New read on teen boys

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The rumor has stood for a long time: Boys don't read magazines.

"It's something we assumed, but they are reading magazines [like Sports Illustrated and Maxim] in high numbers," says Teenage Research Unlimited President Michael Wood. "I think it is something of a myth."

That myth has kept many publishers from launching titles that target teen males, but now several publishers have decided to take a chance on the teen boy.

Two of the latest entrants into the category are Rodale's MH-18 and TransWorld Media's Stance.

OFFSHOOT OF `MEN'S HEALTH'

MH-18, the teen offshoot of Rodale's other barrier breaker, Men's Health, launched in August with a 125,000 circulation. A second issue of MH-18 will be published in November and the magazine will come out every other month in 2001. Stance, a title that speaks to the culture born of extreme sports, launched in February with a print run of 100,000. The title will publish eight times in 2001.

"There are a lot of teens out there. Teen-age guys are more exposed to fashion and pop culture than ever before," says Jeff Csatari, editor in chief of MH-18. "They're looking to magazines to understand things. We've been getting letters from teens for years at Men's Health."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 16 million male teen-agers in the country. That number will grow until 2010 and when the teen population peaks around 35 million, there will be 18 million teen males in U.S. schools, on the basketball courts, on skateboards, going after the girl, and publishers hope, reading.

"I never believed that teen boys don't read," says Christina Ferrari, managing editor of Time Inc.'s Teen People, which has a male readership of about 20%. She says from day one of planning she made the decision that the magazine would target a dual audience. She adds she looks forward to the category's expansion as it will call attention to teen boys as a viable market.

FORGOTTEN GROUP

"Females were targeted long before, and men were forgotten," says Roz Rubenstein Johnson, owner and president of RR&J Advertising, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ms. Johnson, who handles advertising for John Paul Mitchell Systems, says, "MH-18 did an incredible job targeting teens. It was like a breath of fresh air for me." She adds that she placed the hair products client in the first issue of MH-18 and will "consider it very heavily" as she plans for 2001.

Publisher Emap USA, which targets boys through magazines in its Action Sports Group, has advertisers from Hasbro to Toyota Motor Sales USA. It also plans to launch two new titles targeting teen boys within a year.

"Emap is all about reaching men and ultimately teens to feed into those books," says Norb Garrett, creative director of the Action Sports Group. Skateboarder, an Emap title targeting boys ages 8 to 12, "was born from the spirit of the sport," he says. "The editors and photographers are all skateboarders."

Chasing after the teen male demographic through skateboards, rollerblades and skis can be profitable. Extreme sports titles include Emap publications Surfer, Powder and Snowboarder and TransWorld's Skateboarding, Freeze and Snowboard Life.

Extreme Sports are "a lifestyle and with this lifestyle comes a whole culture," says Fran Richards, publisher of several TransWorld titles including Stance and VP-sales and marketing for TransWorld Teen Group, a division of Times Mirror Magazines. Boys "identify themselves by the sport they take part in."

INSPIRED BY BUYER'S GUIDES

Although Stance's roots are extreme sports, the magazine's editorial isn't loaded with the technical side of sports. "We were kind of inspired by doing special editions of buyer's guides. There wasn't much about the clothing, the gear, the technology," Mr. Richards says.

But Rodale is taking a slightly different approach. MH-18 includes coverage of the extreme sports lifestyle, but it has a broader focus. The magazine worked with Teenage Research to hold focus groups of 13- to 19-year-old males. "It was unanimous. They wanted information," says Ad Director Steve Bruman. "They want to get the girl, not make a mistake. They want inside information."

One regular column that hopes to give such information is "Ask her: Our spy in the world of girls," which answers dating questions. But besides articles on girls and sports, health and career possibilities are also covered. A recent article is titled "Dream job: Spending a day with an E.R. doctor."

Mr. Bruman says the lifestyle bent of the magazine acknowledges that there's much more to teen guys than the vertical titles give them credit for: "These guys have lives. They're much more than X-gamers."

AUTOMAKERS TAKE HEED

And that mindset is reflective of some advertisers. Ford Motor Co.'s Ranger, which placed ads in MH-18, is looking to target males as young as 14 and several years away from becoming drivers, says Steve Wineman, senior account exec at J. Walter Thompson USA, New York.

"Without alienating our core consumer, we're going after our core target. It's about building the brand image for Ranger," he says. "With the younger crowd we have to come across as legitimate, not just tacking it onto a sport and hoping they relate. We're looking at doing it slowly, something you won't see the fruits [pay off] for three to five years."

During the last quarter, about 50% of the pages placed for Ford Ranger were placed in magazines that target the youth market. Mr. Wineman says that number is reflective of the plan for the remainder of the year and "hopefully for the year to come."

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