Sunday, August 19The Voice of London

Spend Smart: Why Christmas Gift Guides Aren’t Your Best Friend

Magazine gift guides are an easy way to get a quick insight into the Christmas fashion, beauty and homeware trends. But, when our budget gets tighter, we need to think a little smarter.

Words: Hayley Warren, Subeditor: Tamara Hutchinson

Source: Hayley Warren
Source: Hayley Warren
Source: Hayley Warren
Source: Hayley Warren

Working full time whilst completing life’s everyday tasks such as the weekly shopping, paying the bills and doing the cleaning, it can be hard to set aside time to browse the shops for gift ideas for friends and family at Christmas.

With often just 15 or so minutes to spare in the evening, the December issue of glossy magazines filled with curated gift guide edits and lists seem to be the go to option for inspiration. But, have you ever thought about how much thought really goes into these pages?

Our Christmas budgets aren’t getting any bigger and every year it seems our ‘People to buy for’ list grows, right? So spending smarter this season is an essential way to buy thoughtful, quality gifts at the best price available.

Now, the journalists behind these pages aren’t on a mission to deceive you this Christmas but it must be noted that their reasons for including a product aren’t always as transparent as it first appears. You see, the relationship between advertisers and magazines is complex and goes way beyond advertisers paying for an A4 or double page spread in between editorial pages.

Often, you’ll find sponsored editorial, aptly named advertorial, which will state on the page that the post is in association or sponsored by a particular brand. So we all know it’s probably going to be a great review but the more subtle advertising is often hard to spot, so don’t be fooled.

Advertisers aren’t always that pleased with just that lavish A4 page they’ve paid a lot of money for so they’ll expect the editors to include products throughout the magazine and to generally be kind to the brand. These product features won’t be sponsored but will be posed as genuine recommendations within editorial and suggested by the writers and editors.

Fashion writer for The Guardian, Charlie Porter, says “The product placement doesn’t necessarily have to appear in the same month, meaning an advert in the September issue could be conditional on certain items being mentioned in the editorial pages a couple of months later.”

The key to this agreement between the magazine and the advertisers is the subtlety which leads to the subsequent distrust for any product heavy editorial you read thereafter, once you know.

Most magazines rely hugely on advertising and brand marketing is essential to successful products so this mutually beneficial relationship is obvious. However, it’s also important to note the relationships between PR’s and journalists. The benefits they can get from featuring a product range can vary from trips to five star hotels for breakfast or dinner to week long holidays in the sun. All of this in the name of getting their product in the next feature.

Of course, not all journalists are happy with this procedure and as Porter says “It is all a mess, and one for which there is no apparent solution. No one who works in magazines actually likes.”

It doesn’t mean that every product on the lists are edited in this way, however, and regardless they are likely to be good products yet getting to grips with how the system works is your first step to being a smarter shopper. You can make the editorial work for you by being inspired by the gift ideas and thus getting an insight into the trends but then be savvy when it comes to spending the cash.

Independent retailers or start-up companies may have a product that is just as good or better but they lack money to spend on advertising. Discover local, more personal goods by doing a quick search on the web or looking on sites such as and You can even explore charity shops, and no, not the slightly damp smelling, beige looking shops you’re used to, but the new breed of charity shops.

Also, despite bloggers and vloggers upping their game in the past few years and producing content which is editorial worthy, it is easy to watch their gift guides and see which products they’re genuinely passionate about this year and not just items they’ve been paid to include. This is a great starting point to get gift ideas for a like-minded person.

So, now you understand the magazine ways, you use your time more wisely and spend smarter this Christmas by curating your own stocking fillers with unique and thoughtful gifts that the whole family will love.

You can easily take this theory beyond Christmas, as once you’ve learnt the thought process behind advertising and magazines you can make wiser decisions all year round. The fashion week magazines for women’s glossies, September and March have the bigger issues as they are reporting the fashion week trends. So, advertisers kick into full swing and spend a lot of money trying to entice you into their store.

Don’t be fooled, this Christmas or ever again and spend smart.