Thursday, May 27, 2010

In Pursuit of the Teenage Dollar

Seventeen Style Council member Anna, age 20, feels "remarkably 'West Coast'" in her cutoff sweatshirt. To be honest, I am not sure to which west coast she is referring. This photo is featured in the June/July issue of Seventeen. Even in my tee shirt variation on this outfit, I was sweltering amidst eastern Pennsylvania's high-80s temperatures. I can only imagine what it would be like wearing this in mid-summer Los Angeles. The full face of makeup I am wearing didn't do much to help me keep cool. Neither did the "sultry waves" that I styled last night. Perhaps Anna summers on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Seems like the only logical explanation for a sweatshirt in July being described as "West Coast."

I always question how real these "real girl" fashion bits are. With the number of teen magazines that have folded lately, I've lately assumed that every article of clothing/accessory spotted in the pages of a magazine was the result of some sort of lucrative product-placement deal. Some investegation revealed that Anna, 20, is indeed a real person-- in fact, she goes to Columbia University and has Twitter. I wonder if she actually chooses the outfits she wears in the magazine. What sort of authority do you think the Style Council has? Can they veto official style bills?

I had difficulty finding information regarding how much compensation Seventeen receives for including items in the magazine. I'm going to continue to look into this, because I am curious to see how much of what is being suggested to teens is actually thinly-veiled advertising. In the mean time, however, I decided that the actual ad content included in Seventeen was deserving of some scrutiny.

Magazines profit from ad sales more than they do from newsstand sales or subscriptions. From a business standpoint, the essential purpose of magazines (or television, or radio) is to round up a group of similarly demographic'd consumers that advertisers can easily target. I figured that the advertising content might have something to say about what the average Seventeen reader is imagined to be like. In the 171 page issue, there were 91 ad spaces. Here is how the content broke down:

This amount of data was too overwhelming. I decided to group products into categories to see if I could discern some sort of trend.

Unsurprisingly, over 75% of the advertising content in Seventeen is "stuff that makes you look better."

I'm not heading toward any sort of conclusive argument with these graphs. Just thought it was an interesting exercise to explore how low the bar is set for Seventeen readers when it comes to what advertisers think will interest them. Products advertised definitely skew more toward tangible than experiential, and more toward short-term use than long-term investment. It would be interesting to do a similar data sample with the Economist or the New York Times. Wonder if this way of thinking is something that applies to all demographics, or mostly just teens.

Tomorrow I'll be riding in Critical Mass, a decidedly non-Seventeen activity. I'm going to break character for a second and encourage people in metropolitan areas (or anywhere) to get out and ride their bikes tomorrow (and every day!).

The rest of the weekend I'll be at the shore solemnly commemorating our fallen soldiers, along with the hundreds of other Philadelphians who head towards Jersey's beaches to get a more firsthand perspective on what it was like to be on they beaches at Normandy. JK we're all actually going there to get bronze, go shopping, and participate in other Seventeen-approved activities.


  1. Hi there!
    I absolutely LOVE this blog. It's a great idea. I'm so happy to have found it!

    However, I'd like to point out that magazine readership is actually on the rise, as you can see here:
    Granted this isn't some sort of peer reviewed journal, rather it is industry created, but it is likely correct.

    It is, however, true that newspaper readership is declining (

    You may want to explore this site for some non-industry created research:

    Particularly this report:

    The site has a lot of information about reader content and experience. Plus they have a small section specifically on magazines too.

    So, you may want to stop making the blanket statement that print media is dying, and do a little more research.

    Great job otherwise; keep it up!

  2. Thanks Katie! Post edited to reflect newfound information :)

  3. Did you make these pie charts yourself? Those are some fancy-scientific-charts! It's interesting to see proof that they are basically selling ad space to the same products they tout in their articles...even though you haven't found that conclusive evidence yet.

    That said, I'm really sorry to say that the cutoff t-shirt looks sort of ridiculous--but not quite as ridiculous as the cutoff sweatshirt which you were emulating. It's very Flashdance, which is a reference you may not get because of your age.

    Your blog makes me feel so old.

  4. a) yes i made the charts myself
    b) yes i've seen flashdance

  5. If I had an 18 year old daughter, I'd like her to be like you. I've sent a link to this blog to one of our nieces because I think this sets a great example to counter the examples set in the likes of 17 magazine. Plus, your writing is funny and makes for good reading as well.

    (Btw - I just realised how old that makes me sound! I just turned 30 so I must be on my way! And also, Jezebel linked me, in case you were wondering.)

  6. Hey, I found your blog via Jezebel. You're doing a great job -- love the pie charts. Have you ever read the Baby-sitters Club books? Maybe the sweatshirt is supposed to be like Dawn's "California casual" style?

  7. Hi! I found you via Girls Inc. You ROCK!

  8. You write exceedingly well. Trust me, never undervalue that skill. Fewer people have it than you might think.

    Great analysis, great concept, great work. Keep it up ~ I'll enjoy checking in on you.

    Hope you one day will consider being the editor or publisher of a magazine that benefits the 12 to 19 set, rather than targets them. And that when you do, you train others to write as well as you do.

  9. Jaime, this is brilliant. When I was 18, my response to Seventeen was to ignore it all together, but I love the idea of this project.

    I fully support the idea to do a study of other magazine demographics' advertising content. It may be a non-Seventeen-endorsed activity (ha!), but I say do it if it interests you.

  10. Jamie I LOVE your blog! I was recently in a "real woman" fashion spread in Lucky magazine and I can confirm that the clothes were neither my own nor did I have any hand in their selection. They did have me write a quote about "my" outfit though.

  11. I really enjoy your blog, but a word of caution... I just finished getting an honours degree in Economics, and will be going to LSE for graduate studies. If this is your take on the world (and good for you!), you are NOT going to enjoy economics.

    Keep an open mind degree-wise and keep up the great blog.

  12. This is a really interesting project you have going. I used to read 17 when I was your age (though I preferred the British magazine 19 when I could get a hold of it) and remember it being a preferable alternative to the absolute strangeness of Vogue and Bazaar or the shallowness of Tiger Beat, etc. I eventually gave up reading it by college as I found I could barely relate to any of the content anymore.

    I kind of disagree on the sweatshirt issue though. Depending on what parts of California you're in, the weather can actually be pretty nippy in the summer, even dropping down to 50 at night. The average temp in July in the San Fran Bay area is only 64 degrees, which is definitely "hoodie weather" to me.

  13. Hi Jamie... I have to say I'm loving your blog! I stumbled upon it on Jezebel and it caught my eye because I was absolutely hooked on Seventeen magazine as a teenager and as you speculate from the beginning, I thought I could use it as a tool to be cooler, thinner, more popular, more fashionable, and snag that boy! It's extremely refreshing to see an intelligent take on teen magazines and I think if your blog can reach enough young girls, it will have a much more positive effect than the magazine!

    And regarding your inquiry on whether the styling sections are really just advertising, they are not... well it is a kind of free editorial advertising... it's always exciting for a fashion house when a magazine wants to feature your garments in a fashion story. What happens is that when designers are creating a line, they make a sample of each garment before the entire line is produced for stores to carry. The samples are generally a size 2 to fit the models who go down the runway and grace the glossy pages of magazines. The samples belong the PR department of the fashion house and they lend them out to celebrities to wear to events and to magazines etc. for editorial coverage. Hope that was helpful!

    p.s you are adorable and remind me so much of my little sister who is the same age as you... keep up the good work!!!

  14. Jamie,

    my two cents about the "real fashion" content and exactly how real it is (and I work as a creator of advertising, so I feel somewhat qualified to weigh in):

    Magazine fashion editors, whose salaries are paid essentially by advertisers, have a vested interest in promoting those advertisers' products. Often, they will find a "real girl," like the one you pointed out, and allow her to "style her own look" from a rack of pre-chosen clothes (as opposed to her own closet). You can bet that this rack of clothing is chosen largely from the bank of brands advertised in the magazine.

    In fact, many advertisers can pay a premium to have their ad run adjacent to an editorial featuring - surprise! - exactly the type of item they're selling (example: a high-end sun protection face cream running in the page adjacent to a beauty spread on protecting your skin from the sun).

    Couldn't help adding my voice to the thread :-)

  15. I intern at a fashion PR firm and none of our clients advertise in any magazines, but we still get a lot of editorial coverage. In most cases, editors are just looking for something that works for their story. However, they are more likely to pick an item that works that is by one of their advertisers than something that works that doesn't.

    I did overhear one editor explaining that for their swimsuit guide, they were told to use swimsuits from their 8 advertisers. It caused major issues when the layout team set it up that they could only use 7 bathing suits in the story because they HAD to use all 8.

    But that's an extreme example. In general, they have a concept for a photo shoot or spread and then they send out a mass email to all their PR contacts of what they need. They get hundreds of samples, and then look through them and pick which ones they want to keep, sending back the rest.

    In fact, magazines like Seventeen actually cover the shipping/messengering fees for us to send them samples!

    Does that make sense?

  16. *snurf* 'buying this for research...' bahaha... great project. When you try the cookies again, get a better sheet, one of the multi-layer expensive ones does a better job, imho, also mebbe break up the pretzels more. (wrap them in a clean cloth and smash) Luck at U.C. xx

  17. hey i just want to say that i came back from portland, OR a couple weeks ago, and it was pretty cold there. i was wearing a sweatshirt. just saying.

  18. Hi, I also found your blog via Jezebel. I live in Seattle, and I must deliver the sad (for us) news that sweatshirts in July are not an entirely uncommon experience here. We have yet to break 75 yet this year, I am told. It's a bit of a painful subject, particularly this year.

  19. I am loving your witty approach to this magazine!
    I have stopped reading mainstream fashion magazines (as a 21 yr old lesbian, Canadian, design student there are very few that target me) so it has been fun to vicariously read 17 through an intelligent and fun perspective.

    I was just going to say what Anonymous did above, they are probably referring to the northern west coast, Seattle/Vancouver area where warm but rainy days are more common than not.

  20. Besides the fact that your blog is totally amazing, I'm going to have to jump on the sweatshirt dissenters boat-- I live in the San Francisco Bay area and have traveled many a time up and down the coast from southern California all the way up to Vancouver, BC. From what I've seen, sweatshirtless summers only appear in San Luis Obispo and southwards (San Luis Obispo is about two thirds of the way down California's coast line). California is known as the sunshine state but I'm guessing the person who came up with that moniker had never left LA :) Keep up the awesome!

  21. Try untucking the bottom layer.

    "Needless to say, it's perfect for staving off those summer nighttime chills."

  22. norcal is actually pretty cold - it's june & i'm still wearing jeans & sweatshirts most days. i just moved here from the east coast & most of the people i've met are pretty emulative of "west coast style."

    just saying... a girl studying at columbia who's required to write a blurb about her outfit, whether she picked it or not, probably knows what she's talking about.

    interesting blog, though; i'm really enjoying reading it!

  23. Very interesting blog, I'm loving reading your thoughts! I found you after hearing you on NPR today.

    I really like the pie charts for the advertisers. Since you want to know if these type of ads are for teens or just general advertising, instead of skipping over to the Economist or something (which is a very different demographic), why not compare the ads in Seventeen to other mags for women like Glamour, Cosmo, Redbook, O and the like. I really suspect it isn't a *teen* phenomenon with the health/beauty/tangible items offered, but it's more of a trend in advertising for women. I would think that advertisers are trying to instill brand loyalty young (this is a point brought up in the book Flow: A Cultural History of Menstruation by Janice Delaney) so are targeting teens. Which, really, says a lot of the way advertisers think of women, not just teens. We're all just wanting to make ourselves prettier, get a date/husband, and later cook, clean and take care of a family. *rolls eyes*

  24. other commenters have already pointed out west coast =/ Los Angeles (kinda like East coast /= NYC)... anyways, great post, but doing a similar study w/ Economist or NY Times... come on? is that really the equivalent? I would say cosmo or maybe even glamour


  25. i like how caught up everybody is on pointing out that parts of the west coast is colder. that really seemed to be the issue here.

  26. AR explained the whole process of magazines requesting samples from designers for their stories pretty well. The only thing I would add is that if someone advertises in the magazine, they have to be featured in at least one credit. Mostly, editors frown at this fact because they want free reign on what goes in the stories, but they realize that advertising dollars ultimately fund their ability to do their jobs and will incorporate that brand's item at least once.

    (Oh, I interned at a magazine's fashion closet and dealt with all the sample requests/returns.)

  27. Hi Jamie! First time reader here--SO glad I found this blog. I rediscovered my love for sociology/communications/advertising. Anyway, I'm from Jersey and I have to say, I absolutely LOVE that last sentence.

    You're an awesome writer, so keep writing!

  28. Hey, Sociological Images gave you a shout-out -- so I am here, and have gone through your Seventeen Magazine Project pics on Flickr.

    You have made my whole freakin' day. Thank you.

  29. As many have already noted - the weather on the West Coast (CA) is a lot different than you picture. There's no humidity, nice ocean breezes (that can actually be chilly), and often a marine layer (clouds) that make it feel a true 70 degrees, which sounds like cut-off sweatshirt weather to me.

    I agree w/the poster who said untuck your blue shirt. Also, add a darker brown/bronze sandal. A chunky necklace and you'll be cutting edge for the East Coast (fashion tends to take a while to get from CA to East).

  30. great information you have, it helped for a project that i had(:

  31. This is such a good idea for a blog!

  32. This is great. I wish I had as much insight at your age. Very impressive commentary

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