Little sisters doing it for themselves

Teens are still a growing consumer force and junior versions of established titles can build brand loyalty in the formative years

Teen magazines, like their readers, are growing up fast. So fast that readers will no longer have to wait until they reach their 20s to sample the glossy values of older titles, such as Elle and Cosmopolitan.

Spurred on by the US market – where advertisers are targeting teenagers with new products and specially-created advertising to establish brand loyalty from an early age – UK publishers are charging into the teen sector.

The National Magazine Company is to publish a UK version of Cosmo Girl, aimed at 12- to 17-year-olds, from the first quarter of next year (MW last week). The move follows the success of the debut US edition, which launched last August and achieved sales of 500,000 after five issues.

In the US, even fashion bible Vogue is testing the market with Teen Vogue, which is being mailed to subscribers and sold through newsstands in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

In the UK, EMAP is launching Elle Girl, through its joint venture with Hachette, and BBC Worldwide is hoping to ride on the back of OK! and Hello!’s success by publishing a celebrity-based title aimed at teens.

But the UK teenage magazine market, which is worth £75.35m in sales, is actually in decline. It lost 15 per cent of volume sales between 1995 and 1999, according to Mintel. Fashion and lifestyle titles, which constitute 64 per cent of the market by volume and 66 per cent by value, have also been hit. They suffered a 20 per cent decline in volume sales during the period 1995 to 2000.

The volatile market has even affected best-selling fashion and lifestyle teen title Sugar, published by Attic Futura. Sugar’s circulation fell 3.6 per cent year on year to 415,973, according to the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

EMAP’s It’s Bliss and J17 also fell, by 7.2 per cent to 287,897 and 16.1 per cent year on year to 200,030, respectively. IPC Media’s Mizz was one of the few to boost circulation – up eight per cent year on year to 162,195 – although this represents a slowdown on the annual growth of 23.2 per cent six months earlier.

Duncan Edwards, deputy managing director of NatMags, which does not have a teen title in its portfolio, says: “We believe the products serving the UK market are not working as well as they could. This is quite a changing market. What girls want today may not be the same as they wanted five or ten years ago.”

He has no fears of eroding the powerbase of the mother brand, Cosmopolitan: “What we have been hearing time and time again is ‘we want something like that for us’, so there’s no danger of cannibalising the readership. To be honest, our advertisers are not using Cosmopolitan to target teenage girls, so they will use Cosmo Girl.”

Edwards admits the US market has influenced the decision to launch Cosmo Girl in the UK.

In the US, advertisers such as Chanel and Revlon have begun to target the younger teen market. Fashion brands are also developing lines, such as Tommy Hilfiger’s Tommy line for 13- to 24-year-olds and Ralph Lauren’s Ralph, aimed at 16- to 24-year-olds. Liz Claiborne has acquired a licence to produce a DKNY juniors’ line.

Teens are also big business in the UK, as Attic Futura can testify. The publishing company has developed plans to extend its Sugar brand into a clothing range, a show and an Internet portal, while NatMags is planning to capitalise on teenagers’ interest in the Net by launching a website for Cosmo Girl.

Teens also have cash to burn. Sugar readers, average age 14, have a weekly disposable income of £16.96, according to a survey by Youth TGI conducted in 1999.

Elle Girl publisher Suzanne Grover says: “The current spate of new titles results from an expansion of young advertising and magazine launches in the US. Advertisers are spending a fortune on new creative work for a completely different market.”

But MindShare press buying director Paul Thomas says: “Maybe publishers feel that the sector is ignored or not covered. I think it is.

“I doubt whether they will be able to build the market that much. But the cost of TV is going up and you may find these magazines offer advertisers another opportunity.”

He adds: “Most teenagers have mobile phones and there’s a market for certain products. I don’t think high-end products which advertise in the mother magazine brands would do so in the teen titles, but that’s because of the demographics.”

Edwards believes most of the advertising revenue for the new crop of titles is likely to come from large advertisers, such as Procter & Gamble and L’Oréal.

He adds: “Our research indicates that expenditure by these girls on fashion and technology – particularly mobile phones – is enormous. So is their ability to influence household purchases of products such as computers, TVs, videos and DVD players.”

Alfie Lewis, associate publisher of BBC Worldwide youth group, agrees: “Teenagers set themselves up as the family ‘style police’, the scourge of supermarket own-label and other ‘value’ goods. In the US, advertisers have been aware of this power, with products as diverse as vegetable oil and cars advertised in teenage titles.”

Edwards believes advertisers in the UK have also recognised this fact. But Grover admits that advertisers will not automatically increase their budget and will instead have to “re-evaluate” how they spend it, if they want to get through to teenagers.

Both remain unconvinced that the UK market will go as far as the US, where even car manufacturers, such as Volkswagen, have run ads in teen titles.

But with the General Motors-backed teen website Curve.com already running ads in Top of the Pops magazine, it could only be a matter of time before the sector comes of age.v

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