YM leverages teen savvy into stuff

visits the mall at least once a week, and she's known as a trendsetter at school. Most importantly, she reads YM magazine, and if publisher Gruner + Jahr's director of books and licensing Tammy Palazzo has her way, by Christmas she'll...
September 1, 1999

visits the mall at least once a week, and she’s known as a trendsetter at school. Most importantly, she reads YM magazine, and if publisher Gruner + Jahr’s director of books and licensing Tammy Palazzo has her way, by Christmas she’ll be buying YM merchandise too.

Thanks to continuous focus group testing and other market research, Palazzo feels as if she knows each of YM’s almost 2.5 million readers personally, and she hopes to leverage this knowledge into a program that will succeed where others have failed. The teen market is notoriously fickle and ephemeral, but if anyone can succeed in keeping on top of the latest trends, Palazzo reasons it should be the magazine read by the trendsetters themselves.

The first product off the YM branding line will be a YM Hot Tracks compilation music CD under the BMG-owned Damian Music label, featuring Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, `N Sync, 98 Degrees and other artists, slated to hit mass market retailers this fall. This will be followed by the Christmas launch of YM hair accessories, jewelry and hosiery, and the eventual launch of a YM publishing line including books and calendars.

Licensing agent Hamilton Projects (whose parent company, Spelling Entertainment Group, was in the throes of being acquired by Viacom at press time) is handling the program for YM, but Palazzo stresses that YM makes all the decisions when it comes to choosing appropriate merchandise and designs.

YM magazine staff are intimately involved in the program, with beauty, music and entertainment editors advising on everything from what artists to include on the CD, to what color YM tights should be, to what images should adorn a year 2001 calendar currently in development. Palazzo says that YM’s reputation as the trendsetter’s bible is at stake, and she wants to avoid coming out with a line of pink merchandise for the holidays when YM might be reporting that grey is the color of choice for cool teens.

The merchandise will launch nationally at all major retail chains, including Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target stores, with some specialty stores such as Claire’s carrying the line too. At this point, Palazzo says there may or may not be separate lines of merchandise for specialty and mass.

YM will promote the line with ads in the magazine (kicking off with four full-page ads for the CD rolling out in four separate issues this fall), and will cross-promote with advertising partners and licensees, many of which are sister companies. For instance, both YM publisher Gruner + Jahr and BMG are owned by international publishing goliath Bertelsmann, and the YM-branded publishing line will likely come from Random House, which is also Bertelsmann-owned.

YM is currently in the process of hooking up with a promotional partner for the CD release, which Palazzo says will probably mean offering on-pack discounts for lipstick or other products, with an eye on driving traffic through the stores and endearing the product lines to retailers. Other marketing efforts include a sweepstakes offering the chance to win a date with a music group, and ‘enhanced’ capabilities on the music CD allowing girls to pop it in their computer and discover Internet links to AT&T, YM and the as-yet-unnamed promotional partner.

Cross-promotions with other brands are particularly important for the program, Palazzo notes, because certain product categories are off-limits to avoid competition with YM’s advertisers. As well, print advertising is pretty much restricted to YM itself, because as Palazzo says, ‘what other teen magazine is going to carry your ads?’

Palazzo adds that the biggest challenge for the brand will be keeping the line fresh with frequent product launches and keeping on top of constantly evolving trends-which means predicting what will be hot months in advance. ‘There’s no reason why magazine brands can’t be making, say US$10 million a year in licensing royalties, if they have really, really strong, successful programs,’ she says. ‘But you’re definitely in very unsafe, uncharted waters at this point. There’s no way for us to know if this program’s going to be around for the next five years or 10 years, or if we’re only going to get one season out of it.’

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