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I hate pop culture magazines (part 2)…

January 30, 2010

I am not a cynical person.  In fact most people who know me would say that I was a pretty optimistic person.  I am a little bit of a skeptic, true, but not a cynic.  I say this because the diet and health industry has driven me to unyielding, unending cynicism.  I think, I truly hope I am looking at the worst of general human commercial behavior here.  From outright lies trying to profit from harmful activities by claiming they are healthy to slick marketing schemes that pitch useless advice, the abject greed at the cost of the health of fellow humans is so constant as to make even the most faithful of us lose all belief in humankind.

It is like a person has fallen in the water and is drowning and 40 people run to throw them a rope.  Some ropes look stronger than others and the person in the water has to choose one.  The problem for the drowning person is that maybe one or two of those ropes may actually be pulled in to safety, most of the others will just drag you around, but never get you out of the water.  Some will ask you for money before they pull you out and just leave you there after you have paid.  The ropes that look the strongest, those aren’t ever going to pull you to safety.  The people who say it is going to be easy to pull you out of the water, they are lying, they don’t have a clue, nor a care what it would take.  If rescue operations were performed this way, people wouldn’t stand for it, and not many people need rescued each year.  Still, the food systems, government diet recommendations, diet industry, supplements industry, prescription drug industry and health industry are all competing to ‘throw you a line’ and most of us need this help.

Look, I don’t know if this is getting to me because of the weather, or if it is because I have just started looking into the state of this business, but what I am seeing is really bothering me.  Maybe come summer I will be shaking off the greed of supplement sellers and the disturbing laziness of magazine editors with a ‘come on, it is so beautiful out, why let yourself worry about a couple of bad people’.   Maybe. Still it is the middle of winter here in Vancouver and it is a little gray out and has been for months and I am sick of seeing people knowingly make the world a worse place just so they can earn several MORE million dollars.

This morning, I was getting some skim milk at 7-11 for my morning protein shake.  If I can’t eat a healthy breakfast I always makes sure I get a piece of toast or a piece of fruit and a protein shake.  If I don’t start my morning out right, I am guaranteed to mess up the entire day.  If I get my morning right, I almost never screw up the rest of the day.  So, I am buying my milk and I end up having to wait for a minute or two at the magazine stand.  I figure while I am standing here, I should take a look at the magazines and see if something infuriates me.  I should know better and stay away from these magazines, but for some reason I just want to make myself more angry today, sort of like when you were young and had a tooth falling out.  You would keep playing with it even though it hurt, maybe because it hurt…

I Hate Men’s Health

In any case I wasn’t disappointed.  Right away in the number one spot on the rack is Men’s Health.  I hate Men’s Health.  I used to think it was a good magazine but that was back in the 90’s when I was anything but healthy and didn’t really have much of a clue how to get healthy.  In fact it was only when I was getting so annoyed at the fashion and women’s magazines for their absurd diet claims that I noticed the constant promise of FLAT ABS!! from Men’s Health (and in general how much Men’s Health began to look like a women’s beauty secret and fashion magazine).  Normally accompanied with the claim that they were easy and or quick.  I know that flat abs are neither easy or quick for anyone to get, so this pissed me off.  Don’t promise me something that is hard and maybe even impossible and sell it as easy and quick.  It only makes you look like a asshole for promising me things that you can’t deliver and me look like a loser for believing you. Really you are only doing everyone a disservice here.

Then I noticed month after month, the renewed promises of flat abs, quickly and easily.  The irony of this was not lost on me as after the months passed I didn’t see many more people with flat abs, in fact, if anything I would go with the contrary.  Although I must admit on magazine covers I was seeing more and more of these rare creatures, but in everyday life, they were still rather elusive.  This is surprising because Men’s Health boasts a monthly circulation of an astounding 1.85 million magazines and a readership of 12 million people!!  That is a few more than this blog gets to be sure, but I may be catching up to their staggering 40 million page views per months (okay, catching up might not be the right term given the substantial lead that they have, but I am thankful and appreciative of the new readers I am getting every day.  Thank you!).

So, flat abs are easy and 12 million people read this issue.  Of course those 12 million people have flat abs, because they picked up that issue and to reiterate, flat abs are easy and quick…. but wait, the next month’s issue also offered flat abs…  Why would you need to offer more easy flat abs…  I am confused…  It was then that I read this quote from David Zinczenko, the editor of ‘Men’s Health Magazine’:

In survey after survey, men and women say a lean, muscular abdomen is the ultimate symbol of sex appeal.

David Zinczenko obviously didn’t miss the importance of these studies.  Most people would have seen that and said:

yep, flat abs are hot.  They would be great to promise people, but that would be totally unrealistic, irresponsible and unethical.  After all you would have to be a total douchebag to sell people a diet based on the fact that the outcome is popular, not on any belief that it works.  Instead, I will just spend my time and effort to help people start to lose weight, because that is a first step and very possible achievement, albeit it will be hard and take work.

But David Zinczenko isn’t most people.  After seeing these results of these studies he figured, I will give people the Abs Diet, and he did just that.  But that wasn’t enough, after seeing the remarkable marketing success of flat abs (it really is only a marketing success because no unfit people are getting flat abs from this book), he brought this offer to Men’s Health magazine (and Women’s health, but I will get into that a little later).  Month after month he continues to offer the promise of flat abs, or six pack abs, easily, or quickly…  Month after month circulation goes up and now it is the best selling man’s magazine on the newstands.  In fact, some even more disturbing information as supplied by wikipedia includes:

Under Zinczenko’s leadership, Men’s Health has been nominated for eight National Magazine Awards. It won in the category of personal service in 2004, the first for the magazine, and for parent company Rodale. It was also named to Advertising Age’s “A List” multiple times, and to Adweek’s “Hot List.” In 2007, Capell’s Circulation Report named the magazine “Best Newsstand Performer of the Decade.” In March 2008, Adweek named Zinczenko “Editor of the Year.”

2 Magazines for the Price of One

Editor of the year…  I am f@#$#ing floored!!  Here I was this morning,  looking at Men’s and Women’s Health magzines side by side and I am noticing something more disturbing than the monthly cry of ‘FLAT ABS’…  Take  a look for yourself:

Yes, this is the same magazine just packaged slightly differently for men and women!!  Same tips, same flat/hard abs, some sex secrets, same tip from the book Eat This, Not That (the other book empire Zinczenko has helmed).   Seriously, he is publishing 2 magazines for the price of one!  This is the Editor of the Year!?!?  This magazine has been nominated for 8 National Magazine Awards?!!  WTF?!!? Seriously they sell the same Flat Ab Crap every month and they are winning awards with this laziness!  They even have the same list of health tips each month, only changing the number.  This is in both the women’s and the men’s magazine, each and every month!!?! Laziness on this level is unheard of in any other business.  What, do they work a 2 hour work week!?? Do they come in and move a bunch of headlines around on the page and then go for lunch?  And by the way, now that we are asking questions, how do they determine how many health tips?  How about the number of sex tips?  Do they use a random number generator?  Do they roll dice?

Here is what I think happened…  The creative director for the magazine went on vacation in 2001.  He left the following image as instructions for the next magazine edition.  He never returned from his vacation and was never reported missing (just for the record I am now reporting that the creative director for Men’s Health is  missing, please somebody help find him).  Ever since, the staff walk into his office, see the now faded magazine cover sketch on the desk and go to work.  Magazines keep selling, they keep getting awards and no one cares.

To do my part to help find the creative director, I have sifted through covers of Men’s Health magazine to find when he went missing.  I am concerned to have discovered it must have happened quite awhile ago.  Turns out anyone can help out with this missing person conundrum by performing a google search.   I have compiled a bunch of covers here, and you can see that, alas his disappearance may predate the rise of the internet as an image storage device as I cannot find the start of the activity of using the same cover design.   See below:

Men’s Health Recycled Cover Controversy

Seriously the same magazine has been reissued for up to 10 years!! In fact, the very observant of you, and apparently one subscriber, has actually noticed that they don’t actually change the cover at all some months:

This issue has come up in the media and written about from several blogs.  According to Gawker:

…putting the same cover lines on different magazines year after year is lazy at best, deceptive at worst. And Zinczenko’s defense that he’s merely repeating the cover lines on the newsstand version — the version of the cover that’s meant to convince someone to part with their money for whatever “New Plan” the cover’s touting — only underlines the point.

David Zinczenko’s defense to all of this is as follows:

Twenty years of Men’s Health has certainly produced several lines that have proven themselves effective at newsstand, which makes up about 20 percent of our print run. We plan to keep using the most effective marketing tools to reach the largest market we possibly can, and continue to reward readers with practical, positive, life-altering service information. And we’ll continue to break new stories as we do every issue – as reflected in these covers

So, he is just lying to us to get us to give him money so we can get the positive, life-altering service information that we wouldn’t have bought has we known what it was.  Is it just me, or is he openly admitting to lying to us with that defense!!  Apparently this whole controversy was cracked by Perez Hilton.  You have to think that when Perez Hilton becomes the watchdog of ethical marketing in our society it is time to pull the plug!!   To read more about this controversy, read here, here and here.

The Real Problem

One last thing to note.  Jeff Bercovici of daily finance contacted Sid Holt, chief executive of the American Society of Magazine Editors, to find out if this behavior was acceptable to the society.  Here is the response that he received:

ASME doesn’t comment on the editorial practices of its members (or nonmembers, for that matter), but everyone knows the first rule of journalism is, Tell the truth. And the second is, Make it interesting. We leave it to readers and media critics to determine when those rules have been broken.

Again, we really shouldn’t be surprised that no one cares about uneithical business practices.  The government, the professions, no one.  You are once again on your own.   The real problem here is that you don’t own the media either.  They do…  You get to search and maybe find a blog that will talk about the lying in pop-culture magazines and David Zinczenko gets his magazines, books, the Today Show and Oprah….

Seriously,  People we have to demand more and complain more often.  Men’s Health and their ridiculous covers sell.   We buy them.  They are marketed very professionally, using buzzwords that apparently make us buy them but have no connection to the content within.  This isn’t okay.  Men’s Health magazine is a vapid, empty, worthless periodical.  They can put lies on the cover and people don’t even notice because the content is meaningless.  They publish over 12 billion pages of hollow advice every year.  Pages that must be printed and shipped around the world.  Forests are dying for this claptrap.  This is just a case of excellent marketing.  In fact, if you look into it, all of the awards that this magazine has received have been for marketing.  David Zinczenko is a master of marketing magazines and diet books.  So much so that nutritionists are listening to his tips (which are inconsistent and in some cases just plain wrong and I will tackle this issue in a future entry).

Selling False Hope

And this is why I am angry.  I really don’t care if they are re-selling the same story lines on their magazine, and if they spend 2 minutes or 2 months developing their cover.  What I care about is that they are selling false hope.  The problem with people who sell false hope is that they think they are just taking your money.  They will point out the 1% of people who actually got fit after reading their advice and say, if it worked for just 1 person than it is worth it.  But it isn’t, because the 99% percent lost more than their money.  They lost the belief that they can succeed.  If you follow bad advice enough times, and continue to fail because of this, you will lose the belief that you can succeed.  So people like David David Zinczenko are stealing your ability to succeed by giving you empty promises so he can sell magazines, something he openly admits to!

Where this goes from simply being infuriating to being alarming is that people know that he is the editor of a tremendously successful ‘Health’ magazine (after all it says health in the title), so he must be a health expert, right?  Wrong.  But now he is revered AS A HEALTH EXPERT and has been shown on the Today Show, Oprah Winfrey and other shows as exactly that.  So we continue to reward a man who is making the world a worse, more difficult place for us unfit people, a person who repeatedly promises us an easy six pack, and we reward him because his marketing skills are making him rich.

The world doesn’t have to be this way.  If we demand more they will give it to us.  If we stop flocking to buy their lazy output, their mind bogglingly formulaic drivel, they will actually put in a real day at work.

What We Can Do

We have to stand up and call people liars when they are.  Flat abs aren’t easy and anyone who says that they are and that they have a simple way to get them is a liar (don’t confuse saying something simply, such as ‘eat less and workout a lot’ with a simple action, because eating less and working out a lot is anything but simple).  We have to stop confusing good marketers with health experts (as well as experts in other industries) and we have to stop rewarding people who take from us, even if they do it very effectively.  Write to TV shows that confuse expert marketers with health experts, expert trainers with endocrinologists, etc.  Tell them we aren’t stupid and we demand real expert.  TV shows hate real experts because they don’t make absolute statements and rarely are involved in fear mongering…

We have made David Zinczenko an incredibly rich man.  All he has done is assist in the raping of a number of forests to print his lazy, intelligence insulting crap and then god knows the amount of hydrocarbons he has used to ship this to us all the while writing on the cover claims of stories that may or may not be included in the magazine but certainly will make people buy it.  He has done all of this just to get us to part with our money and shown no concern whatsoever about helping guys (and girls) lose weight.

So, if you were wondering what pisses me off, look no further, you have found it.  Men’s Health, Women’s Health and David Zinczenko all piss me off.  That said, I am not one to hold a grudge, so David, feel free to use that graphic that I made to train your new employees in continuing to produce such high quality output.  It may cut down the workweek from 2 hours to 1.5.  No need to drop me a line and thank me…

Summer can’t come soon enough for me…

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