Teen mags pen a new chapter in brand licensing

Teen magazines and their poster pin-ups have been mainstays on newsstands and the bedroom walls of teen girls for decades, building up a considerable amount of brand equity along the way. Now, publishers of teen titles are attempting to leverage that...
April 1, 2001

Teen magazines and their poster pin-ups have been mainstays on newsstands and the bedroom walls of teen girls for decades, building up a considerable amount of brand equity along the way. Now, publishers of teen titles are attempting to leverage that equity into branded merch programs, and who better to target the fickle and ephemeral teen market than the `style bibles’ read loyally each month by that demo?

Two of the larger North American titles, Primedia’s Seventeen and Gruner + Jahr’s YM first tested the brand licensing waters in 1998, with both expanding their programs this year. And across the pond this month, British teens will get a first look at branded merch based on girl mag J-17.

Originally represented by The Beanstalk Group, Seventeen licensing began in 1998 with hair accessories by L&N, now available in over 25,000 retail outlets and continuing to pull in millions of dollars in sales for the brand. Body art by Johnson & Mayer debuted in fall 1999, followed in 2000 by cosmetic applicators (Victoria Vogue), fiction and nonfiction books (Parachute/HarperCollins), school supplies (Pentab), a make-over CD-ROM title (GT Interactive) and a line of jewelry by Canadian licensee CO International. Jewelry by U.S. licensee K&M is slated to hit retail this spring.

Late last year, Primedia Enterprises-a new business unit formed last May to leverage licensing opportunities for the company’s catalog of titles-signed its first Seventeen license with Ben Berger for slippers, sandals, socks and tights due out this spring. And when Beanstalk’s contract ended December 31, 2000, the licensing program was taken completely in-house. The brand’s newest licensee, sunglasses/optical manufacturer Lantis, is creating a range of sunglasses slated to debut in June.

Currently, Primedia Enterprises president Barbara Deering is looking for licensees in accessory categories such as watches, purses, belts and wallets, but the largest open category is intimate apparel. Deering is seeking partners to develop Seventeen-branded pajamas, loungewear, robes, lingerie and T-shirts, and a broadcast presence is in the planning stages. ‘We had originally looked into doing a fiction TV series, but I think we’re going to focus our efforts on a magazine type of show, working closely with the editors,’ says Deering, who thinks the fashion news/talk show might be segmented similar to Seventeen’s print version.

As a magazine, YM touts itself as a ‘resource for teen girls in all areas of their life that matter,’ namely beauty, boys, stars and style. As a licensed brand, YM aims at licensing products that are integrated into teen lives.

Thus, the brand extension began with the YM Hot Tracks compilation CD that licensee Damian Music released in 1998, followed in 1999 by hosiery (Horizon Hosiery), calendars (Workman Publishing) and a CD-ROM game called YM Digital Makeover Magic (MGI Software).

Originally handled by licensing agency Hamilton Projects, the program is now in the hands of the Joester Loria Group, with firm direction from YM staffers and publisher Gruner + Jahr. ‘We’re trying to be a premium brand in our category, so we need to take care that we have a real dialogue [with licensees], that we don’t just delegate this and let it go to some licensing company without having real involvement,’ says YM publisher Laura McEwen. In an effort to ensure that the program is consistently reflective of the YM brand, McEwen makes all approvals from a business standpoint, with editor-in-chief Annemarie Iverson signing off on creative and design. Palazzo runs the program day-to-day.

McEwen and Iverson, both relatively new to the magazine and its licensing program, are gearing up for some changes. ‘We want to heighten the quality of the product, and we want the logo and identification of the core magazine brand to be stronger,’ says McEwen. ‘We’ve started to call YM `your magazine,’ so you’re going to see that play out with more clear branding on the licensed products.’

Encouraged by e-mails and letters from its base of 9.2 million readers, the YM team is currently focused on expanding the program this year and into 2002. SFX Entertainment has signed on to produce a compilation CD scheduled for a fall release, and Design by Skaffles has created a spring line of hair accessories and jewelry for drug store chain CVS. CVS will create a YM section in its stores, displaying branded merch along with YM magazines. Although deals have yet to be finalized, social stationery and school supplies are expected this summer, with intimate apparel due out in spring 2002.

Despite YM’s decision to release a second compilation CD, Deering isn’t sure a CD’s in the cards for Seventeen, claiming that compilations are difficult to sell. ‘They go into music land with hundreds of other CDs and get lost,’ says Deering. ‘Unless we get the right partner with the right exposure, that’s really not an option, though the magazine would love us to do that.’

When it comes to the licensing future of Seventeen and magazine brands in general, Deering is confident. ‘It takes millions of dollars to develop a brand and brand loyalty, and with Seventeen, you have a customer base [15 million readers] that looks to you for direction and has confidence in you,’ she says. ‘This is why manufacturers and licensees look to something like this.’ Gruner + Jahr’s Tammy Palazzo concurs. ‘I think magazine brands are perfect for licensing-there’s a definite niche market,’ says the publishing giant’s director of books and licensing. ‘When you’ve got very targeted magazines, brand licensing is a natural and really helps you to extend your brand.’

And yet magazine licensing has its obstacles. The main challenge for ad revenue-driven teen mags is that licensing programs must stay completely away from the endemic market of their ad base, thus limiting licensable product categories. Off limits for YM are apparel, cosmetics and toiletries, and McEwen thinks soft drinks and food products aren’t in the cards either. Seventeen cannot be licensed to health and beauty or sportswear categories, but with the publisher’s tween mags, the playing field is wide open. According to Deering, fanzines Tiger Beat and Bop carry a low ad base and revenue is driven mostly from newsstand sales, leaving room for enormous growth potential in the tween licensed market.

Both mags are currently undergoing a style transformation as they gear up for licensing. Formerly music-centric Tiger Beat will now cover general entertainment, but will still carry posters and pin-ups because ‘that’s what tweens want,’ says Deering. Fanzine Bop will now focus mainly on the music scene. Tiger Beat’s licensing program is set to kick off this holiday season with a line of hand-held electronic music games from licensee Geospace, and a stationery license was near completion at press time. Although no licensees have yet been signed to Bop, Primedia Enterprises brought both brands to MAGIC in February; Deering hopes that several deals will result from attending the trade show.

Bowing to advertisers is something London-based agent Link Licensing doesn’t have to consider in planning Brit mag J-17′s licensing program for girls 12 to 16. ‘No areas of limitation have been imposed upon us by the publisher,’ says Peter Woodhead, Link’s international licensing director. ‘But obviously we would take a very responsible view in terms of what we think is appropriate for a quite impressionable target age group.’

To uphold the mag’s self-proclaimed label as ‘the ministry of cool’ and stay one step ahead of its fickle demo, Link is signing a limited number of licensees producing a limited range of product exclusively for select retailers. ‘It’s quite a narrow band, it’s very focused, it’s very fashion, it’s very of the moment,’ Woodhead says of the program. ‘What we’re trying to say to licensees is that J-17 is a very fashionable brand that needs to be changed and updated on a fairly regular basis in tandem with the magazine.’

Licensee Smith & Brooks is developing a capsule apparel collection for British retailer House of Fraser. Focusing on two key fashion looks-denim and gold-the line will include pants, a jacket and a customizable special edition T-shirt. Beginning this month, the range will be sold in branded J-17 areas at all 55 House of Fraser stores. And Momentum is creating a mix and match apparel line with a skateboarding theme for a specially branded page in Empire

Catalogue’s fall/winter 2001 edition. In association with J-17, Empire will offer a free branded wrist cuff with all purchases. J-17 will support both lines via features, competitions and fashion stories spotlighting the collections in upcoming issues of the magazine.

At press time, a deal had just been inked with William Lamb to produce a range of J-17 branded fashion footwear for fall/winter 2001. Retail presentations are currently ongoing, so no word yet on where the line will end up.

While the future of teen mag licensing appears rosy, Woodhead believes that agents have to be selective in the brands they target in an overcrowded market. ‘I don’t think you can do a lot of brands in terms of a licensing campaign like [J-17's], but if you’re selective, then I think certain key magazine brands will work, but they will be very limited in number,’ says Woodhead. Gruner + Jahr’s Palazzo is more effusive in further rumination on the future of teen mag licensing: ‘I think there’s a tremendous future-they’re not fly-by-night brands like entertainment characters.’

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