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NEW YORK — The advertising tango danced by magazines and beauty manufacturers took on a new intensity when the recession hit, but the second half of 2003 promises to be more frenetic still.

As the publishers of the big women’s magazines watch their fashion ads evaporate, they’re looking for the beauty category to be an oasis — albeit one that isn’t that easy to find. Beauty ad pages and revenues are mostly up or, even in the worst cases, flat. As a result, the category is becoming an ever-larger piece of the advertising pie. The problem is, the increasingly stingy beauty industry wishes otherwise.

This story first appeared in the June 13, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

But the industry has no other choice. The continued decline in customers at department stores, combined with the beauty industry’s obsession with the new, new thing — i.e. more launches — is forcing manufacturers to dump more money into advertising than ever at a time when business is worse than ever.

Magazines aren’t reaping all the benefits, though. In the beauty downturn, firms are reaching out to consumers in as many ways as they can, looking to alternatives like television and radio, as well as to magazines. Prestige brands especially are feeling the pinch, while the “mass” or “bridge” manufacturers merrily keep buying ad pages in order to make a splash. Either way, beauty companies now want magazines to help them move the merch instead of simply building the aura of a brand.

“People are just not interested in bells and whistles,” said Tom Florio, publisher of Vogue. “It’s a lot harder to razzle and dazzle them these days.”

“Good quality in the editorial environment makes the biggest difference in the world,” said William Lauder, chief operating officer of Estée Lauder Cos., obviously one of the biggest beauty advertisers around. “The next step is, ‘What is it that they’re offering us that makes it worth the customer’s while [to go out and buy the product]?’” He added, “There are no new programs I’m hearing about that are the be-all and end-all.”

Executives behind mass market brands are apparently more forgiving, however. Publishers at magazines as varied as Elle, WWD’s sister publication, W, Glamour and Organic Style report that, while they’re trending upward slightly in the third quarter beauty-wise, prestige brands have taken a step back and almost all of the growth is driven by the lower end of the market. “Prestige brands depend on the department stores, which are a huge challenge for them right now,” said Alyce Alston, publisher of W. “These [prestige beauty firms] are companies which aren’t increasing their budgets.”

But mass advertisers (think shampoos, skin care and other basics) are pouring in enough business by themselves to help make up shortfalls in other categories.

Elle Group publishing director Carol Smith reported her flagship title will be flat in the third quarter, with beauty ads picking up a few percentage points in the overall mix. This effect is even more extreme over at Marie Claire, which began 2003 with beauty ads comprising just over a third of the magazine’s total and will likely finish with close to half (36 percent in January versus a projected 45 percent at the end of the year). The magazine will be flat in advertising through July, publisher Katherine Rizzuto said, and down in August before rebounding in the fall.

Meanwhile, at Hearst flagship Harper’s Bazaar, new publisher Valerie Salembier, who took over in February, explained that she is not up to speed on the magazine’s various programs to discuss them at length, and would only give out advertising information published by the Publishers Information Bureau, which showed the magazine was down 1.9 percent in beauty pages from January through May.

But times have changed from when beauty ads simply poured over the transom, especially in the prestige arena. After years of listening to publishers explain why prices have gone up (“They have tripled or quadrupled the consumer price index,” Lauder said) the manufacturers are using their leverage to be picky about which magazines and which value-added programs they want to partner with. Along with perennial favorites like Vogue, Allure, Glamour and Marie Claire, several industry executives were intrigued by the promise of synergy between Hearst’s new Lifetime magazine and its parent cable channel. All vouched for the desirability of multimedia deals in general.

At stake are the ad dollars for a bevy of fall launches, including Estée Lauder’s Beyond Paradise, Armani’s Sensei, Ralph Lauren’s yet-to-be-named women’s fragrance, Givenchy’s Very Irresistible, Liz Claiborne’s Spark and Tommy Hilfiger’s Tommy Jeans.

Vogue’s Florio won’t talk about numbers or specific accounts (“I don’t see any reason in letting my competitors read about them”) but claimed that Vogue has taken over the top spot in market share in beauty versus its competitive set — Elle, W, Harper’s Bazaar and In Style. Florio also keeps his magazine’s value-add programs under wraps, but would say he’s trying to use the magazine’s network-syndicated “Trendwatch” TV program (which appears five times a year) to combine ad pages and air time.

Allure also is using TV as a selling point with the fifth installment on E! Entertainment of its backstage look at beauty at the fashion shows, but the only title dedicated to beauty doesn’t exactly need that as a carrot. Pages are up 7.5 percent in the July and August issues versus a year ago, and publisher Nancy Berger has set a goal of 200 ad pages for October’s Best of Beauty issue (last year had just 135). She reports growth in both the mass and prestige markets for the issues closed so far this year. As for events, a recent concert it sponsored in Central Park attracted 1,500 paying customers, who were then also exposed to beauty treatments by Allure advertisers.

Marie Claire and Jane are both turning back to the Web this fall to find customers for their advertisers. Marie Claire is bringing back the “Haute Card,” a faux credit card with a unique personal identification number that allows access to a Web site loaded with special offers from advertisers. Originally up for just a month last year, Rizzutto promises that this version is “on steroids” and will run through the holidays. At Jane (another WWD sister publication), publisher Eva Dillon plans to keep rolling contests based on the magazine’s new Web approach, in which would-be entrants must purchase sponsors’ products to obtain the Web address where they can enter. The first contest, in which the prize was a guest column, collected 87,000 responses. The top four products purchased for entry were beauty products, Dillon said.

And then there’s Lifetime, the first magazine in the category to be based on a TV network. “I think [the magazine] gives the brand an opportunity to reach advertisers in multiple media, so that could be interesting,” one beauty executive said. Publisher Susan Plangeman said beauty ads comprised about a third of the first two issues, and that its hybrid nature holds a particular appeal for the Procter & Gambles of the world. “We most definitely think cross-platform is going to be a point of differentiation for us. But we’re taking baby steps to do it right. I don’t want to go into the market and build false hopes, saying I have the glass slipper right here.”

The respective teen spin-offs of Vogue, Elle and Cosmopolitan also are proving to be vital points of differentiation for their parent brands, both in their ability to act as brand extensions into the teen arena and as valuable parts of package deals. Teen Vogue and Ellegirl, are both posting record numbers every issue — although they are still in their early growth stages — with Teen Vogue proving particularly adept at landing prestige business, thanks to its parentage. The magazine has even managed to convince three advertisers to produce scent strips especially for the magazine’s smaller A5 “European” format. Cosmogirl, meanwhile, is scooping up mass brand business similar to its parent’s.

And if any magazine stumbles in delivering customers, there are plenty waiting in the wings. Now that the core books have faced the challenge posed by the “new lifestyle” titles like Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple and O: The Oprah Magazine, a new batch of contenders is emerging in magazines like Lifetime, the revamped Ladies Home Journal and Rodale’s Organic Style, all of which are gearing up to fight for increased beauty business.

“You have a lot of titles coming into the market right now,” said LHJ publisher Lynn Lehmkuhl, who projects her own title’s beauty pages will rise 25 percent in the second half. “I believe there are books being created with the plan to support them practically with beauty pages alone. It’s an unbelievable feeding frenzy.”

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