Besides the bottom-line appeal of a product that requires consumers to buy updates frequently, virtual makeover titles also give magazines a different way to attract advertisers by offering front-and-center product placement in the games. Mattel subsidiary Br¿derbund Software’s Cosmopolitan Virtual Makeover 2 Deluxe (US$49.99), which launched last September, certainly provides the magazine with additional exposure for advertisers like Clairol and Cover Girl, whose products are featured heavily in the title. Dawn Dzedzy, senior marketing manager at Mattel Interactive, says Cosmo offered its clients prime placement in the software as a bonus for advertising in the magazine, adding that digital exposure is something advertisers are clamoring for: ‘Once you sign the first one up and everyone sees the attention it brings, you’re turning people away.’
Cosmo has a readership of 33 million, and although it is geared to women ages 18 to 35, it is also popular with teen girls. The magazine has been in the digital beauty game the longest, having shipped the original Cosmopolitan Virtual Makeover in September `97 for US$22.95. The title sold nearly 200,000 units last year and paved the way for the sequel, which has racked up roughly 25,000 unit sales so far. Two style packs were added to the franchise in 1998, and both add-ons were bundled with the original title and rereleased in September ’98. The Cosmopolitan Deluxe Digital Camera Kit, bundled with a Polaroid digital 320 camera for US$99.99, streeted last October. Total unit sales of all the makeover titles combined hit the million mark in January, and Dzedzy says a third Cosmo title-which will incorporate more advice components and magazine features-will likely launch in Q3. Br¿derbund also took over distribution of SegaSoft’s Essence Virtual Makeover in ’97, but no plans are in the works for a repeat performance since the title sold a paltry 9,963 units last year.
Young & Modern, which launched YM Digital Makeover Magic (US$29.99) with Toronto’s MGI Software in November ’99, is taking a much more magnanimous approach to updating its digital title. MGI product manager Chris Luce says there are no immediate plans to produce any revenue-generating add-on packs. ‘We’ll make the product extendable through the Web at first,’ he explains, for no additional charge to the consumer in an effort to increase the title’s exposure. Luce says MGI is considering a sequel for next year, but the company is focusing on expanding the first title’s distribution into mass market over the next three months.
There’s no question that the idea behind virtual makeover franchises is a potential moneymaker, but some industry pundits wonder whether the ‘make me pretty’ hook still has the power to draw in today’s confident and savvy teen girls.
‘We did a lot of research, running focus groups with girls ages 10 to 17 in an effort to understand what a makeover product should be for them,’ says MGI’s Luce. ‘We learned that it’s not about making yourself `better,’ the way adults see it. For teens, makeovers are about reinventing yourself and being able to be different people.’ The notion of pushing ‘different’ not ‘better’ echoes with the producers of other teen makeover titles. Jenae Pash, an executive producer at Texas-based Girl Games puts it succinctly: ‘The pressure on girls to look a certain way is a valid criticism of society, but with makeover products, what you do with your hair is a form of self-expression-it doesn’t have to be a negative thing.’
Nevertheless, Girl Games went beyond makeovers to attract girls to its Teen Digital Diva II, a Teen magazine-based title that hit shelves in November. Co-produced with Activision, the sequel to 1998′s Teen Digital Diva has a makeover component, but focuses instead on new-age hooks like astrology, numerology and Metasymbology. Girl Games expanded the astrological elements in the first title in response to teen feedback. The first disk, which charged teens with creating their own magazine, sold 22,830 units last year and has been repackaged with the sequel for US$29.99.
* Unit sales figures courtesy of PC Data