THE FEMALE PERSUASION

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Which medium is more effective at reaching women: print or broadcast? In 1998, Rob Frydlewicz, vice president and media research director at New York ad agency FCB, decided he would find out.

Frydlewicz compared data from MRI, which measures magazine audiences, with Nielsen ratings and discovered that the top 25 women's magazines command larger audiences than the top 25 female-targeted TV shows. He found, for example, that in 2001, magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Glamour or Vogue had a 73 percent larger audience among women age 18 to 49 than TV shows such as Friends, Ally McBeal and ER. Having tracked MRI and Nielsen statistics for the past three years, each year Frydlewicz has found that magazines have a larger audience among women age 18 to 49 than do TV shows. Even so, many media planners — even those at his agency — have a bias toward TV, he claims. “People assume that the highest rated TV shows have the largest audiences,� Frydlewicz says. “But in fact, many of the largest magazines have an audience that's just as large, or even larger.�

This surprising dose of good news comes amid a seemingly rough period for the women's magazine market. Recently, the category has witnessed several high profile closings (Mademoiselle and Mode), editorial musical chairs and relaunches. But while the turmoil creates fascinating gossip for media mavens, it hasn't had much of an impact on the people the magazines are created for: women. As a vehicle for reaching the female consumer, women's magazines are holding their own — even in today's economic climate. While ad pages and ad dollars for all magazines declined between 2000 and 2001, ad pages and ad dollars for the top women's magazines actually increased during the same time period, according to figures from Competitive Media Research. (This comparison refers to the first three quarters of 2000 and 2001, the most recent data available, and is representative of 22 major magazines targeted to women tracked by CMR.) What's more, while ad pages for all magazines plummeted by 14 percent, ad pages in the women's category mustered a 3 percent increase, according to CMR figures.

Of course, it's important to keep in mind that this statistical portrait of strength in the women's magazine market is at least slightly skewed by comparing such publications with an overall picture that includes the battered and limping business and Internet magazine categories. But even so, in the first turbulent economic period of the 21st century, women's magazines appear to be a reliable way to reach female consumers, says Debra L. Merskin, professor of journalism and communication at the University of Oregon. She says that women's magazines do a better job than other magazines, and other media for that matter, in keeping up with the trends that are changing women's lives. In fact, according to New York City-based Simmons Market Research Bureau (which surveys more than 30,000 consumers each year) 60 percent of women said they had read a women's magazine in the past year, compared with just 36 percent that had read home or home services magazines, and 15 percent that read a child rearing or parenting publication. In non-gender specific categories, women have even less of a presence: Just 7 percent of women surveyed said they had read a business or financial magazine, 4 percent say they've read an in-flight magazine and 4 percent say that they read a regional magazine.

Why are women's periodicals faring better than others in reaching their audiences? In part, it's due to an increasing pace of fragmentation in other media in comparison to magazines, says Frydlewicz. Even though about 1,000 new publications are launched every year, magazines aren't facing as much competition for marketshare as top television shows, thanks to the proliferation of cable stations. In fact, TV viewers have eroded at a faster pace than magazine audiences over the past decade. (See chart, page 29.) However, Frydlewicz argues that the rate of fragmentation in women's magazines had already hit its peak, and has declined over the past few years, compared with a veritable boom of fragmentation in the TV market. While magazines in general are becoming more fragmented, figures from the Magazine Publishers of America, the industry's trade association, show that the number of new titles in the women's category is, in fact, growing at a slower rate than nearly every other type of magazine. The only two categories that are growing more slowly are family and music. What's more, magazines are able to reflect the changing lifestyles of their readers than some other traditional media more quickly.

While stories about sex and career still abound, a new crop of women's titles are relying more heavily on psychographics (as well as demographics) to reach their audience. Historically, women's magazines were centered around a particular life stage; now they're focused on a particular lifestyle. A 45-year-old woman today could be a first time grandmother, a first time mother or even have a first time live-in lover. Similarly, a 32-year-old female could be a veteran of the work force or the military.

That's why the more successful women's magazines are starting to use psychographics to identify shared ground among women, says Mary Lou Quinlan, CEO of New York City-based Just Ask a Woman, a division of ad agency BCOM3. Over the past two and half years, her firm has interviewed more than 3,000 women about their lives and their tastes in magazines. Thanks to the vast diversity in women's lifestyles, she says that she finds that women usually break the intended demographic profile of the magazine that they're reading.

“When you see a 25-year-old woman, you picture her as single, she has a cool job, a cute boyfriend, she's going out at night, has lots of friends, has a college degree. But having interviewed thousands of women, I can tell you that many [young women] have children, are working at some half-baked first job, are not feeling fulfilled, are not in love, might still be living at home, are economically pressed and stressed to the max,� she says. A twentysomething woman might find her solace in Ladies' Home Journal, and a fiftysomething, in Glamour. “Women will find their way to the emotional outlet that most reflects their lives,� she says.

This is why magazines that address concerns that transcend the boundaries of age are helping to prop up the women's market in a tough economy. The most visible example is a new sub-category that has created editorial content around a near universal theme among women: too much to do for others, too little time for me. Although the phenomenon of the stressed women is nothing new, women perceive themselves as leading more hectic and demanding lives than ever. Over the past 20 years, the share of women who say they are always rushed has increased from one-quarter to one-third, according to the General Social Survey from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. This shared ethos of the stressed has created a bond greater than that of blusher and babies, and it has created a niche that's large enough for several mass-market publications to serve, says Quinlan. “Magazines that identify an attitude as opposed to an age, a need as opposed to a niche, will be successful in attracting a broader scale of readers,� she says.

At the vanguard of the psychographic targeting trend is the runaway success of the soft-core spiritual O, The Oprah Magazine, which launched in April of 2000 with a rate base of 500,000, and has since soared to nearly 2 million in circulation. In a brutal ad climate, the number of ad pages in O more than doubled, and ad dollars more than quadrupled. To skate over age boundaries, the magazine grafts a soothing and stress-free aura as opposed to the typical women's magazine fare, mixing in a liberal dose of self-help pop psychology. Real Simple, another example of this genre, offers ageless content in the form of streamlined advice on a variety of subjects, from organizing a purse to deciding what to discuss at the doctor's, on almost Zen-like sparse pages. It now has a circulation of 700,000, and is attracting women across the age spectrum: According to the magazine, 26 percent of its readers are between the ages of 25 and 34, and 45 percent are between the ages of 35 and 54.

Stress isn't the only shared psychographic feature that magazines are tapping in to. Although on its surface, More magazine appears to be aimed at an age-defined market (Baby Boomer women), it's not an age but rather an attitude that the publication is designed to serve, says Myrna Blyth, who is editor of both More and Ladies' Home Journal. Instead of creating a periodical that consciously reminds women of what a drag it is getting old, four-year-old More is designed to appeal to a segment pioneered by Boomers: the mature woman who feels young, is young and won't accept a different label. Blyth says the magazine is attracting women in their 30s as well as the women they thought they would appeal to: forty- and fiftysomethings.

Psychographic segmentation doesn't always have to reach into the depths of a woman's soul, however. There's also the bonding power of shopping. According to a 2001 Roper survey, two-thirds of American consumers say they enjoy spending their leisure time hitting the malls or the boutiques. Lucky, a monthly devoted to shopping, has made a successful launch, with a circulation of more than 600,000. The anticipated success of this niche is reflected in the summer 2001 redesign of Teen, a magazine that plans to become the shopping authority for the younger woman, says Amy Cooper, group research director for the teen division of Primedia. (Teen and American Demographics are both owned by Primedia.)

A word of caution, however. While several publishers have found success in reaching women through psychographic segmentation, not all shared psychographic attitudes can support a magazine, says Merskin. Case in point: the recent shuttering of Mode, which was targeted to larger women. Mode seemed to have as its target, a niche that wouldn't quit. Nearly half (46 percent) of all women are overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics in Atlanta, and the majority are not currently trying to lose weight. What could make more sense than a magazine that celebrated the beauty of a larger woman? “The women who read it, appreciated it,� explains Merskin. “But a woman who was picking up a copy of Mode was identifying herself as a so-called larger woman,� she says. In tough economic times, that hurdle became too formidable. Adds Quinlan of Just Ask a Woman: “Women who are heavier would like to see more images of healthy, happy, heavier women in magazines. But they don't want to be relegated to their own department, or their own magazine.�

The lesson: “Market to the niches, but make sure the niches are the ones women want to be in,� Merskin says.

COUNTING ALL EYEBALLS

Magazines are delivering a larger adult audience to marketers than top television shows, and are doing even better with female consumers.

GROSS RATING POINTS OF TOP MAGAZINES GROSS RATING POINTS OF TOP TV SHOWS PERCENT DIFFERENCE
Adults age 18-49 257 183 40%
Women age 18-49 349 202 73%
Women age 18-49 with kids under age 12 370 202 83%
Working women age 18-49 with kids under age 12 388 214 81%
Note: FCB analyzed 25 top television shows and 25 top magazines for each demographic segment. A Gross Rating Point is calculated by multiplying reach by frequency.
Source: FCB analysis of MRI data from spring 2001, and Nielsen data from Oct. 2, 2000-April 15, 2001

THE POWER OF THE PERIODICAL

In the early 1980s, the most popular TV shows had an average rating that was higher than popular magazines, but over the past decade, magazines have pulled ahead of TV.

YEAR MAGAZINES TV % DIFFERENCE
1987-1988 12.4 13.2 -6%
1990-1991 12.7 10.6 20%
1995-1996 11.4 9.8 16%
1996-1997 11.2 8.7 29%
1999-2000 9.8 7.5 31%
2000-2001 10.2 7.3 40%
Source: FBC analysis of MRI data from spring 2001, and Nielsen data from Oct. 2, 2000-April 15, 2001
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