People StyleWatch Quiz Blurs Line Between Ads and Edit

BuzzFeed-Style Quiz Helped Magazine Sell More Print Ad Pages

By Published on .

ShopAdvisor created a quiz for People StyleWatch that helped boost its September ad pages.
ShopAdvisor created a quiz for People StyleWatch that helped boost its September ad pages.

An eight-question online quiz helped People StyleWatch publish its largest September issue ever this year in terms of ad pages and revenue. But it might also confuse readers about what's advertising and what's editorial.

The quiz, "Meet Your Celeb Style Twin," asks readers eight questions about their personal style and then matches them with one of 10 celebrities. It's similar to a BuzzFeed quiz, although unlike BuzzFeed, StyleWatch allows readers to buy products such as clothes, accessories and beauty items from links on the quiz. About 25% of the 600 products featured in the quiz were selected by editors and appear in the magazine's September issue, according to a spokeswoman for StyleWatch, which is owned by Time Inc. The rest come from more than 25 brands that advertised in the September issue of the magazine, including Reebook, Guess and L'Oreal.

Items selected by editors will be indicated with a color bubble that says "Edit Pick," the StyleWatch spokeswoman said in an email. There's nothing in the quiz to denote the remaining items are from advertisers.

"Advertisers continue to want to be seamlessly integrated into editorial and this does this for them," said Stephanie Sladkus, publisher of People StyleWatch.

She said the intention of the quiz is not to confuse people. "Readers today better understand the integration of advertising and editorial," she said.

Advertisers were included in the quiz based on the amount they spent in the magazine. "The more they spent with us, the more their products were included in the app," Ms. Sladkus said.

"It's one of the reasons we had our biggest September," she added.

StyleWatch's September issue includes 203 ad pages, a 6.6% increase over the previous year, according to Steve Cohn, editor in chief of Media Industry Newsletter, which tracks magazine ad pages.

The quiz will get its own marketing boost from Time Inc., which is promoting it across several of the company's other magazines and their websites, including People and InStyle. Ads for the quiz will also show up on the top of New York taxis and in billboards in Times Square.

StyleWatch editors plan to update the products in the quiz, based on their availability. A similar quiz is expected in December, according to the StyleWatch spokeswoman. The magazine plans to roll out a quiz like this each month beginning in 2015, she added.

Startup ShopAdvisor created the quiz for StyleWatch, with input from the magazine's editors.

As for online quizzes go, BuzzFeed is the poster child, producing thousands of them, including more than 50 for advertisers like Mattel and HBO, according to a BuzzFeed spokeswoman. The bylines on advertisers' quizzes identifies the name of the company along with the title "brand publisher." That's the only indication the quiz is sponsored content and not created by BuzzFeed's editorial staff.

Sponsored quizzes are one example of the ways publishers are working with brands to help create and run native advertising across their digital sites. Native advertising is a marketing tactic where ads mimic the editorial content surrounding them. Some confusion between what's editorial and what's advertising is inherent.

Time Inc., the nation's largest magazine publisher behind iconic titles like Time and Sports Illustrated, announced last month the creation of a team to produce native ads for brands. It has also emphasized the need for the company's editors and business-side employees to work together. Last year, for instance, Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp reorganized the company so that editors report to their business-side colleagues.

The need to grow ad revenue at Time Inc. is perhaps more important than ever because it is no longer protected by Time Warner. In June, Time Warner spun off Time Inc. into a publicly traded company so it could concentrate on its more profitable TV business.

Second-quarter ad revenue at Time Inc. increased 3% compared to the second quarter of 2013, with digital ad sales climbing 12%. It was the company's acquisition last October of American Express Publishing titles including Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and Departures magazines that ultimately led to the year-over-year increase in ad sales. If Time Inc. hadn't bought those magazines, its print and other advertising revenues would have fallen 6%.

The celebrity quiz from Time Inc.'s StyleWatch was meant to encourage advertisers to spend more from their print budgets, according to Ms. Sladkus. But StyleWatch is looking at other digital properties that "engage the millennial consumer," she said. "Revenue from other budgets will follow."

StyleWatch, which doesn't have its own website, gets the majority of its ad revenue from print. The magazine's web presence is a channel on, which in June attracted 22 million unique U.S. visitors across desktop and mobile devices, according to comScore, a 41% boost from last year. StyleWatch is considering a digital product that's separate from, Ms. Sladkus said.

Time Inc. introduced StyleWatch in 2002 as a newsstand offshoot of People magazine. It was meant to rival shopping magazine Lucky, which Conde Nast had rolled out two years earlier. People StyleWatch became a regularly published magazine in 2007 and managed to grow during the lean recession years as other magazines saw their print ad pages and circulation decline steeply -- including Lucky, which Conde Nast said on Monday it was spinning off into a separate company.

In 2012, Ad Age named StyleWatch Magazine of the Year.

This year, however, StyleWatch's print ad pages are down 12% through September, according to Media Industry Newsletter's Mr. Cohn. Across the magazine industry, print pages are down about 6%. Across the magazine industry, print pages are down about 6%.

StyleWatch's paid and verified circulation is off 2% to an average of 841,543 per issue, according to the report it filed with the Alliance for Audited Media.

Most Popular