How old? It's mind-set that counts

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Age before beauty is an annoying little saying. But age-namely 18-34-before money or lifestyle is, say many a men's magazine executive, an outdated notion that needs to be put to rest.

"My sense is that age is not such a big factor in how men think of themselves," says David Granger, editor in chief at Hearst Magazines' Esquire.

To reach the modern man, think stage of life rather than X years old. Think mind-set. Think: Sheesh, that guy has been working for 20 years and probably has a bit of extra dough he can spend.

"Trends start in the youth market, but the consumer side of that trend manifests itself 10 years later," says Kevin O'Malley, VP-publisher of Esquire, whose readers have median age of 40 and a median household income of $53,338. "You really want to reach men who are culturally plugged in and have money. That gets lost with the youth obsession-especially in fashion."

Despite the ad industry's apparent ardor for 18-to-34-year-old males, conversation at media-buying giant OMD doesn't center solely on this group, says Jack Hanrahan, director-print media at the unit of Omnicom Group.

"I don't find the conversation here so narrow," he says. "We're trying to do the right thing for the brand." He adds that 18-34s are a "key demographic" but 35-49s with median household incomes of $75,000-plus are still very viable, and very important for automotive and spirits marketers.

"Boomers are basically blowing through their kids' inheritances and having fun doing it," says MaryAnn Bekkedahl, VP-publisher of Rodale's Men's Health, which has a median age of 36.

Rodale is celebrating this inheritance-blowing enthusiasm by turning its newsstand-only quarterly Best Life into an every-other-monthly starting with the summer issue. Best Life is for "guys who have achieved a high level of accomplishment," says Ms. Bekkedahl. The median age through the first three issues was 42; median household income was a disposable-income-friendly $98,000.

Men are "staying single much longer, and there's a permissiveness [in our culture now] to spend money on yourself and your loved ones," says Ariel Foxman, editor in chief of Conde Nast Publications' new shopping-centric guy title Cargo. The magazine's core target audience is 25 to 45 years old; median household income is $71,882.

At the granddaddy of the genre, Playboy, the recent experiment to update the product by bringing in James Kaminsky as editorial director ended abruptly. Even before his two-year anniversary, the former Dennis Publishing leader resigned as Playboy's editorial director. For the second half of 2003, Playboy failed to make its rate base.

The official company line was that Mr. Kaminsky was being given the new job of VP-special projects at Playboy Enterprises. "Jim's move does not in any way alter our strong commitment to the new editorial direction at the magazine," a company spokeswoman says. "Playboy will continue to evolve as it continues to enhance its competitiveness in today's men's magazine market."

50 years of `playboy'

The move comes as Playboy marks its 50th year.

Over at Dennis Publishing, home of uber-laddie Maxim, the potential of the post-lad demo definitely has top brass interested.

"We are evaluating opportunities to take the Dennis formula into some new demographic terrain," says Rob Gregory, group publisher of Maxim. He adds that new projects-possibly including a magazine for those who've graduated out of the lad segment-will be announced within 18 months.

"Guys have tossed away the manual that says when you turn 35 you must do this or this," Mr. Gregory says, "and that's a beautiful thing."

GQ Editor in Chief Jim Nelson agrees: "Everybody thinks they're ageless. Forty is no longer a wall." Median age for a reader of Conde Nast's GQ, however, is under 40, at 32.6; household income is $72,930.

For those not ready to completely abandon the age factor, it's time to at least redefine perceptions of different ages. Brad Pitt, at age 40, is a good starting point. "Everybody wants his youthful vitality," says Esquire's Mr. O'Malley.

Whether 40 is the new 30, as Cargo Publisher Alan Katz contends, or the new 20, as Mr. O'Malley says, today's 40 definitely wasn't your grandpa's 40.

"If a man is healthy into his 50s, 60s, and 70s, he wants to look great and will buy the same Polo jeans as a kid who's 18," says Roz Rubenstein Johnson, president of RR&J Advertising, a Santa Rosa, Calif., agency whose clients include Paul Mitchell Salon Products and Rochester Big & Tall.

There also seems to be a growing acceptance for the culture and celebrities that each generation contributes to the whole. "The O.C." on Fox TV "is a more adult way of looking at youth and has spawned an industry of products and trends," says GQ's Mr. Nelson. And, he adds, twentysomethings "think [48-year-old actor and ex-husband of Angelina Jolie] Billy Bob Thornton is cool. In the early '70s and '80s we asked, `How long can the Rolling Stones go on?' Now they don't even ask it."

The desire to gain a competitive edge-in every area of life-is perhaps the greatest force that drives men to pick up a magazine (and, most likely, products).

"They're always interested in being smarter than the next guy," says Cargo's Mr. Foxman.

But once you have them interested, keeping them requires a balance between fun and substance. "You keep them by entertaining them and [making] them chuckle over the vagaries of life," says Mr. Granger. But entertainment without depth isn't enough, he says, citing Esquire's long-form journalism and the newly launched "catalog" service section that includes information on a wide range of products from cars to food.

dramatic expansion

Mr. O'Malley is also hankering to scoop up guys finished with the lad mags. "The men's landscape has so dramatically expanded in the last five to seven years," he says. "The laddie books have brought more men to the newsstands, and [while standing there] they've discovered Esquire."

He adds that Esquire is traditionally subscription heavy-at more than 80%-but that the title is "on fire at newsstands." Single-copy sales for the second half of 2003 were up 24.1% over the same period in '02, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

As for new niche titles-ranging from the laddies to Cargo, to this summer's arrival of shopper-focused Vitals from Fairchild Publications and Sync from Ziff Davis Media-GQ's Mr. Nelson says bring 'em on: "I welcome the competition because it has made the need for general-interest men's magazines more acute. We can speak to what an American adult male is."

That expansion also excites ad executives. "There's something for every type of interest," says OMD's Mr. Hanrahan. "The mission for those of us in media is to mix the options."

"I think the category as a category has arrived," says Ms. Bekkedahl.