Young People - Creative solutions beat the crunch

Ben Bold examines how children's magazine publishers are looking beyond standard display ads with a range of credit crunch-beating creative solutions to appeal to their particular audiences.

Guitar Hero: Nintendo targeted the teen market with an advertorial in BBC's Top of the Pops
Guitar Hero: Nintendo targeted the teen market with an advertorial in BBC's Top of the Pops

While children are blissfully unaware of the gathering economic gloom, the same cannot be said for the kids' magazine industry. As advertisers shrink budgets and batten down the hatches, publishers must fight to maintain their share in a tempestuous market.

However, of all the segments of the magazine market, the kids' sector is arguably one of the most resilient. Julie Jones, publishing director at Redan, says: "Children's publishing is one of the few areas of the magazine market to have grown in the past 12 months. The market is slowing a little, but I don't expect this to have too much of an impact, because people are still spending money on their kids."

Jaynie Bye, publishing director of BBC Youth and Children's Magazines, elaborates: "Consumers are slightly more cautious at the moment. But you tend to find that, in the magazine market, you are fortunate to be a product defined as an affordable treat."

Sam Vernon, Egmont's group ad sales manager for magazines and online, agrees. "We find that kids are the last thing parents are prepared to economise on," she says. "In addition, magazines are relatively low cost - the average cover price is £2."

Of course, childhood is not limited to a single phase of development and the range of titles targeting two to 16-year-olds reflects this. Crudely, the market is divided into two segments: pre-teen (pre-school and seven to 12-year-olds) and teen.

The major players are BBC Magazines, Egmont, Titan, Redan and Panini, while advertisers range from fast-moving consumer goods brands targeting mothers at the younger end of the market to DVD, games and toy brands targeting older readers.

Flagship titles

Independent publisher Redan focuses on the younger end of the market, with flagship brands including the Fun To Learn and Sparkle World titles for three to seven-year-olds, and Egmont owns a portfolio of titles such as Go Girl and Toxic.

Meanwhile, BBC Magazines starts young, with In the Night Garden and Teletubbies targeting parents with children aged from 18 months. In the pre-teen market, its most popular magazines include Girl Talk, Match of the Day and Top of the Pops.

The magazine market has been experiencing an advertising downturn since before the first rumblings of the credit crunch. However, while Nielsen Media Research figures reveal a drop in ad spend between 2006 and 2007, this year looks more promising for publishers.

In 2006, advertising spend on children's titles was £13.8m, dropping to £11.8m in 2007. However, ad spend in the eight months to the end of August 2008 was £8m, so the sector is on track to surpass the previous year.

But publishers argue that advertising is not the be-all and end-all of their businesses. "It's not a massive part of our revenue," admits Richard Owen, editor of Future Publishing's Jetix Magazine, a brand extension of the children's TV channel. "This is why we lean towards promotions and cover mounts." For example, the 45,000-circulation boys' lifestyle title recently ran a promotion for Lego Star Wars, giving away a Lego action figure in every copy.

Egmont's Vernon adds: "The days of selling just display ad pages are long gone." She cites examples of creative solutions such as a year-long partnership with Marvel Comics to boost brand awareness and showcase film releases including Iron Man and The Hulk. Here, the creative package included sponsorship pages, posters, sticker sheets, a cover-mounted free comic, advertorials and an Iron Man-branded poly-bag.

Redan is also moving towards offering clients more creative solutions. Jones says: "For Sparkle World, rather than offering a standard page, we can work extras into every issue. This could be a poster, an additional workbook section, a perforated press-out activity or a wall mural.

"There are also opportunities for brands to sponsor that section. For example, we had Bratz Ponyz - a Nintendo game - sponsoring a perforated press-out based on that game."

Activity sheets

Meanwhile, BBC Magazines ran a campaign for Fairy that involved a series of task-based advertorials designed to engage parents and their children in activities, as well as a Fiat-branded reversible booklet designed to amuse children on car journeys.

However, Vanessa Clifford, managing partner at Mindshare, points out that most creative innovation takes place in the pre-school titles, where brands can be allowed to become more involved with the editorial content. She says: "The idea of creating content beyond the pre-school market is not quite as welcome."

Martin Donnelly, press manager at Universal McCann, agrees creative solutions can be difficult for some publishers. He gives the example of a campaign for his client Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards, where publishers were briefed and told to come back with ideas to engage readers.

"A lot of them just came back with shopping lists of ideas," he says. "The kids market is still struggling to get to grips with creative."

Furthermore, buyers believe some publishers have not yet got to grips with the internet. Redan is not active online, because Jones argues the tangibility of magazines is one of the publisher's core strengths.

"For the younger end of the market, we're not worried, because children that young don't go on the internet," she says. "We feature colouring and other activities, so for the pre-school market, online can't take away from print."

However, the teen market in particular has been hit hard by the growth of online publishing. Clifford, who praises the well-developed web strategies of Egmont's Go Girl and Toxic, says: "If publishers are smart, they will develop their online businesses."

Egmont's Vernon comments: "Our point of difference is that we can offer advertisers multi-platform packages across print and online to deliver campaigns that are really targeted, accountable and measurable."

However, Egmont is an exception, according to Universal McCann's Donnelly. "Publishers need to up their game and build their online brands," he says. "Ultimately, we don't tend to use online versions of magazines because they are not strong enough."

While children's appetites are fickle, one constant is their parents' desire to keep them entertained. This is the argument that kids' publishers put forward. "I still think the kids market is extremely buoyant," says the BBC's Bye. "If publishers are able to spot the next big thing for a particular consumer, they will weather the storm."

THE BUYER'S CHOICE

A selection of some of the best magazines targeting two to 16-year-olds, as chosen by Martin Donnelly, press manager at Universal McCann.

In the Night Garden

Pre-school

BBC Magazines Circulation: 103,644

"At the moment, In The Night Garden is the pre-school programme. The magazine reflects the BBC programme, providing fun, learning-based content. It helps that parents are familiar with the show and can trust the brand."

Toxic

Seven to 11-year-olds

Egmont

Circulation: 53,784

"Toxic is a great general lifestyle magazine for boys. We recently did a Nickelodeon deal with the magazine - it is a great choice for advertisers who don't necessarily want to reach boys via comics such as The Simpsons."

Shout

10 to 14-year-olds

DC Thomson

Circulation: 84,937

"In terms of content, Shout is more celebrity, fashion and beauty-focused than younger magazines and it is read by girls who want to be older than they are. Shout is a magazine that appeals to readers before they get into the likes of Heat."

Bliss

14 to 17-year-olds

Panini

Circulation: 107,112

"Bliss is similar to Shout, because it provides readers with more glamorous celebrity, beauty and fashion content. Bliss bridges the gap between the younger end of the market and the likes of Company and other youth-focused lifestyle mags."

Source for circulations: ABC, Jan-June 2008.

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