NEW YORK -- Is there a fountain of money to support the fountain of youth?
There's no question the under-30 set is a hot demographic. Some ad pros think the shopaholic youth market will prove to be even bigger than the beloved boomers, and a new crop of upstart publishers is betting the farm that there's plenty of ad money around.
According to a Rand poll conducted in 1993, teens spent $60 billion of their own money and $29.7 billion of their parents' money, and they influenced another $139 billion of their family's purchases. By the year 2000, if the growth trend continues, teens will be spending close to $100 billion on a variety of consumer products.
But newcomers to the teen media wars may not find the going smooth.
While ad executives predict steady growth in the number of dollars targeted at youths, they caution that the market is already served by a variety of trendy magazines and the increasingly powerful MTV.
On the publishing front, the scene is dominated by Seventeen, Details and YM. Meanwhile, Sassy has managed to garner editorial respect, but is still struggling for ad dollars. Currently, Lang Communications is looking for new investors, fueling rumors that Sassy is up for sale, which the magazine's publisher, Linda Cohen, denied.
Television, particularly MTV and Fox Network's Wednesday night teen lineup, has emerged as a must-buy for big brands like Levi's, or for image- driven companies like Merry-Go-Round, which made its debut on MTV this month.
TV advertising is expensive, but very effective for brand building, observers noted. MTV goes into about 60 million homes in the U.S., while Fox's "90210" and "Melrose Place" are among the network's highest-rated shows.
Depending on the time of day, a 30-second spot on MTV costs from $3,000 to $7,000 -- and, as one ad exec said, "You don't run just one spot. You have to do a campaign to be effective." Add to that the cost of producing the commercial, which can easily run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In addition, the market attracts a new entry every few weeks, all promising they have their hand on the seismograph of the youth quake. Newcomers include Tell, Mouth 2 Mouth, Swing and Quake.But promises and hype do not always translate into success in the turbulent world of trendy startups. Just this week, Vibe's much touted editor, Jonathan Van Meter, resigned his position due to "creative differences" with founder Quincy Jones.
Each new magazine promises to deliver the potentially lucrative youth market, but advertising executives said the budgets simply aren't out there to support all the wannabes.
Ad executives are highly skeptical on another front: Most of the new entries claim they will be equally appealing to men and women, an unproven formula that's claimed a number of victims, including Fame, Smart and Egg.
Advertisers and ad executives said that of the new publications, Mouth 2 Mouth has the best chance of survival, with a well-connected editor, Angela Janklow, and Time Warner providing the seed money.
Cost could play into the hands of the up-and-comers, which, one ad exec notes, "aren't that expensive to try out." Ads for some of these publications run in the low thousands per page, compared with $55,000 a page for category leader Seventeen, and its hefty 1.9 million circulation.
While the battle for ad dollars intensifies, here's what some key advertisers are planning for fall's important back-to-school season.
Art Neumann, group media director for Foote, Cone & Belding, which handles the Levi's account, said, "Our target is the 12-to-24 age group, and a good part of that is in print. Seventeen is still big, because it delivers the circulation, but YM and Sassy have been chasing them hard for three years.
"Sassy has become kind of thin, but it still has the edginess we've liked. Frankly, it's one of the reasons there's still some excitement in teen magazines.
"Mouth 2 Mouth is slanted a little bit male, even though it says it wants to be a dual-audience magazine. Angela is fantastic as far as her energy and presence, but she has to be careful. If she makes it too female, males won't touch it. It's better to err on the male side, and get the female readers to cross over. But it's edited just right for this audience."For TV, Neumann said the company has increased its MTV buy over the last few years. The latest Levi's category headed for MTV is boy's. Neumann said MTV's "cool and edgy" environment makes it right for categories that need a little spin. "No more Saturday morning cartoons," said Neumann. "We want to do something that will push the envelope."
Steven Grasse, president of Gyro Advertising, a Philadelphia firm known for its edgy, sometimes rude ad campaigns for retail and apparel accounts such as Robert Stock and Oaktree, said MTV may be the single most powerful ad vehicle to reach the young consumer.
"Mouth 2 Mouth looks good," Grasse added. "I like all the little bits of information. Mademoiselle does a good job, although of course their appeal is much broader. But MTV -- kids really watch it, even the commercials. We put the Oaktree spots on MTV and the stores got an incredible response from it."
Ross Klein, creative director for Bonjour and Faded Glory, which spends $7.8 million a year on advertising, said he'll go with the big books this season. "A lot of these new magazines say they deliver the teen market -- but there's a difference between delivering them and motivating them to go out and buy."
Mindy Gale, creative director for Graphtech, which handles the Necessary Objects and Claire's Stores accounts, said, "The bottom line is, retailers are thinking about numbers. If we say to them, 'That dress is running in Seventeen,' they get a lot more excited than if we say 'That dress is running in Tell.' Newness is exciting, but we still want to deliver numbers."
On the other hand, Gale said, it helps the image of the brand to be seen in the new magazines, and running a few ads doesn't cost that much.
"It doesn't serve me to go narrow and deep with one magazine," she said. "I'm not trying to straddle the issue, but if I want to be cool and do some cheap out-of-pocket books, it's window trimming.
"Angela Janklow is sure Mouth 2 Mouth is going to be a dual-audience book, but the truth is men in this age group don't read magazines. A lot of these people are saying theirs are going to be dual-audience books, but we know that's not realistic.""There are so many choices now," said Gale. "The category is bustling, but you're talking about [advertisers] who last year were deciding whether to go with Seventeen or YM because they can't afford to do both. And now this same category is supposed to support those, as well as all these new books? It's not going to happen."
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