Puffta – Cashing in on Coming Out

Puffta, the self-styled online magazine aimed at young gay men has been designed solely to make money out of gay young people, who are sold a lifestyle to aspire to through it’s clever marketing campaigns. The site bills itself as “the UK’s leading site for gay teens” which is “often imitated”. Google doesn’t seem to think so, in fact there are dozens of ‘gay youth’ sites out there that rant dozens of pages high which have been about for as long as Puffta if not longer and who aren’t now fuelled by an unlimited PR machine. No doubt they are just as popular, but then who can say as Puffta is the only site to make this bold claim.

Not so long ago this little known website set up by 17 year old Simon Johnson in his bedroom was originally up and running as a lifestyle and support site for young gay men. It has recently been transformed into by the Millivres Prowler Group (in it’s own words) a” premier brand for gay youth”. Which is precisely what now Puffta is, it’s a product, a resource in which to sell and make a profit out of by it’s owners and advertisers. The site is a medium by which teenage gays are trained as future customers.

So what’s so wrong about that I hear you ask? Women’s magazines target lonely housewives with celebrity gossip whilst and make money by peddling cleaning products and make up, teenage girls magazines have done the same for years, and straight ‘lads mags’ have controversially exploited macho masculinity to sell cars and soft porn so what’s the big deal with the owners of Puffta making a few quid out of young gay guys?

Firstly, Puffta has attempted to establish the darker and damaging aspects of the so called ‘gay lifestyle’. Many of which you could argue are responsible for many of the social problems younger gay men face today. Young gay lads notoriously aspire to look buff, pretty, sexy, thin – because they are told to by the media. Puffta reinforces these often unrealistic aspirations, leading to even more lads who simply ‘do not fit in’ to feel excluded, suffer low-self-esteem, self-harm and attempt suicide.

As well as their original titles of the Gay Times, and Diva, the Millivres Prowler Group recently acquired struggling original gay news rag “The Pink Paper” and gay tabloid mag “AXM”. Millivres Prowler are now the most influential powerhouse in the gay media. It now appears Puffta is under their control.

Pop, Porn and Potions

Sexy black pop divas, photo galleries of pumped up steroid muscle-mary’s and reviews of pricey high street labels, crikey Puffta has pulled out all the stops to pull in an audience, “It’s what every gay boy ever wanted!” claims one reader. At least it’s what Puffta thinks they want, or what it wants them to want. It’s a narrow, vulgar and offensive generalisation of what it means to be a junior queer in Britain today. The cliché’s are blinding, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a parody.

What about other types of music other than commercial pop and dance? There’s nothing wrong with porn but then most guys I know that purchase dirty videos and magazines are in a position to – they earn good money and have no problem walking into clone zone or even HMV to buy it up front, or they have good networks of gay friends they can borrow and copy it from. When you’re living at home with your folks and are shit-scarred of walking into a shop to buy a mucky DVD and you don’t yet know many other gay guys to borrow from – except those you’ve chatted to online. I’ve done it myself. Younger gay men hunt the net for whatever they can find for free, or download pirate copies. There’s no money in that and that’s what Puffta is concerned about.

Cashing in on Coming Out

“Puffta priorities:
1. Going out (clubs/bars)
2. Drinking
3. Fashion & toiletries
4. Mobile phones
5. CDs & DVDs
6. Computer games
7. Holidays”

The Puffta “media pack” says it all. It makes an attractive pitch to potential advertisers;

“Teens don’t just spend their
own money, they spend
their parents cash, too!”

“Less work – more play! – Target not the limit”

This doesn’t help send out a responsible message to young gay people at all, combined with corporate gay charities such as Stonewall who are proud
to fund their anti-bullying initiatives in schools though an insane number of sponsorship deals with credit card companies like American Express, or the disproportionate number of queer students who drop out of university deep in debt (according to the National Union of Students).

“SPENDING POWER… Gay youth are consumers like everyone else.
Commercially aware, they know their brands but can be
particularly fickle. They have disposable income and
punch above their weight with their spending power.
They are male, aged 13-21, and are UK-resident.”
“The student market is worth £15 billion”

Puffta sponsored LGBT Student Pride in 2006.

The press pack does attempt to hold the horses and claim that’s not what Puffta’s solely about.

“What is important to stress is that Puffta is responding
to a genuine consumer need for something different,
rather than in any sense being supply-led to generate
ad sales revenue.”

This argument falls flat on it’s face when they then compares Puffta’s “something different” appeal to that of proper magazines. As far as I’m aware there are no
magazines on sale in the UK that publicly target 13-21 year old gay men in this way. Puffta is a website, it came runner up in the Boyz Magazine reader awards second only to Gaydar, and as we’ve already mentioned, there are dozens of quality internet resources out there that it duplicates. What makes Puffta different is that it’s full of targeted advertising and without that it would not exist. So what does Puffta think it is? Is it a community website, a dating service, a ‘lads mag’, a support group? It’s glossy packaging for all of those.

Sign up as a member to Puffta and you’ll be lucky to”see the SEX edition. We’re hot.” “We talk sex, sex, sex” – “hot xxx gallery” “naked men – how to see them” We’ve turned the members area into a special sealed SEX edition”. You’re also invited to enter a competition sponsored by condom giant Durex (owned by multinational corporation SSL International which has an annual turnover of £608.9 million). Puffta and Durex neglect to mention that as an ‘at-risk group’ most young gay men can get unlimited condoms and lubricant free on the NHS – or from gay youth groups and clinics such as Brook, nor do they visibly mention the need to use lube for anal sex. What an excellent foothold in the market for SSL thanks to Puffta… and you get to see some dirty photos in return.

Puffta does young gay men no favours. It is dangerous.

There are some very good articles on Puffta, and the site’s editors do try make a responsible effort to be a little objective, but that’s often contradicted by catchy cover stories which home in on people’s insecurities such as:

“Spotty Boys – ‘Scrub-up!” – a review of anti-acne lotions that Puffta recommends, with a gratuitous advert on the right hand side of the page for one such product. The title of the article is almost like an order. We all know that if getting rid of acne were as simple as investing in face wash then. Nearly everyone gets spots in their teenage years, it’s part of growing up and always has been. Our hormonal juices give us no choice. But when there’s so much pressure to look the part and bed that hunk, this type of article fuelled by product placement by big pharmaceutical companies should expect to be questioned.

“Smoking – Makes you Fat!” – If you’re not fat then you don’t worry about it do you? The article assumes the reader is thin. If you’re overweight then that kind of headline is going to grab you attention – and it can cause distress. The article is a cleverly disguised seemingly sensible article promoting anti-smoking. It’s basically saying being young, gay and overweight is bad, and Puffta does not approve! Besides, the evidence to base such a ludicrous claim like “smoking make you fat” is dubious and vague.

“Muscle Please!” – We popped down to Soho Gym Camden to have a look at the muscles on offer. We asked the beach ready beauties what muscle they like the best. Accompanied by vain articles entitled “Steroids – Bottled Muscle”. The article glamorises steroid use and links it to an exciting gay lifestyle of partying and sex with hunks. It neglects to mention the specific and horrific side effects Steroids can have on your health and your wealth. Puffta wants you to look good, and you want to look as
good as the blimp breasted model boys on nearly every page of the site. You’ll be able to show them off on the beach. Not surprisingly there’s been a steady boom in the gay travel industry with resorts like Gran Canaria, Sitges and Myknos – gay travel firms are big advertisers in Puffta’s sister publications, they bring in the big bucks. The popularity of such hedonistic sex holidays amongst gay men is not without a downside.

Recent surveillance by the Health Protection agency shows an alarming peak in the number of younger gay men acquiring HIV, syphilis and several other sexually transmitted infections that were at one point in decline, as well as new ones such as LVG. It blames the increase on increased travel from the UK by men who have frequent, casual sex with men to locations like Gran Canaria. The press pack tells us that holidays are Puffta’s priority #7. Back home the link between unprotected sex and use of drugs and alcohol causing a decrease in of inhibitions and an increase in risk taking is stronger than ever before according to the Terrance Higgins Trust. The gay scene has a lot to answer for. Going out/Clubbing – Puffta Priority #1, Drinking – Puffta Priority #2.

One Last Puff

Friends tell me “that’s what gay life is all about”. I say Puffta provides a good window on to many parts of gay life but it’s all to easy to feel they are pushing a way of life. It feels uncomfortably contrived. Puffta isn’t solely to blame for damaging the image of young gay men, nor do I believe it isn’t more than capable of realising it’s mistakes and evolving into something slightly more helpful to the gay cause but the devastating longer-term consequences of which we can see today in the older generations of gay men, who luckily were not the targets of this kind of mass-gay-junk-shop commercialism springing up all over the place are worrying at the least.

Just as well Puffta is only a website and not a magazine, because it’s just about Sold Out.

  • We’ve made every effort to ensure quotations and points raised in the above article are accurate at the time of going to press.
    If you would like us to print a correction please leave a comment below. Feedback and discussion is welcome.
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6 Responses to Puffta – Cashing in on Coming Out

  1. proofer says:

    Interesting POV, but from a factual perspective Pink Paper was acquired by MPG in 2004 after its previous owner closed the title down. Last time I checked Boyz was published by Windmill Europe Ltd, certainly not Millivres Prowler Group.

  2. Paul says:

    Thank you for opening my eyes to this. I’ve just seen the puffta site itself and am appalled at the image it tries to present.
    I run a lesbian and gay youth group and we will be taking the link to puffta off our website knowing what I know now!

  3. If you’d like to talk to the editor about any of the points in this article, why not go straight to the source – you can email:
    simon@puffta.co.uk or call 0207 424 7482
    Just to set the record straight on some of the ‘facts’ in this blog:
    1. Pink Paper is published by Millivres Prowler Limited.
    2. Boyz is published by Windmill Europe Limited and has no connection to MPL.
    3. I (Simon Johnson) was 17 when I created puffta – puffta almost wasn’t called puffta when it first launched.
    4. The readers of Boyz voted puffta runner up website of the year ’05/’06 – again a publication not published by Millivres Prowler. Our peers at the gay youth corner gave puffta an award of excellence. The Pink Paper (an MPL publication) readers voted puffta.co.uk youth web site of the year – and positiveadam.co.uk blog of the year.
    I look forward to hearing from anybody who’d like to have a chat about this article, good, bad we take everything onboard if we know who the comments are coming from.
    Even its editor who is hiding behind a blog and the World Press privacy policy – why not get in touch.
    Simon Johnson
    Editor & Digital Marketing Manager
    Puffta & Millivres Prowler Limited

  4. It’s great to get a reply from Puffta so quickly. Obviously this article has caused quite stir! Yes you are right, the Pink Paper and Boyz are no longer published by the same company, and Puffta was set up when Simon Johnson was 17 not 16. We shall correct the article promptly. If it weren’t for these very minor errors then the Puffta response to this article would be empty. It’s a shame a more thought-out response can’t be put together by the publishers of Puffta in regards to our key concerns.

    It may well also be worth pointing out that Millivres Prowler Limited do however own rival publication AXM which is along the same lines as Attitude and Boyz.

    As Puffta are now happy to discuss any aspect of our article how about telling us just how much Millivres Prowler Limited purchased Puffta for? And the level of advertising revenue Puffta brings in for Millivres Prowler Limited at the expense of it’s target audience?

  5. Padraig says:

    I’m sorry, but I fail to see what business it is of your how much a company pays to aquire another business or how much that company generates in revenues.

    The company exists for one purpose and that is to make a profit for it’s shareholders. This is why people go into business afterall.

    If you don’t like the services provided by the company don’t use them and don’t pay for them. I fail to see what you’re trying to acheive with this pathetic anti-coporation blog.

  6. So its perfectly OK for a company to exploit vulnerable and impressionable young people to further it’s profit margins?

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