No totty, no lurve - but that's the way US teenagers like it ...
Monday 13 April 1998
When it launched in January with a budget of $20m (pounds 12m) the American press drooled. "It sounds like a perfectly targeted idea ... It's going to be a huge success." And they were right. Within two months the expected circulation of 500,000 accelerated to 700,000, and it is currently reaching about 2 million teenagers a month in a boom that has got all America talking.
Its formula - a junior version of the hugely successful weekly magazine People (circulation 3.5 million) that is newsy, gossipy and celebrity- driven and talks about real-life issues in a straightforward, informative way - has transformed the idea of what teens want.
The editorial mix is designed to be one third celebrities and entertainment, one third real teens and one third beauty and fashion - totally different to its British counterparts, which serve up an almost exclusive mix of boys, fashion, beauty and gossip.
"It's a perfect formula for teenagers," explains the managing editor, Christina Ferrari. "I want to entertain them but I also want to show them positive influences and inspire them." Ferrari, 32, a former editor of the rival teen publication YM, has recently been invited onto CBS, CNN and other high-profile TV news programmes intrigued by the magazine's success and keen to tap into the teen psyche.
For, in the US, the teen market is a phenomenon, worth $122bn a year (compared to pounds bn in the UK). The nation's teenage population is projected to grow from 29 million to 35 million by the year 2010, and the teen dollar is credited with having been instrumental in making Titanic the biggest- grossing film of all time and putting its sound track at the top of the charts.
In real flicking-the-pages terms, the main difference between Teen People and rival titles (besides the fact that it is great fun to read) is that it doesn't use models, preferring to use "real teens" or celebrities, and it won't use boys as accessories. Most interestingly - and this could prove very influential - it steers clear of teenage slang because focus groups indicated that US teenagers don't want to read articles in the vocabulary they view as theirs alone. They want, instead, to be spoken to by a friendly but authoritative voice about the matters which concern them. These could be as diverse as teenage pregnancy, `Then & Wow' snaps showing celebrities evolving from childhood to adult stardom, fashion spreads featuring soap stars and the usual pages on gossip, beauty and dating tips.
Marina Gask, editor of Sugar, the UK's best-selling teenage title, with 1.3 million readers a month, thinks the concept is very imaginative. "They have a totally different slant on fashion that could go down well here. For example, having celebrities in fashion shoots is a brilliant idea," she says. "But we would never stop using real models; British girls need something to aspire to." They also like to feel that their "fave mag" is their best friend.
Sugar and its closest rival, Bliss, sell 485,000 and 400,000 issues a month respectively, the former appearing consistently in the top 10 list of biggest-selling consumer publications. Its April issue features the cover line "saucepot search, help us find the new Dan Corsi", and both magazines feature typical teen speak, with slang such as "totty", "lurve", "clobber", "poptastic" and "fave" peppering the chatty editorial.
When both magazines launched they aimed to blend the formula of Australian teen magazines and glossy grown-up British titles, such as Cosmopolitan, Company and Marie Claire. Teen People has similarly adapted an adult formula. So what does this say about teenagers today?
The teenage years are increasingly being seen as a trial run to adulthood, and advertisers - let's not forget about them - are desperate to entice customers who could potentially stay loyal for life. Sure enough Teen People is chock full of carefully targeted advertisements, including junior versions of adult ads, such as ones for milk ("Famous kids wear the milk moustache") and Tampax.
Its success certainly seems assured, and no doubt some of the magazine's ideas will pop up in British titles soon. Unfortunately Teen People isn't available in the UK just yet, but, to add to its other innovations, Teen People claims to be the first magazine to have launched simultaneously in print and on the World Wide Web. More statistics are thrown out in the promotional bumf, where, as a parting gesture, we are told that 75 per cent of teenagers will be on-line by 2002.
So, catch it by keying in Teen People, or go to http://www.pathfinder.com.
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