Magnifying the Power of the Brand:
What Logo Licensing Can Do for Magazine Publishers

For a long time, brands have been powerful symbols of ownership, identity, and value. Magazine publishers are increasingly discovering how beneficial those symbols can be.

An Introduction

For millennia, recognizable brands have identified creative ownership, and ultimately the reputation of that owner. Producers of goods and services have elevated that concept to a sophisticated science, leveraging loyalty to a brand reputation in order to succeed. Consumer and business magazine publishers also have reputations no less dependent on brand perception. Editorial expertise and insight are their primary stock in trade. And their favorable opinions are valued by subscribers and advertisers alike.

Magazines symbolize their reputations in many ways. Recognizable names and covers, well-designed logos, and even quotes from well-known writers provide visual cues to loyal readers. Like a medieval baker’s marks, these symbols let the consumer know they’re getting something from a trusted source. When the brand logo is for a specific event, like an annual “Editor’s Choice” or “Top Picks” competition, the positive influence is even greater. Advertisers know this, and publishers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the ways they benefit from these symbols.

A Short History of Brands

The word “brand” (Germanic for “burn”) has undergone profound change since its medieval origins as a burned-in symbol denoting ownership of physical property. Legally, a brand logo is a trademark—a distinct class of protected intellectual property used to differentiate the goods or services of one seller from those of another. The history of that concept is a fascinating one. The expanding use of trademarks (and the litigation required to defend them) points to their value as tools for businesses to promote goods and services, and to secure future earnings.

Beginning with the customer segmentation approach of companies like General Motors and Procter & Gamble, branding has evolved significantly in the modern era. No longer just a mark of commodity ownership, branding is a complex but effective practice for conveying a promise to an identifiable group of consumers. That promise—express or implied—becomes shorthand for specific value, the attributes of a product or service that justify continued use and loyalty.

Brand logos in particular are visual cues that allow consumers to make choices in an incredibly vast and complex marketplace. Marketers develop these symbols as indispensable tools for building and maintaining trust relationships with customers who would otherwise choose to purchase competing products or services.

5000 BC: Marks on pottery
Marks on pottery — presumed to denote the identity of the artisan or owner
3000 BC: Purported ownership marks used on Egyptian bricks and roof tiles
Purported ownership marks used on Egyptian bricks and roof tiles

Generic brand "Chyawanprash"
herbal paste first used in India


First use of trademarks stamped on Roman bricks

Evolution of Trademarks


Trade guilds begin using marks to denote ownership of goods.


Bakers Marking Law in England, requiring distinctive stamps on bread.


Watermarks introduced in Italian paper making.

From the Middle Ages to the mid-19th Century, trademark symbols evolved from guild- or craft-based ownership marks to government-enforceable intellectual property. As tools of international commerce, brands grew in importance as a way of protecting markets for established goods. Although advertising in its modern form did not exist yet, these marks were protected because they symbolized the value or reputation of something—and offered a way to discourage unwanted imitation.

During this period, publishing focused mainly on books and, later on, broadsheets and newspapers. The use of trademarks in printed form was unheard of. However, with the advent of magazines and larger-format advertising, the expansion of trademark use from the objects themselves to media was inevitable.


First brand litigation (over a widow's right to use her husband's mark).


European porcelain makers use identifying marks inspired by their Chinese predecessor.


Thomas Jefferson recommends trademark legislation to protect the interests of sailcloth makers selling to foreign nations. Thomas Jefferson


Trademark laws enacted in the United Kingdom.

Tapping Brand Value

Labels, signage, and other immediate, shopping-specific media are natural places for trademarks. Display advertising is the logical next step. It occurs separately from the point of sale, but is a powerful pre-sale influencer. The value of their own brand recognition is a given for advertisers. However, since advertising itself is extremely competitive, advertisers constantly seek new ways to boost their public perception—by invoking the expertise or endorsement of others, preferably with credibility and a brand of their own.

Publishers of course must maintain objectivity when it comes to their opinions—and their own brand identity. The inherent value of the latter, often symbolized by a logo or other symbol, is heightened when readers know it represents impartiality and expertise. This translates to greater loyalty, increased subscriptions, and attractiveness to advertisers. The use of those symbols by advertisers, therefore, must be closely controlled—not just for their direct revenue potential, but also to sustainably grow and enhance the magazine’s brand image.


Bakers Marking Law in England, requiring distinctive stamps on bread.

Coca Cola® first used as a brand trademark.

U.S. Trademark Act strengthens and extends legal protections for trademarks; over 16,000 trademark applications filed.

Magazine Publishing & Brand Recognition


Good Housekeeping magazine establishes the Seal of Approval for advertised products tested by the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. Although not the equivalent of certification brands like “UL Listed” or “Energy Star,” products allowed to carry the Good Housekeeping Seal go through a rigorous testing and approval process, overseen by the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. Consumer confidence in the over 5,000 products granted the Seal has translated into consistently higher sales. In other words, the brand logo. symbolizes a promise, which translates into consumer confidence and loyalty.


Proctor & Gamble promotes the modern concept of branding — a shift from commodities ownership to a value-driven, customer-segmentation model.


Cadillac Motor Division wins Motor Trend's first Car of the Year Award.

Successful publishers focus on a definable audience or interest group. Their print and digital publications aspire to be the trusted source of expertise or engagement in a particular field or demographic.

The traditional ways of leveraging that are subscriptions and advertising, with a variety of traditional “ancillary” streams as well. But in the last 10 years, what once was the province of outliers has been revolutionized. Throughout the media world, as brands ranging from People or Good Housekeeping to Event Marketer or Billboard leverage their content expertise and position as market experts into new revenue that goes beyond the traditional advertising and subscription streams. It’s centered around logo licensing and it can be lucrative indeed.

Magazines naturally, organically come up with lists, reviews and analysis. Think about how seamless it is to analyze relevant areas of coverage, to rank them, to produce reviews. From top doctors, to best in shows, favorite getaways, top CEOs and best back-to-school laptops, the multitude recognition concepts is limitless. For their part, live events allow for strengthening the bond between magazine and market, and for face-to-face recognition programs. For the brands bestowed with such recognition, what follows is a tradition as old as marketing itself. The winners use their awards—and its recognizable brand—to promote themselves and their products to prospective buyers. And at the center of the marketing campaign is the logo of the conferring authority—the magazine brand.

Historically, publishers have granted the recognition, but not reaped the value. The financial benefit from the use of their logos, if any, was indirect. It was given away by editorial teams, or rolled into “added value” by advertising salespeople. “Brand logos represent unseen opportunities for publishers,” says Brian Kolb, Chief Operating Officer at Wright’s Media. Which has pioneered logo licensing services for publishers. “Too often, a publisher will give away the right to use an award logo in order to sell more ad space. They’re leaving money on the table in the form of licensing fees.” Kolb outlined many of the different ways a publisher’s logo could be used—each with a clearly contractible value for frequency and type of media use, including in ads, on packages, in marketing communications, press releases, videos, and much more.


Billboard magazine first publishes its "Top 100" list of music singles, combining ratings for sales, airplay, and jukebox activity.


NBC is granted a trademark for the sequence of three musical notes used to identify its broadcasting service.


Owens Corning® is granted a trademark for the color pink used in its insulation.


More than 1.6 million trademarks
are registered in the U.S.

The licensing of logos and other brand assets is a logical extension of a magazine publisher’s core mission—to be a trusted source of information and opinion to a targeted group of individual readers. By letting advertisers use the visual symbols of their expertise (along with their own brands), and by controlling that use to preserve its editorial integrity, a publisher can have the best of several worlds. A new source of revenue from licensing is good for one’s balance sheet, to be sure. More importantly, however, it gives advertisers more reasons to stay on board. Most important of all, a recognizable brand is a banner to rally continued support (and subscriptions) from interested readers.

The Future of Brand Licensing Technology

To help publishers capitalize on their brand award logos, Wright’s Media developed an automated content licensing platform, LicenseStream. A combination storefront and digital asset management system, each LicenseStream site is a white-labeled system for brand marketers and retailers. Each site provides easy access to a publication’s award logos and winning product images—allowing them to create effective print and digital promotional material, within the bounds of a usage agreement.

One such LicenseStream system is used by Hearst’s Cosmopolitan and Cosmo for Latinas, in conjunction with their respective beauty awards. Cosmo’s branded LicenseStream site gives marketers and retailers easy access to the Beauty Award logos, as well as search capability for locating winning products and a submission portal for logo use approval. It also presents prospective licensees with the financial benefits of logo use. The magazine’s reader survey includes compelling data, including the fact that 75 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to buy a product that had won a Cosmo Beauty Award.

Other incentives include examples of effective logo use, including in-book advertising, retail display signage, packaging, websites, and social media. Pricing is displayed on the Cosmo site (to signed-in users), but the publisher ultimately controls the site’s content—including pricing and terms.

The LicenseStream user experience is straightforward. Marketers and retailers simply complete a profile, including their relationship with specific brands that have received awards. Once logged in, they can find their desired product—either by name or brand, or by award or category. Once found, a watermarked image placeholder of the logo or product can be downloaded and used in a design comp. This in turn may be uploaded for approval (i.e., compliance with licensing terms).

Payment for logo use can be immediate, via credit card, or through a purchase order. The system tracks overall content use and payment information.

Wright's Media Case Studies

  • Tom's Guide and LAPTOP Magazine:
    The Go-To Authority in Tech Products

    Read More
  • Want to Be Cool in the Event Business?
    Get Recognized by Event Marketer

    Read More
  • Northstar Travel Media Builds New
    Revenue for a Strong Brand

    Read More
  • Dennis Publishing UK Gets to 6 Figures
    in Logo Licensing, with More to Come

    Read More
  • Lenovo: A Brand That Understands
    the Value of Third Party Advocacy

    Read More

Tom's Guide & LAPTOP Magazine

Mark Spoonauer, Editor, LAPTOP Magazine
This not only enhances our credibility if we do it right, but it also expands our revenue potential through logo licensing.
Mark Spoonauer
Tom's Guide, LAPTOP Magazine

New York-based LAPTOP Magazine is part of a parent, Purch Inc., that launched in 2003 as TopTenReviews. The entire culture of the company is based on reviews and rankings, and LAPTOP has many recognition programs. A sibling brand, Tom’s Guide, casts an even wider net, covering all kinds of products—including watches, games, TVs, wearables, phones and tablets. The editor of both, Mark Spoonauer, offered a look at their brand journey. The publications’ qualitative and quantitative product reviews (with uniform star ratings) have made both sites high-traffic destinations for mobile technology purchase decisions, he says. “Over the years, we’ve had several award logos,” Spoonauer says. “The most important is Editor’s Choice, which is where we see a growth opportunity for newer technologies. Logo licensing will be a real part of that growth.”

Editor’s Choice award winning products have to do well with an informal suite of benchmarks designed to simulate real-world situations, such as battery life and other practical use cases. Overall judging is based on comparable costs and usage. “We are constantly expanding the number of use cases or niches where a comparison—and an award—makes sense,” Spoonauer says. “This not only enhances our credibility if we do it right, but it also expands our revenue potential through logo licensing.”

LAPTOP has been using Wright’s Media for logo licensing since 2006. “We appreciate their focus on authorized uses of our brand,” Spoonauer says. “Our awards are given to individual products, not product families, so it’s important that a manufacturer make that clear. It’s only partly a question of revenue. Those who see our logo on an ad trust our decision, so it needs to be clear what product deserves the logo.

“Readers’ trust in our brand means much more than any line item we get from licensing,” he adds. “Logo licensing is a meaningful part of our revenue stream. However, the visibility of having our brand on store shelves, on e-commerce sites, and on vendor websites has even greater value. With advertisers, it builds relationships and opens doors. With users who rely on it for shopping advice, it builds a loyal audience.”

Event Marketer

Typically recipients use the logo in a few ways. One is internal, to make employees feel good about where they work, and to show off to recruits or potential clients. They use our logo on their websites, in their presentations, in their print ads and elsewhere.
Dan Hanover
Vice President
Event Marketer

Logo and other brand licensing are not limited to magazines. B2B publishers are equally vested in their editorial reputations—and the visual symbols that represent their professional judgment.

Event Marketer magazine was founded in 2002 to serve the many needs of marketing professionals engaged in live events like trade shows, corporate events, and the fast-changing array of virtual events. Providing everything from resources to best practices, the magazine serves as a trusted source for a broad cross section of companies serving the event industry.

One part of that effort is a series of annual recognition programs for excellence in event marketing (the Ex Awards) and exhibit design. The magazine also publishes a “Best Places to Work in Events” list each year. Licensing of event-related material includes the logo itself, as well as reprints of articles, features, and photos, plus an array of merchandise like wall plaques and coffee mugs.

Event Marketer Vice President Dan Hanover described the ways EM’s licensed content is used. “Typically recipients use the logo in a few ways. One is internal, to make employees feel good about where they work, and to show off to recruits or potential clients. They use our logo on their websites, in their presentations, in their print ads and elsewhere.”

The benefits of logo licensing for Event Marketer are positive, but not solely focused on direct revenue, which currently totals about $50,000 per year, according to Hanover. “I think the value for the award recipient is being able to show off what they’ve won in their own channels and on their own terms,” he says. “In many cases it doesn’t specifically get them to increase their advertising spend, but in most cases it does help build a relationship with our brand, which in turn helps them want to spend more. Conversely, companies showing off what they’ve win has helped us pull in new business from companies who are jealous and want to start a relationship with us and participate in our assets and award programs.”

Northstar Travel Media

Sheila Rice
What I structured was a corporate contract—the publications were accustomed to doing it themselves. Everyone was giving it away. Slowly the divisions came into the fold. It was found money and I didn't want to leave any money on the table.
Sheila Rice
Vice President of Licensing & Business Development
Northstar Travel Media

Sheila Rice, the vice president of licensing and business development for Northstar Travel Media, had a two-pronged mission. She had to leverage the Business Travel News brand equity internally through licensing of the logo, and she had to convince internal stakeholders of the value of what she was doing. Like many legacy media companies, logo licensing was done by individual brands at Northstar, and sometimes based on the spontaneous decisions of individual people.

“What I structured was a corporate contract—the publications were accustomed to doing it themselves,” Rice says. “Everyone was giving it away. Slowly the divisions came into the fold. It was found money and I didn’t want to leave any money on the table.”

The BTN effort began in earnest two years ago, Rice says. “I didn’t think there would be any real revenue from it. It’s not as if we’re the New York Times, right? And Wright’s said, ‘Just let us try.’ It came out of the publication with the most success was the Business Travel group. It’s a highly respected, dominant brand in the corporate business travel space.”

Rice said BTN did a survey of hotels in the country. The chain that was the top wanted to leverage that outcome and use it in promotions, do trophies and plagues, and put them at the desks in every one of their hotels in the U.S. “So think about this,” Rice says. “If it had been an editorial person at BTN, they might have said, ‘Fine. Use it.’” But for a third-party like Wright’s, it was, ‘Look, for you to leverage the BTN name, and there is a price for that.’ “

And it turned out, Rice says, that the campaign produced, “Multi tens of thousands of dollars—that’s a lot of money!”

She adds, “This has the potential for being a revenue stream that really can be quite powerful, and that ties back to the validation of the brand and its influence in the sector. “There are so many residual benefits of something like this.

“"Wright’s has been a very valued partner in building the business,” Rice adds. “I have the confidence that they are going to go into the market with a strong selling effort on Northstar’s behalf. They understand what the value of that logo is. They can speak with a language that will showcase the comparative value for logo use—for PR, for Web use, for print ads. They take that responsibility off of me and have far more expertise in knowing what the market commands. And that’s the real key."

Dennis Publishing UK

Dharmesh Mistry
The reality is that putting a logo on an ad or something else, that's going to lead to significant sales. Most consumers, in their bigger purchases, would prefer an outside opinion by an authority when making a purchase.
Dharmesh Mistry
International Business Development Director & Head of Licensing Operations
Dennis Publishing U.K.

Dennis Publishing U.K. is the sixth-largest publisher in that country, with more than 30 titles in computers, automotive, fitness and lifestyle, and crafting. Logo licensing started for Dennis more than 15 years ago, but for the most part, it’s been limited to the motoring group, says Dharmesh Mistry, International Business Development Director & Head of Licensing Operations.

“What you’d find even three or four years ago is that some people would be charging for logos, and some would be giving them away in editorial, and some people on the advertising team would be giving them away as part of a value add,” he says. “I started looking at it in 2011, asking why we were giving away so many logos. People are using our brands to make sales. The reality is that putting a logo on an ad or something else, that’s going to lead to significant sales. Most consumers, in their bigger purchases, would prefer an outside opinion by an authority when making a purchase.”

Dennis started working with Wright’s in 2012, Mistry says. "Wright’s was quite robust in saying, ‘this is why you should be doing logo licensing.’ We realized that we've got the brands, and we have to maximize their potential. We were doing it, but we weren’t doing it comprehensively. Wright's also has access to marketer brands where they have money to divvy up among publishers. There’s no way other than through Wright's that we would get access to that revenue. The third thing they do, and it's closely linked, is that they go to events like CES and create awards programs at the events, and licensing is divvied up among media brands. It’s just a smart way to work—everyone's excited, you have amazing products, you’ve got the the community there and it’s a good way to operate. It's these three strands where Wright's works with us very successfully."

For the moment, says Mistry, the licensing partnership with Wright’s is focused on the tech space—with PC Pro, Computer Shopper, IT Pro, Expert Reviews among the brands being licensed. Not every brand lends itself to logo licensing, Mistry says.

And how’s it working? “Overall we’re comfortably in six figures, and would like to push that to seven,” he says. “There’s more to come with national campaigns—I think with TV. Wright’s have helped us generate six figures, which is outstanding, really.”


Vikram Raghavachari
Licensing and obtaining rights to use product review based content is a foundational step to using any material from professional product reviewers. A responsive partner with the reach and connections to meet almost any need is essential.
Vikram Raghavachari
Content Marketing Architect

For a company like Lenovo, which is Chinese owned but massive and global in scope, the brand team discovered that they couldn't bank just on Lenovo’s product superiority and innovations to build awareness and consideration. This was especially a challenge in the very noisy tech industry and especially in a market like PCs, where there is intense competition and consumers are spoilt for choice. Their goal was to reach into new markets and segments that didn’t know the Lenovo brand and build trust with younger audiences.

"We realized we had to do a lot more than just allowing our products speak for themselves,” says Content Marketing Architect Vikram Raghavachari. “We had to have sources of credible endorsement. Our CMO, David Roman, had the vision that we should be using product reviews to amplify our successes and product features. We needed expert opinion to speak for us in our communication.” The company’s Brand Communication division created a Third Party Advocacy program, which includes a lot of different elements, with licensed product review quotes and award logos being one part.

“It can be very hard for today’s informed consumers to believe claims about products—especially with all the digital clutter. Of course there are professional product reviews on many sites, but there is no guarantee that the target audience is aware of them. Especially at the early stages of the customer decision journey, prospective buyers are exploring options and alternatives, rather than reading reviews,” Vikram says.

“Our efforts,” he says, “include ensuring all those voices and opinions are translated into marketable material, and used strategically. Licensing and obtaining rights to use product review based content is a foundational step to using any material from professional product reviewers. A responsive partner with the reach and connections to meet almost any need is essential.” Lenovo found Wright’s Media to be exactly the kind of agency it needed to support the Third Party Advocacy (TPA) program.

So the TPA program has central business objectives:

  • Remind people that there are good reviews about Lenovo products
  • Highlight specific things that a professional review has found, or that Lenovo won an award
  • Promote the use of corporate or category level accolades

Because, Vikram says, “We know that seeing or hearing good things about a brand is in the top three reasons for consideration. Reinforcing good quotes from a product reviews is often the start of beneficial sentiment on digital and social channels.”

Often, Lenovo’s global product launches use product quotes in high visibility launch advertising. Lenovo looks for certain kinds of reviews, from particulars kinds of media brands. It selects the most appropriate component for the asset or collateral being developed, keeping space, cost and media in mind.

Lenovo has almost made a science of the Third Party Advocacy effort. The use of product reviews isn’t restricted to just quotes. “We make efficient use of the review – and that could be a punchy quote as a headline, the star rating, the benchmark tests, or just simply an award logo from CES.”

The Third Party Advocacy program has many more parts to it that address the needs of Lenovo’s commercial customers as well. For every target audience, licensed product reviews play an important role in Lenovo’s marketing communication.

The result of this integrated strategy?

Lenovo derives benefits at many levels. “I can tell you broadly that we look at larger indicators down to asset level performance. If you look at a web banner or a social media post, we have numbers that show that those assets with quotes and/or awards logos have a lot more engagement than those without,” Vikram says. Lenovo has seen that product review based content brings value to the communication that makes it easier for customers to zero in on products and features that matter to them.

“Assets with content from reviews have a direct effect on sales and the brand effect shows up in our regular tracking surveys, which clearly show the importance of product reviews. It works for our customers and us, and we intend to keep it that way,” says Vikram.

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Story: John Parsons

Design, Layout & Interactive:
The Digital Development Team @ AI