The Big Issue is a UK magazine sold by those facing homelessness, as an alternative to begging. Once considered a radical solution to dismantling poverty, The Big Issue’s business model is now struggling to evolve in an increasingly digital world.
With a generation raised on free content, the UK magazine industry is in rapid decline. As the most vulnerable people in the publishing industry, this has dire consequences for Big Issue vendors.
Simultaneously, recent years have seen the rapid rise of a cashless society (cash payments have halved over the past 10 years), making it increasingly difficult for street vendors to earn a living. Vendors have become further isolated from the financial system and are now vying for a decreasing pool of cash.
Our objectives were two-fold: reignite interest in the magazine and tackle the challenges of street vending in an increasingly cashless society.
Describe the creative idea
Pay It Forward has transformed the way the Big Issue is sold; by introducing mobile payments we created the world’s first resellable magazine. Each magazine is provided with its own scannable QR code so once buyers have finished reading their magazine, they don’t bin it, they sell it on. Each magazine can be resold multiple times, with the profits returning to the vendor time and again. Every buyer becomes a potential seller and every vendor becomes the head of an entrepreneurial chain.
By adopting mobile payments, the Big Issue is less reliant on cash, maximises every sale and gains greater reach by circumventing the physical limitations of the vendors.
For this business model to work, we had to solve one of the biggest problems facing vendors: access to a bank account. So, we partnered with Monzo and as part of the scheme, vendors can open their own personal bank accounts.
Describe the strategy
The Big Issue business is built on an individual-centric model; therefore our research needed to start with the vendors. Through multiple interviews with vendors and buyers, we unearthed a key audience insight: Big Issue buyers aren’t just readers of the magazine, they are vocal champions of the Big Issue mission. The vendors rely on a small pool of loyal readers.
An understanding of the behavioural science behind charitable giving established the power this group of advocates possess. “Giving” is essentially a social act - people give significantly more to causes if asked to donate by someone they know and are more likely to donate if they know someone else has donated before them. So we soon landed on our solution: turn buyers into sellers. By utilising QR codes, we were able to empower our existing advocates, giving them an active role in the sale and distribution of the magazine.
Describe the execution
The Pay It Forward initiative launched as a pilot scheme with vendors across the UK on 1st April. Each vendor was provided with: stickers containing the individual’s avatar and a distinct QR code, belly bands explaining the activation and a personal Monzo bank account.
When someone scans the QR code, they’re sent to a customised monzo.me page containing the vendor’s short bio and photo and the payment mechanic. The payment is then split between the vendor and The Big Issue. Monzo.me makes the payment as effortless as possible, there’s no need for account numbers or sort codes and it doesn’t require the buyer to have their own Monzo bank account.
To launch the initiative and make it world-famous, we called upon a host of celebrities, including Gary Linekar and Emma Bunton. We secured coverage across major news outlets, including BBC London, The Sun, and Mail Online, achieving 93.5 million impressions.
List the results
The peer-to-peer model has increased the vendor’s reach and made them less reliant on cash transactions. This has resulted in an increase of 15% across participating vendor’s weekly sales. With the most successful vendor seeing an average weekly increase of 69%. Vendors can spend less time selling and more time benefitting from the training provided by The Big Issue.
If the Big Issue were to scale the initiative across their entire organisation and each magazine were resold just once, this would mean an annual revenue increase of £10m.
Thanks to scheme, the Big Issue is back in the public’s consciousness – receiving over 93 million impressions.
As a direct result of our campaign, Monzo have transformed their business model to allow for vendors without a fixed address to open bank accounts - this is key to unlocking financial inclusivity– without one you can’t rent, earn a living or effectively save.