The overdue redesign of Good Housekeeping is a standard case of modernizing a brand to maintain or reassert relevance. The whats and whys of this are very simple and better left for less probing and provocative spaces than this. Who knew that younger women might not be compelled by the word "housekeeping" in a magazine title?! Spoiler alert – it’s still there, but with a more modern font treatment. Behold and rejoice.
In any case, the far more interesting aspect of the GH story is the future of its "seal." This blog has previously discussed what we feel is an unprecedented level of cynicism in the consumer market today – the general population has always been discriminating, but the level of outright distrust of corporate marketing and other institutions has not reached this level in the 20 years we have been in the branding business.
There are a number of reasons for this – as disparate as the housing market meltdown, the NBA ref scandal, the Netflix price increase, the BP oil spill and hundreds more, including this week's collective gasp at the news Instagram is going to sell our photos (it isn’t). What these data points amount to is a tapestry of disconnection, with the marketplace seeking yet not generally finding voices to trust and believe in.
It used to be that consumers routinely rated "friends and family word of mouth" as the most important factor in opinion formation in our brand research surveys – no surprise. But now they rate consumer review sites and other extended word of mouth so much higher than anything "institutional" that it makes us wonder if everything is coming apart.
For consumers to trust an anonymous comment on the 26th page of reviews in the bowels of the Amazon.com ratings section more than corporate marketing may make some sense – but more than genuinely independent publications such as Consumer Reports? More than professionally compiled ratings? More than just about anything that comes from a company or institution? You can keep your JD Powers, Pulitzers and Nobels – I want to see what they’re saying on Yelp!
For the record, we are not scoffing, just noticing. There is enough well-placed mistrust of the media and other ratings organizations that it’s time they lay in the beds they made for themselves. Yet it leaves a vacuum of authority that is not easily (and really should be) filled. We will be writing more about what brands need to do to surmount this (and we work on it every day), but suffice it to say that they must.
Which brings us to the past and potential of the Good Housekeeping seal. The company’s data (of course) suggests that consumers still lionize its imprimatur. While that may be true, I’d bet if we asked 100 consumers if the seal could be bought (or is more easily bestowed on prospective advertisers), we would receive an overwhelmingly affirmative answer from the marketplace of conspiracy theorists that we consumers have become.
Whatever the general erosion of trust, the seal still has an opportunity to play an important role in giving structure to the (somewhat enjoyable) marketplace chaos. Good Housekeeping was right to redesign, but they should also better define what the seal means and how it is achieved and bestowed. And their plan to renew its meaning and influence is far more interesting than their plan to promote subscription renewals of its publication.
While management won’t agree, the marketplace needs far more an independent, trusted voice than it does another (even better-looking and easier reading) women’s magazine.