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.