The Baby Boomer Is Back -- Just Ask Martha

Domestic Diva Eyes Title in Signal Over-50 Demo Is Drawing More Interest

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Martha Stewart's media-business instincts have mostly proved spot on, regardless of mistakes she's made along the way. That makes an idea percolating at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia -- a magazine targeting baby-boomer women -- all the more striking, since that isn't where publishers usually see great advertising potential.
Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart Credit: Nancy Kaszerman

In fact, targeting older readers used to mean a fast track to a shut-down. Remember New Choices from the Reader's Digest Association? What about Longevity, Lifewise, Renaissance and Second Wind? Lear's? Mirabella?

Now, however, Meredith's More magazine has found newsstand and ad success where others have foundered. Marketers no less important than Unilever are aiming squarely at older demographics. And Ann Taylor last week told analysts it's working on a new concept for fall 2008 targeted at "modern boomers," which the retailer's President-CEO Kay Krill called a segment "significantly underserved and represents a huge opportunity."

Boom or bust
So if Ms. Stewart's savvy, overachieving company decides it can tap this business -- boomers were 78.2 million strong in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and some estimates peg their spending at up to $2 trillion -- it's safe to assume we may be in for some new topography on the media landscape. Not that the going is steady or easy. For a long time, it was pretty much stalled.

"There was no place to go but up," said Patty Bloomfield, VP-account director at Boombiz, a year-and-a-half-old unit of the Northlich branding and advertising agency in Cincinnati. "It was only a few short years ago that most of the advertising to anybody in their 50s and 60s was primarily Florence Henderson for denture cream. The focus on all these ads was, 'Look, you can have an active life even when you're in your 50s and 60s! Look, you can dance! Look you can ride a bike!

"Now you're starting to definitely see some progress," Ms. Bloomfield said. "We're all trying to figure out the best way to do it."

Identifying with age
One point that media buyers raise, for example, is that magazines revolving around their readers' ages aren't necessarily the most compelling; age itself is rarely a point of passion. People interested in fashion will read Vogue or Harper's Bazaar for decades; travel addicts are going to dive into Travel & Leisure or Condé Nast Traveler over and over.

"It also goes beyond old vs. young," said Eric Blankfein, senior VP-channel insights director at Horizon Media. "Lifestyle is playing a role in how the category evolves. Certain advertisers are going to need to continue reaching subsegments within age demographics determined by their interests and needs."

"Why aren't people chasing this market more?" said Jim Fishman, group publisher at AARP Media Sales. "The same reason that in the 1960s and '70s, when it became apparent that women were purchasing more than 50% of all cars, the car industry was not marketing to women. Their attitude was, 'Why should women read mainstream publications?' Now they've discovered that women want to be spoken to, if not differently, spoken to directly."

Promising numbers
AARP The Magazine ran 163 ad pages in the first half of this year, an at-least-better-than-flat 1.6% rise over the first six months of 2006, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Its paid and verified circulation, fueled by its automatic distribution to all AARP members, averaged nearly 24 million over the first half, up 3.9% over the same period the year before, according to its publisher's statement with the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Meredith's More, meanwhile, ran 590 ad pages in the first half, up 13.2%, while its average paid and verified circulation grew 8.5% to nearly 1.3 million.

So you might understand why Martha Stewart could consider an entry of her own, though a company spokeswoman would not confirm any such plans or proposals. "We're always looking at fresh ideas and considering new audiences," she said, declining to elaborate. Word of the possible title was first reported by Women's Wear Daily.

But you can also understand why the company could easily decide against a launch that is at a stage an insider described as "very early" thinking. MSLO is no doubt considering how much such a title would cannibalize from the mothership. The median age at Martha Stewart Living is already a robust 46.7, according to the spring 2007 Mediamark Research report.

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Contributing: Kimberly D. Williams
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