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Media Plays: More Acts Required

NEW YORK — Just what the beleaguered magazine world needs: yet another reason for companies not to advertise.<br><br>With time fast becoming the chief currency of an increasingly complex and demanding fashion consumer, the days of reaching this...

NEW YORK — Just what the beleaguered magazine world needs: yet another reason for companies not to advertise.

With time fast becoming the chief currency of an increasingly complex and demanding fashion consumer, the days of reaching this customer primarily through magazine ads are drawing to a close — and will be superceded by an era of using a wider range of tactics to target narrower consumer niches.

Even more significant for the apparel business than share-of-wallet challenges it faces from other products and services, asserted Dan Stanek, an executive vice president at Columbus, Ohio-based consultant Retail Forward, is the emergence of a multidimensional consumer whose evolving mind-set and lifestyle choices are informing shopping behavior and purchasing decisions while making them less predictable.

Not surprisingly, a broader array of media are becoming necessary to reach this increasingly varied audience. Magazine ads, long the backbone of fashion marketing campaigns, while still important, are being challenged for effectiveness by word of mouth, celebrity exposure, and grassroots promotions, among other tactics that are more narrowly targeted than a print ad in a national magazine.

For example, “what celebrities wear” was cited as an influence by 41 percent of the 18- to 29-year olds surveyed last September by RoperASW — 22 percentage points higher than the demographically representative sample of 1,000 adults. For Hispanics, the celebrity influence factor climbed to 43 percent. That means celebrities had the most clout, among various influences, with those self identified as the most fashionable. Next came TV, followed by magazine ads and magazine articles. (The most fashion-conscious consumers — those who say they dress somewhat or very fashionably — were 18- to 29-year olds, 72 percent of whom defined themselves that way, versus 56 percent overall; African Americans, 71 percent, and Hispanic Americans, 69 percent, according to the September 2002 RoperASW State of Apparel Spending study.)

For the overall adult population, RoperASW found friends and family rated as the leading fashion influence, with 58 percent citing them, then merchandise catalogs, named by 50 percent, and magazine ads, 38 percent.

Also holding sway is the proliferation of hip-hop fashion lines, which have stirred a greater sense that apparel bearing leading labels is attainable by most consumers — much unlike the rarified world of 30 years ago, when such items, carrying designer tags, could only be had by the most affluent. Observed retail anthropologist Paco Underhill: “I’m happy J.Lo and P. Diddy are getting a piece of the action. It is time for a new generation. They have a better idea [than the designer establishment] of who they’re targeting: mainstream America.

“In that sense, I’d rather see hip-hop brands get the business than, say, an Oscar de la Renta or a Calvin Klein.”

For his part, however, J. Walker Smith, president of Atlanta-based market researcher Yankelovich Inc., sounded a cautionary note. “You can get away with a celebrity brand if it has a sense of authenticity about it. P. Diddy had experiences that gave him street cred and J. Lo had the kind of media exposure that established her credentials early on,” Smith noted. “Avril Lavigne said recently she dresses in her own clothes for photo shoots. These things convey a sense of authenticity.

“Coca-Cola is using this strategy in its ‘Real’ campaign, which shows people experiencing authentic moments and the Coke just happens to be there,” Smith continued. “There’s a shared psychological benefit people enjoy when they experience a moment that seems real and true, even if it doesn’t portray a particular person precisely.”

If these emerging 21st-century consumers do share a frame of reference, it’s that their shopping is becoming more purposeful, efficient and productive, rather than leisurely or purely entertaining, counseled Stanek, a specialist in consumer behavior. They are visiting an expanding range of stores that mesh with their more sophisticated attitudes and streamlined lifestyles, even as they spend less time shopping.

As Wendy Liebmann, president of WSL Strategic Retail, pointed out, “We’re just starting to see people who are overstuffed with purchases and emotions simplify their lives after talking about it for a long time.” Indeed, an online poll of 1,000 men and women, ages 18 and older, conducted in February by Manhattan-based consultant WSL, found 44 percent were “actively simplifying” their lives.

For one thing, people are placing a greater priority on savoring time as well as simply saving it, said Andrea Newman, a senior account director, specializing in apparel and retail, at the Roper Reports unit of RoperASW. That could mean choosing to eat in a fast-casual restaurant like Cosi, rather than a fast-food outlet like McDonald’s, or eliminating extraneous activities to create time for more important things — say, curtailing one’s magazine intake and spending more time with one’s family instead.

These values are emerging across all generations, marketing observers noted. And they help explain the slide in consumer spending on apparel in 2002 to $163 billion, which marked a decline of 2 percent from spending in 2001, according to Port Washington-based market researcher NPD Group.

With such shifts occurring in the foundation of consumer culture, Smith observed, “People will start to shop for meaning more than just stuff. There’s still a desire for material things of high quality that express people’s egos, particularly things that appear unique,” he added. Still, Smith expects those things to become a more significant reflection of how people spend their time than their money.