What Helen Gurley Brown Taught Women About Loyalty


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In retrospect, the change was as evident as the hair carpeting Burt Reynolds’ naked midriff.

When Helen Gurley Brown took over Cosmopolitan in 1965, the family magazine was failing, with a circulation of less than 800,000. By the 1980s, after turning into a magazine for women, Cosmo drew a circulation of 3 million.

This occurred because Gurley Brown understood her target audience – the most lucrative audience a magazine could want: women aged 20 to 45, my mother included. As an outlet for women’s sexual freedom, success and control, Cosmo told us we can own it all – love, sex and money. As a child of the tumultuous ’60s, this was a potent message.

Even as a 9-year-old a bit weirded out by Burt Reynolds’ hairy centerfold, I could gather Cosmo was doing something monumental in its coverage. When it was suggested, in a later issue, that Cosmo girls should have personal business cards made to hand out at bars, it was an epiphany: Women could manage the whole meat market themselves. Forget the apron.

Which lead to a massive level of readership loyalty. Finally, a magazine was speaking to women like they had an existence outside the kitchen, and in return, women became devoted to Helen Gurley Brown.

When Gurley Brown was ousted from Cosmo, in 1997, it ranked sixth on the newsstand. Not a bad run after 32 years. Today is published in 58 international editions in 34 languages, and distributed in more than 100 countries including Mongolia.

So with respect to Ms. Gurley Brown and Cosmo, I’d like to offer these loyalty-building Cosmo headlines:

The Cosmo Quiz (too many to count): By introducing its regular Cosmo Quizes about sex, fidelity, love and success, Cosmo presented itself as an authority figure. It earned respect and emotional engagement.

Best Relation Tips Ever: There are many Cosmo tips articles, but they all say the same thing: We get you and we want to help. This established trust.

Questions You Must Ask Before (Moving In, Getting Engaged, etc.): These articles are designed to empower the reader. Empowered people tend to be happier, more confident, and they are grateful to their mentor.

Surprising Stuff They Don’t Want from You in the Sack: I suspect this has something to do with Burt Reynolds, but will leave this one to your interpretations.

Lisa Biank Fasig
Lisa leads the creation of editorials and feature stories for COLLOQUY and oversees the work of contributing editors and writers. With 18 years of reporting experience, most in business and specifically consumer behavior, she is highly skilled at researching data and teasing out the trends. A background in graphic design enables her to see ideas in three dimensions and tell the story visually.


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