.  Let’s look a little closer, with my very bright chart below.

Get a jump on E. Gilbert's next bestseller; Eat, Buy, Slather.

GH has long been known as an authority on comprehensive, non-biased product reviews.  My grandma, for one, wouldn’t buy anything that wasn’t stamped with the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  The section of the magazine devoted to these reviews is much smaller than it was when I was a kid, and it’s not longer set apart by the lemon yellow pages they used to use.  I believe GH is still a reliable expert, but it’s easy to see the advantage to Consumer Reports’ policy of no advertising at all to avoid a conflict of interest.  GH is heavily supported by ads, I’m sure they can’t avoid reviewing all of the products sold by their advertisers.

Like Woman’s Day, GH nests its diet and exercise features among unhealthy processed food advertisements and recipes that are frequently not approved in the magazine’s diet plans.  This doesn’t mean some of them don’t look really delicious, especially the steak with seared, minted watermelon and the blueberry pie.

Beauty and Fashion

GH is very practical, overall.  The clothing and outfits featured (on mostly white models, although one black model is featured in one spread) aren’t especially daring, and combine classic shapes with classic colors, with the latest trends used as sophisticated accents.  Most of the outfits would work for casual parties, summer school teachers, not-for-profit/start-up office wear or for meeting your S.O.’s parents.  The beauty articles cover the summer always-runs, including frizz, pit stink, SPF, pedicures and keeping make-up on while you sweat.  Grade: B, for being middle of the road.

Home and Family

GH is aiming for the financially comfortable 30-55 year old woman with kids and a spouse.  Advice columns tackle stains, kids, mildew, summer bugs and saving a few bucks.  The kid and teen rooms featured in the home decorating section are really cute, if prohibitively expensive to recreate, while the DIY projects are moderately simple, cheap and also pretty adorable.  The magazine frequently references “Good (Enough!) Housekeeping” which I, of course, am down with.  I like the laid back attitude, as well as the practical advice, although the content could be more inclusive of women who aren’t within the narrow parameters they’re trying to reach now. Grade: A-, for being the best part of any of the magazines I’m reviewing.

Health/Diet/Food/Nutrition/Exercise/Wellness

This all sort of bleeds into one or two main ideas that flow through all the LadyMedia, but as I mentioned above, GH is guilty of the Ladymag Paradox, wherein the publishers tell you something will kill you or make you fat on one page, before trying like hell to get you to buy it anyway on the next page.  In addition to blurb articles on women’s health, there is a longer feature on the contraindications of long-term use of osteoporosis drugs.  Grade: C, for good stuff, bad stuff and ugly stuff, and continued abuse of the LM Paradox.

Star Fucking

Angie Harmon, Kelly Ripa, Patrick Dempsey and Soledad O’Brien show us that magazines don’t need photo manipulation software to make celebrities look fantastic. Grade: D, for picking four of the most uninteresting celebrities we might possibly care about.  These folks all seem perfectly lovely, and it’s certainly a step up from salacious celebrity news, but this powerpack of non-threatening, milquetoast famous people is more effective than the pain reliever + antihistimine sleeping aid advertised in the sidebar at putting this boring white lady to sleep.

Other Stuff

GH does a great job of maintaining the content:ads ratio, at least in comparison to other print mags with similar reach and influence. While there are a lot of ads overall, including a four page Botox Spread and over a dozen pages of side effects and warnings for the other Rx drugs advertised, there are a lot of content pieces as well.

Some of the more interesting included the blueberry pie I mentioned above (blueberry pie makes everything better.  Always.), an assortment of fruit recipes, Heloise’s helpful household hints (that column is older than I am.  Heloise is fucking badass.), and a quiz on nail salon safety.  Grade: B-, for excessive recycling of old ideas, lack of spark.

Overall

If you have to read a ladymag at the stylist or the doctor’s office, you can do a lot worse than Good Housekeeping.  It’s low on judgment, overall, and contains a decent amount of useful and practical information. No print publication is going to survive without being at the mercy of advertisers, and GH does better than her peers at keeping it in check while still getting the bills paid.  It’s a little fluffy, but GH doesn’t fancy itself as a hard hitting magazine with its finger on the pulse of anything, it’s proud to be your practical aunt with a mean pie recipe who always knows what thing gets what stain out.  Grade: B.  Not perfect, but not obnoxious or trying too hard, either.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

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