British Vogue plots next phase of diversity drive as ethnicity focus courts bigger ad budgets

Nicole Kidman on the February 2018 cover

British Vogue has claimed its revamped approach to diversity has seen revenues rise and attracted a range of previously untapped advertisers, successes its publishing director hopes will continue as the magazine grows its inclusion agenda beyond ethnicity and into age.

The 100-year-old brand went through a raft of changes last year when Alexandra Schulman, its editor-in-chief of 25 years, was replaced by Edward Enninful: the title’s first black, male, and openly gay editorial chief. He immediately began addressing historic criticisms that Vogue was racially non-diverse in both its content and staff base, selecting Adwoa Aboah as his first cover model in for the December 2017 issue.

The cover and issue were lauded, but when the February issue was revealed to be fronted by white actresses Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie, Enninful was criticised for slipping back into the whitewashing days of before.

Yet the inclusion of 50-year-old Kidman was actually part of a strategy to promote another kind of diversity.

“One of the areas of diversity that Edward takes very seriously is age,” explained the brand’s publishing director, Vanessa Kingori.

“He has a lot of friends in the beauty industry, the fashion industry and the film industry and they witness the challenges of people aging in and out of the spotlight. Without much fanfare about her age, Nicole Kidman was on the cover and there was a really interesting response of ‘Where’s the diversity?’ It’s really interesting that people can’t see [diversity of age].”

She noted that the act of putting people of colour on magazine covers has become an easy shorthand for open-mindedness, and while she believes this representation is a good starting point, “it’s only the beginning”.

“What I want to know is, what about hard conversations?” Kingori said. “What about things that are more difficult to convey on the cover? I’m a big advocate of true inclusion.”

Kingori, who joined from GQ as Enninful prepared to make his Vogue debut, sees it as her job to prove that diversity is “good for business”.

She revealed that digital revenues have risen by more than 25% since Enninful’s takeover and a “whole new plethora” of brands have come knocking at the door. These include the likes of Nike, which is embracing Vogue’s fresh embrace of health and wellness coverage alongside its fashion editorial, and, interestingly, Christian Louboutin.

“When we spoke to Christian he said, ‘I’ve never felt the need to advertise because everyone knows what my brand is, but now you’re the only brand that’s speaking in a language that reflects mine’,” explained Kingori. The shoemaker is just one of the brands showing particular interest in Vogue’s branded content unit, which the publisher describes as “one of the most important pillars of our advertising”, alongside experiential.

“[Content marketing] is still about beautiful imagery – perhaps even more so – but it’s also about narratives that reflect intelligent women that are challenging,” she said. “Now we talk about women’s triumphs and challenges, such as miscarriage. That would never have been Vogue territory before. Brands have been really engaged with the [new] editorial narrative.”

Kingori was speaking at Creative Equals' event, #CELeaders

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.