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The small print - Coles Magazine

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, 
but the stories that you tell.” Seth Godin

This month I have an actual print version of the Coles Magazine, (thank you David) so I started flicking through it this afternoon for inspiration. Having now flicked right through I decided to concentrate on some of the possibly less noticed things about it. And I promise when I next get a print copy of the Woolworths Fresh Ideas Magazine I will do the same for it - just to show that I'm not biased. Although actually I think I am - just in terms of the Coles version being a better magazine - not necessarily in terms of the whole supermarket thing. Anyway this is this month's edition 'guest edited', whatever that means, by Curtis Stone - the foodie face of Coles, who says this in the 'interview' inside:


"As an individual you have a small voice, but when you partner with a brand like Coles, you get to have a big voice. I collaborate with some really influential people that can help improve our supply chain, and ensure we source our ingredients responsibly. I get to do all that while also doing what I love, creating recipes. And instead of seeing just a few people eat my meals, I know that when I create a recipe sometimes a million people might try it - that for me is really fulfilling."


And doubtless he gets paid heaps too. A really good publicity exercise for him as well as Coles. Woolworths does not have anyone to front their magazine who has the same clout. Win win.


I found a few surprising things and few not so surprising things along the way, and because they are all different I don't think this will be very logical. A bit of jumping from here to there.


Let's begin with who produces this. Being an ex cataloguer I know where to look for this information - in this case right at the back of the magazine. The first thing I noticed was the entire Magazine Team, as it is described is female, from the Editor-in-Chief to the Administrative Assistant - yes even she is mentioned.

How very enlightened of Coles you might think, but then right at the bottom of this list are three names, still predominantly female - two - but the boss is male - Nick Smith. And they are not Coles people they are from this company which is mentioned in tiny print with a tiny logo. This company is a marketing/advertising agency and part of the News Corp empire. They have lots of prestigious customers, and have won lots of awards, which probably accounts for the quality of the magazine. These are some of their 'feel-good' mission statements:


"We are an agency built to tell stories.

We know what stories people want to hear, how they want to hear them and how to keep everyone coming back for more.

We connect brands to customers, helping them control the purchase funnel from inspiration right through to sales."


So this is not a Coles production, although obviously created in collaboration with Coles and with perhaps some of the staff being from Coles, for example, Sarah Hobbs - the Food Director although she may actually be freelance. I'm guessing that some of the creatives - the photographers and the food stylists - who are all top people in their medium - are also freelance, although the overall design is surely a Medium Rare thing. So no, Coles do not have a department dedicated to producing the magazine, merely one liaising with the content agency who may or may not be the producers of other Coles advertising. But that's not what I'm talking about today.

Well it is obviously a marketing exercise. It's free, and therefore subsidised by its advertisers, some of whom just have ads inserted in the content - usually whole page ads - or promotions in conjunction with Coles - a page with a recipe presented in similar mode to the Coles recipes - and promoting their product which is featured in the ingredients list and also in a thumbnail ad, like this one. There is even a double page spread which features a group of different products on the theme of treats for mum on Mother's Day.


And, of course Coles promotes its own brand throughout either with direct full page ads, columns at the side of recipes with which the advertised products have some connection, with promotion of things that are 'new' to Coles, or by using their own ingredients in the recipes.


No surprises there either.


So what else is in the small print? Sharing. Coles is obviously a savvy digital media user. On the front page of the magazine it asks:


"Made a recipe from this issue? Share it with us! Snap a pic of your creation to any - or all - of our sites. Use this hashtag #colesmag"

And they have two Facebook sites - one for Coles and one for their cooking club - an Instagram account, a YouTube channel and a Pinterest account. The cooking club is featured with a recipe and a member in every issue and is one of those stories that Medium Rare is keen to highlight. I suppose it's there for the 'feel-good' vibes - 'we are here to help' and all that. And indeed if you join you can ask questions when you are stuck with your cooking, and share your worries, disasters and triumphs with others. Bearing in mind my comments yesterday about needing to help people to cook, this can surely only be a good thing. And people do use it - according to the home page there are 74,179 members and 58 posts today. But maybe it's yet another way to assess what your customers are buying and therefore what you can sell. And they even have a radio station app associated with Nova. Why? More advertising I guess, and maybe their selection of music appeals? I guess you have to have all fronts covered.


Still on their charitable efforts - and this applies to just about every large company. They sponsor things because it makes them look good. Coles, like the rest of them, sponsors all manner of things and every issue of the magazine features one of these. This month it is their contributions to Fight MND - 'Australia's leading Motor Neurone Disease Foundation'. Buy some pork and they will donate 10c or 20c to the fund - depending on what you buy. And they do this all the time, sometimes with direct contributions, scholarships, ongoing support - such as to Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Foundation and also by featuring a 'local hero' in each issue - but not in this one for some reason. Good on them and we shouldn't really worry about why they do it as long as they do. I'm sure Woolworths do much the same but I'm not as conscious of their efforts through their magazine. We shall see when I get my hands on the next one.


They also sponsor MasterChef which is not so much a charitable thing as a way of getting their name out there. And every now and then when the seasons are happening they will have some sort of promotion in the magazine, either through recipes or - as now - with cookware which is supposedly free and which is brought to your attention every now and then throughout the magazine. Well 'free' if you spend a lot of money. And on that, they even had a mini promotion of FlyBuys - making it personal by featuring the people who have got the biggest 'rewards' over time. Mind you I remember some English friends who visited us here many years ago, saying that they had bought their air fares by shopping regularly at Sainsbury's. So perhaps we shouldn't knock these things and learn how to exploit them to our advantage.

To the recipes. And let me say that I think that, on the whole, the recipes are better than in the Woolworths Fresh Ideas Magazine. For me anyway because I do know that recipe selection is a very personal thing. It's probably all down to who you have in charge of the recipes - in this case Sarah Hobbs, who has worked for delicious. and Taste before. I also prefer the layout of the recipes which has a few features which are demonstrated with this one from the Curtis Stone section - Roasted garlic hummus - possibly not that amazing a recipe, but he does roast the garlic - complete with a thumbnail photograph of how to prepare it. And 'ordinary' people may not know how to make hummus or indeed that you can. So what are these features?


COOK IT RIGHT. Every single recipe has this - and all the other things I will come to shortly. In the box they will tell you what to look for when shopping for a particular ingredient - in this case garlic. How to store it and also how to cook it - in this case telling you quite sensibly, to cut off the top of the garlic bulb so that you can squeeze out the garlic easily. Not everyone tells you to do this. At the foot of each recipe you have the nutritional information which they explain on the back page:


"The percentage daily intake information on our recipes is calculated using these reference values for an average adult" which they then list.


This is followed by 'Serve with' - mostly pretty obvious things but not for a novice cook and Cook, Store, Save which is usually some little tip. For the hummus they say:


"Before juicing the lemon, finely grate the rind. Freeze in a sealable bag for up to three months."


Which I have to say I would not have thought of doing, and probably won't but for the truly organised it's a good idea. Waste not, want not and all of that, though I would probably compost it.


Every now and then on a recipe page you will also find a reference to a video that demonstrates something or to another recipe on their website.


Both Coles and Woolworths have begun a section on budget conscious meals - Coles is aiming for less than $5,00 for a meal for four people, and in tiny, tiny print at the side of one page it tells you what it bases its prices on - a date and two supermarket sites. Possibly the two with the cheapest prices in their empire?

Last thing - on the last page which used to be reserved for a 'fake it' section - mostly making ridiculously over the top sweet things from this and that bought in the store - they have now gone much more noble with 'Use it up'. And this month it's stock - assuming you have bought some not made it. Although in times gone by they have demonstrated how to make it. They always have a section on 'How to' which I should have mentioned - this time it was yeastless breads. But yes - 'use it up'. I suppose their suggestions are pretty obvious, but we have to remember that these magazines are presumably aimed at 'ordinary' cooks whatever that means, and as such the suggestions are worthwhile. And again it's demonstrating what good people they are teaching you how to avoid waste.


The fact that they, like Woolworths, always feature in season produce somewhere is pretty obvious I suppose - this time the focus was on mushrooms, figs, grapes, cucumber, zucchini, leeks, capsicums and kiwi fruit. Not, I have to say, that I have noticed that any of these - except the grapes, are particularly cheap. I do not consider $2.90 for one leek to be cheap.


A pretty brilliant marketing exercise all round I think, with more to it than is immediately obvious. Some of the things I have mentioned are in very tiny print. Interesting though. I will end with this very academic statement from an abstract of a paper on supermarket magazines to ponder on.


"supermarket magazines are corporate-owned and controlled sites of communication and cultural production that bring to light the shifting (power) relations between consumers, food producers and supermarkets." Elaine Zu and Terence Lee - a paper in Communications Research and Practice


All in all I think it's a valuable learning tool for the reluctant cook. And I will do Woolworths.

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