ALLURE: SLOWER BUT STEADY
Byline: Lisa Lockwood
NEW YORK — Allure, which is going to be five years old in March, seems to be surviving its adolescence, as well as its first blemishes.
Following its launch in 1991, the Conde Nast beauty magazine went through the kind of rapid growth normally associated with the very young. It sprouted like crazy, becoming the fastest-growing publication in the company’s history.
Now, after a year in which the beauty industry — by far, Allure’s biggest advertiser — has gone through some problems of its own, the magazine still managed to finish 1995 with a 15 percent gain in ad pages. And that on top of a 14.6 percent increase last year.
Although its executives say it won’t boost that rate of growth next year, Allure appears to have made the transition from being the media community’s hot new property to a core magazine that will grow more slowly than it had — but which has evolved into a staple.
It hasn’t been without some glitches. The magazine is still not profitable, but Conde Nast president Steven T. Florio says it will be in 1998 — maybe sooner.
In December, Allure took its first hit for the year — a 22.6 percent drop. It also said it expects to be off in lineage for the first quarter of 1996. For the full year, Allure expects a 5 to 6 percent increase in ad pages.
While media pros agree that Allure has taken root, they also point out there can be a downside to becoming a staple: predictability. It might be difficult to avoid when covering the same industry month after month, but a degree of sameness seems to have set in that didn’t exist in earlier issues. The layouts, which once seemed to dazzle with a dizzying mix of color and typography, have become a little too familiar and, therefore, too comfortable. Observers point out that as with any magazine that’s been around for a while, Allure needs to periodically rehone its edge.
While the publication may never again see the 53 percent increases in ad pages it experienced in 1993, during its launch phase, it believes there’s still growth left.
“Allure’s days of double-digit growth are not over,” said Alexandra Golinkin, the magazine’s publisher. “One quarter is a blip, not a trend. In fact, we see very strong growth returning in the second half of ’96.
“Remember that in 1995 our ad pages grew 15.13 percent, well ahead of our competitive set. We now carry more advertising than Self and Mademoiselle. And we achieved that in under five years.”
Launched in March 1991, Allure carried 279.83 pages through the rest of that year (10 months), 657.54 pages in 1992, 1,005.73 in 1993, 1,152.64 in 1994 and 1,322.43 in 1995, according to Media Industry Newsletter.
“Allure is doing fine,” said Florio. “They’re five years old and they’re very close to profitability. In 1997, there’s a chance they’ll be profitable, and in 1998, they will be profitable.”
As for why the gains next year won’t be nearly as big as in previous years, Florio said, “We’re looking at 1,300 pages of advertising, when you’ve started at zero. We’re now starting to test the limits of the marketplace for Allure. In five more years, we see it at 1,500 to 1,600 pages, maybe even more. They’re doing fine. I wish I could guarantee 5 to 6 percent on all our books.”
Florio believes Allure’s concentration on beauty is worth the risk.
“It’s a very vertical book intentionally,” he said. “That’s its strength. We go after a specific marketplace, and we focus on it with the best editorial products.”
With the distinction of being the fastest-growing magazine ever published by CondA Nast, Allure has developed a mutually beneficial relationship with the beauty industry. But when the prestige beauty business started having some problems this year, advertisers cut back. The difference between cutting back and dropping out is a key one, says Allure.
“For starters, we have lost pages, not accounts,” Golinkin pointed out. “As budgets become tighter and accountability becomes even more important, Allure stands to do very well.”
With Wall Street estimating that the $4.5 billion U.S. prestige beauty business will have dollar growth of less than 5 percent this year, it is no surprise that cosmetics and fragrance companies have tightened ad budgets.
According to Publishers Information Bureau, from January through November, the toiletries and cosmetics category inched up 2.3 percent in magazine ad expenditures to $796.6 million. The largest component, cosmetics and beauty aids, had relatively flat ad expenditures of $395.5 million, while the figure for women’s fragrances fell 2.1 percent to $110.7 million. Ad budgets for skin care, creams, lotions and oils declined 8.8 percent to $100.5 million.
“In my view, we straddle two industries, beauty and publishing,” said Golinkin. “We’re proudly in the same boat as the beauty companies in calm and stormy weather. Keep in mind that the beauty industry is one of the most resilient there is.”
Having raised its circulation rate base to 700,000 in the second half of 1995 from 650,000, Golinkin said it’s impossible to predict how much it will grow over the next few years.
“We want the magazine to continue to grow, but will not force the circulation issue,” she said. “We want it to evolve naturally.”
“It’s much better to be core than hot,” said Paula Brooks, vice president, director of media services at Margeotes/Fertitta & Partners, a New York ad agency. Brooks said she has used Allure for one of her clients, Stolichnaya, and would again.
“Allure’s retail environment is very unique and upscale,” said Brooks. “If it’s seen in Allure, you know it’s on the edge.”
“We place a lot of business in it, and certainly for a beauty/fashion advertiser, it’s become a core book. That’s not a negative,” agreed Roberta Garfinkle, senior vice president, director of print media for McCann Erickson Worldwide. “In any launch vehicle that’s doing well, when they drop out of the launch mode, everybody says, ‘Oh my God.’ Our clients’ budgets don’t keep growing forever.”
“We’ve become a core book. We are a fixture in women’s magazines,” said Linda Wells, Allure’s editor in chief. “Our goal was to start a magazine that would be here for a long time, after all of us are gone. We’ve really become a solid player and invented a category that didn’t exist before. ‘Hot’ is something other people attach to you.”
Added Golinkin, “When I first came here, I said Allure’s overarching goal was to grow from a hot title to a strong one. I feel we have in large part achieved this. Our core category, beauty, sees us as a genuine partner in its current and future plans.”
In fact, she pointed out, in the cosmetics/toiletries category, Allure is number one in market share among its competition — 20 pages ahead of runner-up Vogue. Its competitive set also includes Glamour, Self, Mademoiselle, Cosmopolitan, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar.
“The magazine graveyard is littered with titles that were once perceived as ‘hot,’ ” said Golinkin. “Think of the magazines that stalled after being hot. Were any of them books that their advertisers would choose if they could pick only a few titles for their plans?”
Allure sees opportunities in non-beauty categories, which in 1995 represented more than 350 pages. Among the areas that are targeted for continued growth are products related to health and fitness, automotive, watches and jewelry, said Golinkin.
Beauty advertisers continue to be Allure’s biggest fans.
“For Prescriptives, Allure absolutely works,” said Marianne Diorio, vice president of marketing for Prescriptives. “We go into every single issue, and it communicates to a customer who really understands Prescriptives.”
“We love Allure, and it really works,” said Muriel Gonzalez, senior vice president of Estee Lauder. “When we get beauty editorial in Allure, readers see it as an endorsement by Allure and start asking for it even before the ad breaks.”
Gonzalez said Lauder has increased its presence in Allure each year, and is planning “a moderate increase” in 1996.
“We’re fans of the magazine,” said Bonnie Barest, executive director of media services at Publicis/Bloom, Lancome’s ad agency.
“It’s extremely important to support the beauty industry. We’ve supported Allure on a consistent level,” she said. “I don’t expect it will be a 2 million [circulation] magazine, but there’s room to grow a little bit more than it is. It’s a sizable and solid circulation base, and don’t forget pass-along.”
Despite the obvious appeal of Allure to the beauty industry, fashion advertisers have yet to rush the gates.
“It’s hard to say whether it pulls for Levi’s because we don’t track that, but it’s one of the core magazines on our list,” said Art Neumann, vice president and media account director for Foote, Cone & Belding, Levi Strauss & Co.’s San Francisco ad agency. He said he’s expanded the pages he’s run over the last three years in Allure, and next year, he’s planning a strong media program.