Keeping Up With Teens: Magazines want to be flipped, clicked, and shopped.
Laura Banker, an 18-year-old from Cincinnati who adores photography and water sports but deplores drugs, says she found the Colombine High shootings "over-publicized" in the media. School, not shootings, are on her mind as she embarks on her first semester of college this year. While she read Teen and Seventeen throughout her teenage years, she has not decided whether she'll renew her subscription to Jump. "You read a magazine for a while and then you get sick of it," she says.
Jonathan Yuan says he might add Talk to his reading list, which now includes Entertainment Weekly and People. "I want to see what the hype is all about," says the 16-year-old from Rowland Heights, California. For the record, Jonathan doesn't go for sports; he's more interested in environmental issues.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Castillo loves to listen to Tejano music and talk on the phone, and takes Ballet Folklorico dance lessons. She has a lot to say about the many things she cares about.
"I like to read about how well some families get along," says the busy 16-year-old from San Antonio. Jennifer, who is also the news editor of her high school newspaper, says she enjoys perusing Latina, Time, and YM for stories on families, teenagers, and racism.
So what exactly do teens like Laura, Jonathan, and Jennifer care about? While marketers are trying to reach the growing teen population - projected to reach 34 million by 2010 - teen magazines are fighting to keep relevant, fresh, and advertising-rich in the age of the Internet and interactive media consumption. Along with the perennial issues facing teen magazines, such as paltry boys' readership numbers and oversaturation for girls titles, even category killers like Seventeen must consider the increasingly fragmented teen market. Marketing to teens through magazines has become a strategic exercise in keeping up with a heterogeneous group that is massive in size and yet does not behave like a mass audience.
"The trend we're seeing among teens is super-fragmentation," says Barbara Martino, president of Grey Advertising's newly launched youth marketing division, G-Whiz! Martino says that instead of targeting teens with a one-size-fits-all approach, her division prefers to market tactically to certain teen subgroups.
For video-game client Konami, for instance, G-Whiz! staffers found that a publication like The Sporting News fit the profile of the advertiser's target audience of 12-to-24-year-old guys. More important, the publication's brand, according to Martino, "tapped into the sports fan, passionate about facts and figures." G-Whiz! placed print ads in lifestyle and sports books such as Rolling Stone, Spin, and Sporting News. "Teens are reading up," says Douglas Zarkin, a vice president of G-Whiz! They want credit for being wiser and more sophisticated than previously acknowledged, he says.
There's another dimension, as well: Boys and girls are very different in their reading habits. For years, girls have kept in business a plethora of titles such as Seventeen, Teen, and YM. And most of the new entries in the teen publication field, including Jump, CosmoGIRL!, and Latingirl, cater to this demographic.
"There is no such thing as a teen category for magazines," says Roberta Garfinkle, a senior vice president and director of print media at McCann-Erickson New York. "There is a teen-girl category, and then you've got the boys." If boys read anything, it's titles that reflect their interest in sports, computer games, and music, she adds.
"Teen girls really bond with their magazines," says Michael Wood, a vice president at Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU)."They're like a sister and friend rolled into one."
In fact, overall, the reading habits of boys and girls are starkly different. According to the Roper Youth Report 1999, 36 percent of boys aged 13 to 17 said that they never read books other than school books. By comparison, 24 percent of girls of the same age said they never read for pleasure. Younger kids seem to be reading more. Among 8-to-12-year-olds, 29 percent of boys said they didn't read after school, while 19 percent of girls fell in the same category.
And even when they do read, boys choose to pick up different titles. According to findings from TRU's spring 1999 survey, the only magazine that made the top-five list of both boys and girls was TV Guide, which placed third for guys and fifth for girls. The girls' first choice was Seventeen, with 51 percent of respondents saying they read at least one of the last four issues of the magazine. The boys' first choice? Sports Illustrated, with 32 percent saying the same. TRU's report further states that "the increase in purchases of video-game systems mirrors a jump in guys' gaming-magazine readership levels," which explains increases in readership for magazines like GamePro and Nintendo Power.
And it looks like the boys-will-be-boys world of magazines is becoming increasingly fragmented, with the rise of individual or"extreme" sports. More and more teen boys are becoming interested in such activities, a niche that Times Mirror Magazines foresaw back in 1983 when it launched Transworld Skateboarding. Since then, Times Mirror has built a devoted core of sports-minded young male readers, and now publishes, with its Teen Active Network division, seven special-interest titles that cater to young afficionados of snowboarding, skateboarding, BMX biking, and surfing. The enthusiast titles have a combined circulation of 453,000 and a readership of what Times Mirror refers to as 3.8 million "active and passionate teen-male consumers."
While such readership numbers seem small compared to those of a single leading girls' mag like Seventeen, which steadily commands a circulation base of 2.35 million, they represent valuable eyeballs, given boys' reading habits and their growing interest in extreme sports. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, more than 93 percent of snowboarders and skateboarders are male. In fact, 40 percent of snowboarders and 56 percent of skateboarders are male teens between the ages of 12 and 17. In the future, magazines that prove they are in touch with this valuable stable of young males will be rewarded with ad dollars from marketers in pursuit of male teens.
Already some print ads reflect marketers' realization that they need to talk differently to extreme athletes. One Panasonic ad running in Warp, a Times Mirror title devoted to skateboarders and snowboarders, has narrowed its message. The copy for its 40-second, anti-shock memory product reads: "Tough Metal Body (because you'll eat street before you taste victory)."
And yet there is at least one title that for now is proving successful in bridging the teen gender gap. Teen People, which will turn two in January, has already racked up a circulation of 1.3 million, including a 15 percent to 20 percent "and growing" male readership, according to publisher Anne Zehren. "We thought it was an opportunity to create a magazine that boys wouldn't be embarrassed to read," she says. Teen People regularly features stories devoted to guys, Zehren says, and the kind of real-life issues that appeal to both genders. Previous articles have dealt with interracial dating, the Colombine High shootings, and musical celebrities. Both Ricky Martin and the popular band 98 degree were featured in its 332-page September issue.
Even so, the magazine can hardly afford to let its guard down. Others are eyeing the general-interest market. Primedia's Entertainmentteen, a general-interest magazine targeting 12-to-15-year-olds, is celebrating its second issue this month. And there are rumors that Hearst is pondering a TeenCosmo spinoff.
Just in case, Teen People has amassed an army of 5,000"trendspotters" like Laura Banker, Jonathan Yuan, and Jennifer Castillo - kids who help the magazine stay plugged into teen culture by testing new products and participating in surveys. And since kids seem to have at least one thing in common - an interest in music - the magazine is giving them just that. The publication's first retail cross-promotion this summer with Dillard's Department Stores featured the hot group the Moffats in a nationwide back-to-school event that involved a touring van pumping live music and showcasing Dillard's fall fashions. "Dillard's said that it's hard to get guys in the store to shop," Zehren says. "But music is a common denominator."
Teens also care about surfing the Internet: Nielsen Media Research has found that younger teens today watch less TV than the 18-to-49 age group, and spend more time online than any other demographic. Most teen magazines have either launched their own Web sites or are offering their content on other popular teen Web portals to make themselves relevant in an increasingly dot.com world. Teen People was the first teen publication to launch simultaneously in print and online, via America Online, followed by CosmoGIRL!
Martino and her team point to another recent phenomenon that takes its cue from the changing youth demographic and is affecting the magazine world: magalogs or catazines, as they're called - hybrids of magazines and direct mail pieces. MXG, a.k.a. MoXiegirl, is blurring the advertising and editorial lines by packaging"articles" with photos of clothes and accessories that can be purchased right from the catalog's pages. MXG, which has the glossy look and feel of a traditional magazine, also has a Web site (www. MXGonline.com) and this fall will launch into MXGtv. In its literature, the Manhattan Beach, California-based company says that it has a circulation of 500,000 and a readership of 2.9 million readers (make that "users-readers," as it calls its followers). The monthly magalog, to which a $9.45 "subscription" counts toward any MXG purchase, has been so successful, in fact, that it will publish bimonthly starting next year. According to C. Finnegan Faldi, vice president of! sales and advertising at MXG me dia, advertising has grown tenfold in just eight issues. For the holiday season, Faldi says he expects dot.com and entertainment ads to join those from Kodak, Coca-Cola, Unionbay, Vans, and Clearasil, which appear in the current issue.
Three-year-old Alloy, in New York City, is another magalog phenomenon that uses an integrated print/online approach to target youngsters and sell product. Alloy targets teens with a print catalog, which this year will go out to 20 million Generation Y young adults. In turn, the catalog helps drive readers online to buy products. "By introducing the catalog, we got into their homes," says Alloy chief executive and cofounder Matt Diamond. Fans can also fill out a questionnaire online to receive Alloy's bi-weekly electronic magazine - a strategy that has allowed the company to collect demographic information from approximately 480,000 users. Through the Web site and catalog distribution, Alloy has compiled a database of roughly 2.2 million Gen Y boys and girls, which comes in handy when the company negotiates deals with sponsors. Then there is droog (www.droog.com), an offline/online catalog targeted at boys, and retailer publications like Abercrombie & Fitch's quarterly lifestyl! e magalog.
While magalogs aren't yet direct competitors to traditional magazines, their mere existence attests to the changing and fragmented media landscape. Today's teens are plain different."Squeeze everything out of [life] like a big, fat, juicy fruit, every day, every minute," extols an MXG editor's note. The same note starts with "waddup girlios" and ends with "Peace. Out. Psyched." If they want to market to teens, it looks like magazines and advertisers better learn how to talk the talk and walk the extreme walk.