Every little helps the magazine with 5.65m readers

In a bold move, Tesco Magazine is to feature readers on its covers, editor Dawn Alford explains why
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The Independent Online

Tesco Magazine has been identified by the latest National Readership Survey as being the most-read women's magazine in Britain – with a circulation of 5.65 million. As its editor, this news made me feel as if I had nearly six million Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Beat that, Stephen Fry.

At the risk of sounding all "Winslet at the Golden Globes," it's an honour to be able to entertain and advise so many readers. But, with popularity comes responsibility to lead the way and change along with our readers' lives. So, as the magazine came to celebrate our fifth anniversary we wanted to offer something new.

With more than 8,000 magazines in the UK, many of them brilliantly edited, what could I do that hadn't been done well before? We wanted an idea that would see Tesco Magazine, which is produced for the supermarket by Cedar Communications, considered for awards and, more importantly, be embraced by advertisers and readers.

Our direct competitors, Waitrose Food Illustrated and Sainsbury's Magazine both feature fabulous food images on their cover. Asda runs covers using professional models. I needed an idea that would make Tesco Magazine stand out in the marketplace.

I hope that what we've come up with will be well received. We have taken a deep breath – and banished professional models and celebrities from our covers. Instead, we will be using, for want of a better word, real people as cover stars.

Let me explain our thinking. Magazines should, of course, offer money-saving and practical advice in this gloomy economy, indeed the whole reason Tesco Magazine came into existence was to give something back to Tesco shoppers – part of the "every little helps" ethos. But magazines are still seen by readers as a luxury, an escapist pleasure, and our messages and cover lines must remain optimistically upbeat in order for them to be picked up.

I was struck by a recent survey that reported that the recession was having many positive effects. We were eating together more as a family, we were wasting less food and taking pleasures from the simple things in life, like going for a walk in the country. The credit crunch has resulted in a new way of thinking for many people. Priorities have changed. What is important to us now is the reality of day-to-day life – but enjoying it along the way.

Tesco Magazine had to embrace this and I hope we've done just that with our new real proposition. By putting on our cover a non-model with an incredible story to tell we can celebrate reality.

Last week in these same media pages, commentator Stephen Glover, while writing about tragic Jade Goody, complained that he hated the "mass worship of the ordinary". I wholeheartedly disagree. I think, in these difficult times, there is nothing more important than celebrating everyday life. We can show that the ordinary can be extraordinary.

Our first cover girl, Kate Smith, is a great example of this. Kate works in a prison helping to rehabilitate young offenders and, sadly, also suffers from cystic fibrosis. The average life expectancy for a CF sufferer is just 31. Kate is now 30.

Yet Kate tells us how she is not letting her illness get in the way of her life. She lives every day to the full and jumps at every chance she has to do something unusual – whether it's abseiling, bungee jumping, travelling – or now being a cover girl for the day. I'm hoping hers will be the first of many great real stories we can feature from our readers – both inside the magazine and on the cover. I want readers to apply, or nominate friends - men, or women. Plus we're even thinking of holding road-show auditions in Tesco stores so we can really get to meet our readers.

To airbrush or not to airbrush was a question we wrestled with in the office. It seems an anomaly to celebrate reality – then to liberally use Photoshop. So we have pledged not to do so. We will not change anyone's body shape, smooth skin or iron out wrinkles. Of course, if our real model develops a big pimple on her nose on the very day of the shoot – or has a red nose from a cold, we will use limited airbrushing - and I think she – or he – would be grateful for that.

The worldwide Dove campaign was a massive success when launched in 2004 and the use of real and curvy women continues to be endorsed by that brand today. Their photography shows amazing looking women enjoying the shoot – it is attainable glamour and great fun.

It was a total fit with the beauty brand and refreshingly honest. It was basically saying "use our body cream and it will make your skin look and feel great – but you won't drop a dress size by breakfast". That honesty achieved spectacular results. They were rewarded by a 700 per cent increase in sales of their skin-firming lotion.

Tesco Magazine is not looking for commercial results to prove success or failure of our new proposition. Rather, we'll be looking to our readers for their reaction and, fingers crossed, they'll like it. I also hope our advertisers will think our magazine could fit well with their brand.

Unilever, Dove's parent company, has already met with our editorial and advertising team to hear our new idea. I attended our first "real" cover shoot at a gorgeous house in south London on a freezing day in January. The scene was the usual organised chaos as the photographer, stylists and art director prepared for pictures. But there was more of a buzz than usual and no surly models, smoking in the garden or complaining about being cold. Instead, as we shot our first frames, the sun shone, our real model beamed and laughed at our photographer's corny jokes.

As I stood watching the scene, I felt delighted we we're also going to be able to tell get Kate's incredibly courageous and uplifting story to nearly six million readers – and hopefully raise money for her charity, too.

'Tesco Magazine' is available in store from 4 March