Media Analysis: Can teen mags dare to be different?

With a plethora of media channels opening up for gossip and information, formulaic teen girl magazines are well on their way to reaching saturation point. Richard Cann reports on the challenges faced by the sector

Competition in the teen girl magazine market has led to a lack of differentiation between titles, at a time when consumers are turning increasingly to the internet and TV for their gossip and information.

Emap's longstanding J-17, which pioneered the category when it launched in 1983, could be facing the axe after the publisher revealed it was under review. Circulation has been falling, with the sector down 4.7 per cent year-on-year according to ABC's report for the six months to December 2003. Sector leader Sugar dropped to 291,794 from 485,944 over the same period in 1997.

Second placed Bliss sold more than 400,000 copies in the six months to December 1997, but now settles for 241,664. CosmoGIRL! bucked the recent downturn, up 39.6 per cent year-on-year to 198,324.

Cradle-to-grave approach

Starcom MediaVest press director Ian Tournes says: 'There is not a lot of difference in what they do. It's quite a formulaic market.' He adds that the only real differentiator between teen titles is the life stage they represent: 'Most publishers, particularly IPC and Emap, try to take a cradle-to-grave approach where they get readers into their magazines quite early and lead them through life stages.

Emap starts readers off with J-17, moves them through Bliss and then on to New Woman. IPC starts ten to 14-year-olds off with Mizz before they graduate to 19 and then Marie Claire and InStyle. Hachette Filipacchi publishes Sugar but has Elle Girl as a stepping stone to women's titles Elle, B and Red. However, Tournes insists readership of the titles overlaps significantly both in terms of age groups and because teens read several titles.

Countrywide Porter Novelli senior consultant Mark Schmid says there is 'a lot of commonality' between titles, making it necessary to look more closely at specific editorial initiatives and how they suit specific clients.

'The teen magazines are a tough nut to crack,' says Schmid. 'If your brand isn't in cosmetics, mobile phones, snacks, soft drinks or fashion, you need to align it with a fashion or music property in an inventive way to get some cut-through.'

Sugar

Publisher: Hachette Filipacchi

Lysanne Curry, editorial director

Is there a danger you may become too racy for many marketers?

Sugar covers everything teenagers want to know about, but we would never give away condoms. I'd really like PROs to read the magazine.

What would you like to hear about?

There are loads of fashion and beauty products but there is a misconception that only parents buy them. We've just done a deal for a healthy eating supplement - we don't get enough products like that. Travel will be a big area. Readers are at the age when they'll travel without their parents for the first time.

Do you expect to see consolidation among teenage titles?

No, teenage girls are still reading magazines and their reading time is one-and-a-half hours a week. They keep their magazines and go back to them for different reasons.

Why should PROs approach Bliss before other titles?

You can put Sugar, Bliss, CosmoGIRL! and J-17 in the same group but we sell on average 50,000 more copies than Bliss.

Bliss

Publisher: Emap

Helen Johnston, editor

How important is exclusive content from PROs?

It makes a big difference and we would be more prepared to go that extra mile. Having a point of difference is absolutely essential, particularly in a crowded market.

How is Bliss different?

We have more fashion and pages than any other title. There is quite a distinction. Sugar is younger in tone and appearance while we see Bliss as a junior glamorous glossy.

Why should PROs turn to teen mags?

The traditional view is that teenagers don't have money and aren't sophisticated.

But if marketers viewed them as the young adults they are they'd be more successful with them.

Are there clients of PROs that you should be hearing more about?

Teenagers are key influencers on family decisions such as buying a car, furniture or mum's jeans. It is foolish for marketers like Gucci to pigeonhole teenagers as being out of their market. They are buying high-end cosmetics and accessories.

CosmoGIRL!

Publisher: National Magazine Company

Celia Duncan, editor

Who reads CosmoGIRL!?

The average age of our reader is 15 and our core audience is 14 to 17-year-olds but our readers also span the whole of the teenage market and eventually graduate to Company or Cosmopolitan. We have a higher percentage of ABCs because it is an aspirant brand.

Why should PROs come to you first?

Apart from our continual circulation growth, there are so many opportunities through various sections and our website for brands to appear.

Are there new product areas that you would like to see using teen titles?

We cover a wide range of products, and more people are recognising the importance of the teenage pound. We're interested in anything that entertains and informs readers.

Circulations are down despite increases for CosmoGIRL!. What does the future hold?

The market is so fast-changing that you can't really know what it will be like in the future. Ten years ago there was very little in the market but now it has absolutely ballooned.

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