Counter-couture: Men's fashion titles on rise even as ad pages fall

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Men's titles with a strong fashion tilt are to magazines what titles for teen girls were five years ago: The hot category that all publishers are diving into, despite a limited pool of advertisers.

In the past year Conde Nast Publications launched Cargo; Fairchild Publications launched Vitals; and Rodale spun off Best Life from Men's Health. Lurking over the horizon is the highest-profile newcomer yet, as Conde Nast readies Men's Vogue for one issue this fall.

Firmly in place, meanwhile, are Conde Nast's GQ and Hearst's Esquire; Dennis Publishing's Maxim; Emap's FHM and Fairchild's Details. And pop-culture magazines such as Rolling Stone, Spin and Giant also target men's fashion marketers.

Here's the thing: Men's fashion ad pages aren't growing. If anything, the opposite is true. An Ad Age analysis of men's fashion advertisers-encompassing clothing, footwear, fragrance and non-discount retail-showed that the category's total pages fell 8.3%, to 6,888, between 2000 and 2004. The category's 2004's ad-page totals, in fact, declined slightly from 2003's totals-despite overall magazine advertising showing year-over-year gains -and even trail those of 1998 by around 100 pages.

"Everyone is fighting for a smaller piece," says Chris Kolbe, VP, Original Penguin by Munsingwear. "There's saturation, for sure." Kolbe, who is 35, notes that these titles all want the young man he calls "the sexy consumer" who's versed in gadgetry, clothing and culture.

"Let's stick with the word `metrosexual,"' says Dan Peres, editor, Details. "It's a word I loathe and have banned from the pages of Details. But, nonetheless, in marketing circles, it has extraordinary relevance. ... Publishing executives believe that there is enormous opportunity now to speak to this guy." The problem, he continues, is that Details and many other magazines are already speaking to him, and "there are only so many men who moisturize and read a lot of magazines."

`schedule anorexia'

"The problem is schedule anorexia," says one men's magazine veteran. "The major players are still buying the major men's [titles], but they are going from 12 pages to 10, or 10 to six, or six to four." Among the titles that claim fashion as their number one advertiser: GQ, Best Life, Esquire, Cargo and Vitals.

"It's a curious thing, isn't it?" says Chris Mitchell, publisher, Details. "The budgets are not necessarily expanding to meet the numbers of players in the field."

Some publishing executives point to a broader picture. Alyce Alston, publisher of W who oversees Vitals, says major retailers now talk of a "turnaround" for men's sales. Alan Katz, publisher, Cargo, points out that Ad Age's analysis does not take into account the grooming category, which he says shows signs of significant growth. And for the established titles, 2004 did not go poorly. Esquire's total ad pages rose 11.4% to 1,095; Details' rose 13.8% to 1,159.8, and GQ, after a slow start, eked out a 1.3% increase to 1,634.4.

But these results came before many newcomers went to full-fledged publishing schedules. "How much more media can the consumer consume?" wonders Tom Jarrold, VP-marketing and creative, Armani Exchange.

"What's happening is a lot of one-night-stand journalism," said Peter Hunsinger, publisher, GQ. "A lot of people are starting new magazines to attract advertising, not because there's a real crying need" from readers.

But let's return to the teen-girl category, which publishers piled into en masse in 2000. It's since suffered severe contractions: Teen and YM have ceased, and key players like Hearst's Seventeen and Time Inc.'s Teen People suffered significant rate-base misses and were forced to slash rate base as a result.

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