TEENS: FROM BOPPERS TO SHOPPERS
Byline: Janet Ozzard
NEW YORK — Exit bubblegum and Barbies, enter Britney and beauty tips.
In the past three years, four new titles from major publishing houses — Teen People, Cosmo Girl, Teen Vogue and, soon, Elle Girl — have come into an arena formerly dominated by Seventeen, YM and Teen. All are jockeying for a few precious moments of teen downtime, competing not just with each other but with other media like TV and the Internet. Still, say marketers, there’s a place on the nightstand for at least a few glossies.
“Teens’ favorite magazines deliver an indulgent experience apart from TV and the Internet,” said Irma Zandl, president of the Zandl Group, a teen market research firm here. “Magazines are consumed, and then reconsumed, at their own pace and in their own style. When they have sleepovers, girls will digest them for ideas for makeup, fashion and beauty rituals like masks. They definitely discuss magazine articles, tips and so forth with friends.
“For any category where girls really want to study how a product looks, such as fashion and makeup, magazines are an excellent way of conveying information and image,” said Zandl. “They are also very good at stimulating trial for fragrances when a marketer uses scent strips.” Zandl said the fresher, snappier voice that has developed in teen titles in recent years has kept older teens more interested, and less likely to defect to the women’s magazines.
“As the teen magazines have gotten a little racier in their topics and styles — the Sassy magazine effect — we have found more girls favoring them over the women’s fashion books,” she said. “For example, amongst the teen girls on our consumer panel in 2000, 77 percent mentioned ‘teen’ magazines as their favorites, versus 65 percent in 1995. And amongst our young adult females, age 18-24, 22 percent list ‘teen’ magazines as their favorite versus just 11 percent who cited them in 1995.”
The newer look isn’t so surprising; after all, the current crop of top editors were trained at glossy fashion magazines — YM’s Annemarie Iverson at Harper’s Bazaar and Seventeen’s Patrice Adcroft at In Style — while the editors of Cosmogirl! and Teen Vogue were plucked from the big-sister title.
With a circulation of 2.35 million, Seventeen is the leader of the pack in terms of reach, followed by YM at 2.2 million. Teen magazine’s rate base is 2.1 million; Teen People’s has built up a circulation of 1.2 million since its launch and Cosmogirl! just raised its rate base to 750,000, with a circulation of 601,500. Teen Vogue has only had one issue out — the next is due in late March — and Elle Girl will launch in August with a September issue.
Competition forces change, and change is good, say the editors and publishers. And now, with the crucial March prom issue on the stands, editors are taking a good look at what’s working and what isn’t.
Cosmogirl’s March issue aims for a new visual sophistication and reader accessibility, said editor in chief Atoosa Rubenstein, who brought in young, edgy photographers including Alexei Hay, Justine Parsons, Andreas Kuehn and Vincente de Paulo to shoot fashion spreads.
“I wasn’t sure how Alexei would feel when he got his tear sheets, with cover lines like ‘My most embarrassing moments ever,”‘ said Rubenstein. “But he’s shooting for us again. The photographers like the environment their work appears in, and that’s something I’m very, very proud of.”
YM, which hired editor in chief Iverson last summer, is also cleaning and polishing. “We’re upping the level of the writers and photographers, and there’s a new architecture in the mini-wells,” said Iverson, whose overhaul of the title took effect with the February 2001 issue. “In the past, people approached this market as a bridge line, with lesser-quality paper and photographers. But when I started last September, my mandate was to make the most beautiful magazine for this market. We’re not a bridge line or a spinoff.” YM works with photographers like Amy Arbus, Todd Oldham and Matthew Rolston.
“We realized we had to raise the bar creatively and not take advantage of (the reader),” said Teen’s editor Tommi Lewis Tilden. “This reader is evolving; she’s not what the typical reader used to be.”
Visual sophistication is one thing; product mix is another. In other words, while teens like to know about fashion, that doesn’t mean market editors can fill their shoots up with designer merchandise.
“I think one of the misperceptions marketers have is that these kids have millions of dollars, so they want high fashion,” said Rubenstein. “But shopping patterns haven’t changed since we were kids: You buy a ton of stuff, but none of it is expensive. When I started editing this magazine, I said to myself that I would listen to the reader’s voice and that voice only, and that I was not going to edit this magazine for the fashion industry or for my peers. We all like Prada, but this reader does not wear Prada.” The March issue has an eight-page prom fashion spread in which every dress is less than $100.
Iverson agrees that accessible fashion is important; on the other hand, she said, teens are aspirational and like to see what designers are doing.
“We might show a runway look and then show how to do it for less,” she said. March’s YM, for example, pairs runway looks from Carolina Herrera, Vera Wang, Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton with similar looks priced from $59 to $370.
“When I say sophisticated, I don’t mean expensive,” said Amy Astley, editor of Teen Vogue, which launched last October. “In our next issue, we’re watching prices even more militantly.” Camilla Nickerson, who is styling many of the shoots, will work with resources like The Gap, American Eagle, BCBG and Abercrombie & Fitch.
“Our mandate is to show affordability,” said Brandon Holly, editor of the forthcoming Elle Girl, slated to launch in August. And part of appealing to the teen market is acknowledging the separate world of teen fashion. “Our challenge is not just to represent the runway but engage in her style.This demographic has incredible influence; you can see that when Madonna wears a Britney Spears T-shirt.”
Seventeen, the undisputed veteran of the pack — it was founded in 1944 — has to cast a pretty wide net, according to editor Adcroft.
“We do a juggling act of putting in price-conscious fashion as well as cutting edge,” she said. But most of all, Seventeen has to heed its reader who, said Adcroft, demands diversity in the look of the people who appear in the magazine. “We wouldn’t be showing a cross-section of America if we only showed skinny white girls.”
Teen, another veteran, isn’t going through a major revamp, but it offers something else, said publisher Beth Press: It’s generally the first “fashion” magazine young girls pick up. “We are the point of entry,” she said. “We are the first book teens go to, and they’re a clean slate. They haven’t decided yet what their favorite mascara is.”
The visuals might be getting more grown-up, but the tone of the copy is another matter. Some say that teens respond to a casual chatty editorial style, because magazines are supposed to sound like a best friend. Not so, say some of the newcomers, who say that trying to use “teen speak” comes across as a phony attempt to appear cool.
Teen Vogue’s debut issue generated “thousands of e-mails,” said Astley. “And I read every single one. They said over and over how much they liked the fact that we didn’t use teen speak. They said, ‘We really appreciate that you wrote for us in normal English.’ We presume that they are intelligent, and we don’t say things like, ‘Hey, ‘rents, let’s party.’ They thanked us for not running stories on how to kiss, or how to get asked out on a date.”
“There is an enormous level of sophistication” among teens, said Vogue publisher Richard Beckman, who is also handling Teen Vogue. “At the same time, adolescence is a time of great insecurity, and one way to get confident is how you package yourself.”
“We don’t try to talk in slang,” said Anne Zehren, publisher of the three-year-old Teen People. “Getting sophisticated is for advertisers. Teens want authenticity.”
“Teens understand when they are being manipulated, said Adcroft, or getting the hard sell. “They resent that. They don’t want to be taken. They’ll tell you, quality is very important to them. We avoid teen lingo because it sounds patronizing.”
But how many magazines can this smart, media-hungry, price-conscious, star-gazing, fashion-smart diverse teenager really handle? More than might be expected.
“There are a lot of magazines out there but it’s still one-tenth of the number of magazines for women,” said Beckman.
“The natural response would be, yes, there will be fallout,” said Harlan Schwarz, senior vice president and director of media planning at Universal McCann. But the sheer size of the teen population makes anything possible, he said. “Elle Girl, Cosmogirl!, Teen People, Teen Vogue, have a long haul ahead. This market is not overcrowded; until those came out, there were only three titles — YM, Seventeen and Teen. And then there are all those niche magazines that aren’t even on our radar screen. All these magazines appeal to different parts of the teen personality. I can look at all these books and see differences. And as long as they can maintain those, I think they will survive.”
When Cosmogirl! launched, said publisher Kristine Welker. “People wondered if there was room for another magazine.” But Hearst’s research showed that in fact the teen reader was spurning titles targeted to her age group and picking up the older magazines like Vogue, Cosmopolitan and People.
“They felt magazines weren’t speaking to them, and the quality had deteriorated,” said Welker. Cosmogirl! has done well enough in the past year and a half that international editions are now being launched; there are now Cosmogirls in Turkey and the Czech Republic, and the U.K. is planned for the middle of this year. “By the end of this year we will have six international editions,” said Welker.
After research showed that a third of People’s readers were teenagers, Teen People seemed pretty inevitable. Now, the magazine aims for an editorial mix of “30 percent entertainment, 30 percent fashion and beauty, and 30 percent true life and topical,” said founding managing editor Christina Ferrari, who has resigned to move to Switzerland. Ferrari’s replacement, Barbara O’Dair, will start at the end of this month. “Within that forum, we are constantly trying to mix it up.”
And competition to get the next big boy band on the cover is fierce, say editors.
“It’s a war out there, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise,” said Iverson. Teen’s Tilden said the trigger point for the celebrity phenomenon was the Leonardo di Caprio phenomenon. “That was the point of no return,” she sighed.
And that’s just fine for Teen People, whose parent title made its fortune following grown-up stars. Teen People claims it gets celebrities first because of its brand identity, and produces the kind of detail-heavy interviews that teens crave. “Carson Daly told Teen People he wanted to be a priest,” said Ferrari. “Jessica Simpson talked about why she’s still a virgin.”
While stars are an integral part of teen culture, not all the titles are making it their bread and butter.
“If they want (stars), there are plenty of places the readers can go,” said Elle Girl’s Holly. “I don’t think we’ll be putting boy bands on the cover every month.”
Elle’s little sister “is going to be “smart, funny with a little attitude,” said Holly. “We’ll give (the reader) a ton of fashion. I think the teen out there can handle a read that is smart and funny and has a little more attitude.”
To prepare, Holly said she is traveling and talking with teens. “I’ll be spending time with them, shopping with them, even going home with them. I want this magazine to be an ongoing discussion.”
In fact, the pipeline to teen-land is a bragging point for each magazine. Editors have various ways of hooking up with “real teens,” whether that’s through travel, regular office visits, e-mail and chat room sessions or nationwide networks like that of Teen People, which has several thousand “trendspotters” across the country as well as teen reporters.
And meeting with teens is a great way for publishers to do tie-ins that build brand identity. Retail events are the main thrust of Seventeen’s marketing plan, said publisher Linda Platzner; it does close to 200 a year all over the country, and each event gets plenty of play on the magazine’s Internet site.