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Dating, Driving and Dish

Magazines for Teens Thrive as Numbers, Buying Power Grow

April 09, 1998|DIANE SEO

Previously dismissed as the unsophisticated kid sisters to women's fashion magazines, teen publications are blossoming, luring top advertisers and posting some of the industry's most impressive readership gains.

Recently, blue-chip advertisers such as General Motors, Toyota, Ford, Best Foods and Frito-Lay have recognized the muscle of girl power, inspired by research suggesting that upon reaching adulthood, teens may wield as much marketing clout as their baby-boomer parents.

The push to reach teens has heightened the allure of teen magazines, which have built followings by telling young women how to snag dates to the prom and select the coolest clothes and by serving up the latest dish on stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio and the cast of "Party of Five."

Teenagers are snatching up magazines faster than the latest nail color, boosting the ad revenue and circulation of longtime favorites Seventeen, Teen and YM, and giving rise to newer titles such as Teen People, Jump, Twist and All About You.

"Teenage girls are voracious readers of magazines," said Michael Wolf, senior partner at Booz Allen & Hamilton, a New York consulting firm. "They use these magazines to get information about everything from health [and] fashion [to] sex, giving advertisers a direct pipeline to this valuable audience."

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Despite girls' tendency to read more than one magazine, Wolf doesn't believe all the publications will survive, though he believes there is room for newcomers. He predicts Seventeen, Teen and YM will continue to attract a following.

Each magazine attempts to carve out a niche, appealing to slightly different age groups and interests. The market's perennial leader is Seventeen, known in the industry as a "junior Vogue," with its fashion, beauty and entertainment coverage that appeals to mostly high school and college audiences. Teen and YM also focus on beauty, fashion and relationships, but they tend to be quicker reads that draw slightly younger audiences. Newcomer Teen People concentrates on celebrities and entertainment, while Jump has a health, sports and fitness niche, and Twist strives to be a down-to-earth alternative.

The differences aren't always obvious. Seventeen, YM and Teen People all recently featured teen idol DiCaprio on their covers.

YM and Seventeen finished first and second, and Teen ranked seventh in a survey of magazines that had the biggest newsstand sales gains between 1987 to 1997, according to Capell's Circulation Report.

Such gains have allowed Seventeen, Teen and YM, along with the new Teen People, to raise the circulation they guarantee to advertisers.

Teen magazines are thriving thanks to the growing ranks of young people between the ages of 12 and 19. The count now stands at 30.8 million, a boost of almost 3 million since 1993. By 2010, the group will grow by another 4.2 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Marketers are looking at those numbers and realizing that if they don't try to reach this burgeoning group now, their competitors will. They also believe by building brand loyalty at an early age, they are likely to win customers of the future.

"Marketers are recognizing how completely influential this group is when it comes to driving up their sales," said Alyce Alston, publisher of YM, which last year drew 45 new advertisers, including Coke, Plymouth, Sears and Macy's. "A lot of marketers already are interested, while some are putting their toes in this market and relying on us to help them understand it better."

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Today's teens may not hold high-paying jobs. But they're generally regarded as being more sophisticated than their predecessors, armed with more cash and having more of a say in family purchases. In addition to automobile and beauty companies, packaged-goods and entertainment companies are stepping up efforts to tap into the teen market.

"What's happening is that young women are playing much more of an important role in their households, because so many of them have mothers that work," said Lori Burgess, Seventeen's publisher. "Many of them have their own cars because they have to transport their younger siblings. They also are purchasing food for their families."

Last year, teens spent $122 billion, according to Teenage Research Unlimited, which tracks the teen market. A Rand Youth Poll study showed female teens spent nearly $50 billion last year, mostly on clothing, jewelry, beauty product, entertainment and food.

The extraordinary success of the film "Titanic," whose core following has been teenage girls flocking to see the movie numerous times, showed just how influential teenagers can be.

" 'Titanic' was not a fluke," said Nora McAniff, publisher of Teen People, which specializes in entertainment and celebrity coverage. "The teen population clearly made it successful."

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